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How Singapore is harnessing technology to transform land and air transport

At the Ministry of Transport (MOT)’s Committee of Supply Debate 2018, Minister of Transport Khaw Boon Wan and Second Minister of Transport Ng Chee Meng shed light on how Singapore is harnessing technology to transform the city-state’s land and air transport.

As reported earlier, Singapore has launched the Land Transport Industry Transformation Map (ITM) last month and the Air Transport ITM last April outlining its plans to grow vibrant, innovative and future-ready land and air transport sectors.

Minister Khaw and Second Minister Ng reiterated some of the key objectives of the Singapore Government:

Land transport: Moving towards a car-lite Singapore

According to Minister Khaw Boon Wan, the Singapore Government facilitates the introduction of car-sharing services and welcome the growth of private hire car (PHC) services, as they have provided commuters with more on-demand and point-to-point alternatives to owning a car.

While such trends are making Singapore car-lite possible, Minister Khaw pointed out that the point-to-point (P2P) industry is still consolidating.

“How it consolidates can have serious implications on contestability and the welfare of commuters and drivers. In other words, will the industry remain open and contestable,” said Minister Khaw.

Second Minister Ng said that the introduction of third-party booking apps and PHC services has revolutionised the P2P industry in Singapore. 

He said, “The PHC industry has significantly expanded the supply of P2P services, especially during our peak hours. There are now more than 40,000 PHC drivers, in addition to 96,000 licensed taxi drivers. The matching of demand and supply is also enhanced through the platforms and through dynamic pricing.”

In the growth of P2P Industry, Second Minister Ng claimed that commuters have benefitted the most, citing the latest survey by the Public Transport Council which found that commuter satisfaction has risen significantly, with almost 99% of surveyed commuters satisfied with taxi and PHC services in 2017.

Although taxi drivers were initially affected, they are now starting to reap some benefits, such as more flexible rental schemes and lower rental rates offered by taxi companies, and more choices of service platforms to drive for, and additional revenue stream from additional booking channels.

Potentials of autonomous vehicles

“Emerging technologies are unsettling, but the opportunities to transform land transport for the better are compelling,” Minister Khaw said.

One of such emerging technologies is autonomous vehicles (AVs). Acknowledging that AVs have the potential to transform transport, reinvent transport, Minister Khaw shared that Singapore is working with some of the best in the world and in Singapore to tap this exciting technology, which is still developing.

“We are keenly watching where this technology will take us next, and the benefits that it will bring to commuters. It is too early to say how widely adopted AV technology will be by 2030, but the progress of AV trials overseas and in Singapore is very encouraging,” he said.

In Singapore, the AV test-bed at one-north was expanded to about 70km. As the country gains experience and expertise, trials will expand to other precincts and pilot the use of other vehicles. Minister Khaw named the examples of AV bus and AV shuttle services in Punggol, Tengah and Jurong.
‍Source: Ministry of Transport

Air Transport: Leveraging technology to reach new heights

The Singapore Government can spur industry development and the growth of the transport sector by championing research and development (R&D) and working with industry players to develop new technologies and adopt innovative processes.

In air transport, there are 2 areas of focus to leverage technology developments: (1) airport operations and (2) unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) or drones. 

Airport operations

In improving airport operations, some of the new technologies introduced include the use of facial recognition to get passengers from the kerbside to the plane in a speedy fashion and advanced CT X-ray machines which do not require passengers to remove their laptops from their bags during security checks.

Collaboration with industry is essential in spurring further adoption of technology. Second Minister Ng cited the example of Singapore Airlines (SIA)’s Digital Innovation Blueprint programme launched in January, in collaboration with the Agency for Science Technology and Research (A*STAR), the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore (CAAS), the Economic Development Board (EDB) and the National University of Singapore (NUS).

As reported earlier, SIA aims to set up a Digital Innovation Lab and tap on data analytics to further enhance customer experience as well as boost the operational efficiency of its aircraft maintenance process.

According to Second Minister Ng, the Singapore Government will continue to invest significant resources into developing innovative processes and technologies to entrench Changi as the world class hub it is today.

“CAAS will launch an Aviation Transformation Programme (ATP) to promote the use of new technologies like autonomous vehicles, artificial intelligence, and augmented reality, to improve airport operations,” he said.

The ATP will focus on 4 crucial areas for the continued success of Singapore’s air hub : (1) Strategic Air Traffic Management; (2) Seamless Ground Operations; (3) Effective and Efficient Security; and (4) Premium Travel Experience.

Unmanned Aircraft Systems

Second Minister Ng named unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) as the second key technological development in the air transport sector.

One of the key application areas of UAS is in logistics, where UAS can quickly deliver parcels by air to the end-customer. In time to come, UAS can potentially even ferry people through the air, adding a new dimension to urban mobility.

At the same time, the Singapore Government also recognises that UAS operations could pose concerns about safety and security. These concerns must be addressed before the full potential of the UAS can be realised.

Second Minister Ng pointed out that given Singapore’s busy airspace and dense urban environment, we need to be extra careful that UAS do not pose risks to manned aircraft operations or public safety. Having said all that, the Government has been pushing the boundaries in exploring UAS in urban environment so as to seize the potential benefits that the use of UAS could bring.

The Land Transport Authority (LTA) is currently trialling the use of UAS to perform rail and road tunnel inspections with greater ease and accuracy. In addition, LTA has also deployed UAS at selected Thomson East-Coast Line worksites to help engineers monitor construction progress and identify defects. As reported earlier, one-north has been recently designated as a drone estate to serve as a living lab and test bed for drone solutions.

“We are indeed excited about the drone estate’s potential to spur more R&D on UAS technologies and foster meaningful commercial partnerships. We intend to progressively expand the scope and scale of the UAS activities there, bearing in mind that we must do so responsibly and not compromise safety,” Second Minister Ng said.

Source: Ministry of Transport

Regulatory framework

There are concerned on whether Singapore has the necessary infrastructure and legislative framework to deal with emerging technologies. In this regard, the Singapore Government will continue to develop pro-innovation regulation

PHC and P2P industry

As PHC is becoming an important part of the city-state’s land transport system, the Government is reviewing regulations for the PHC industry, particularly given the sheer size of the industry and the limitations to the current regulatory regime which only have basic requirements on booking service operators to protect commuter safety.

The Government is reviewing the broader regulatory framework for the P2P sector, including studying how to structure the industry and license PHC booking service operators. Licensing will give the Government a broader range of regulatory levers to ensure that the rapidly evolving PHC industry grows in a manner which meets the needs of commuters, drivers, and the country’s broader transport policy.

The development of AVs

Minister Khaw said that the AV trials have given the Government insights into the gaps which it will fill. This has led to amendments of the the Road Traffic Act to facilitate AV efforts.

“We will make further amendments if necessary. We have also launched a Request for Information to seek inputs from industry and other experts,” Minister Khaw said.

“If you regulate too tightly, too early, nothing will happen. If you maintain a light touch for too long, as happen in the bike-sharing situation, then you have dis-amenities,” he added.

Preparing the transport workforce for the future

Both Minister Khaw and Second Minister Ng acknowledged the potential for emerging technologies to disrupt the livelihoods of transport workers.

As such, the Government is working closely with unions and the transport operators to up-skill and re-skill and to transition some of them to adjacent vocations. This is being done through institutes of higher learning, as well as through the Singapore Bus Academy and Singapore Rail Academy. LTA, SkillsFuture Singapore, National Transport Workers' Union (NTWU) and public transport operators are jointly developing the Skills Framework for Public Transport which will be launched in May. It aims to provide transport workers a clearer picture of what skills they should develop as well as the programmes available if they want to upgrade.

For taxi and PHC drivers, Second Minister Ng reiterated that the Government will continue to work closely with the National Taxi Association and National Private Hire Vehicle Association to up-skill taxi and PHC drivers. It is also exploring the possibility of having modules in the Taxi Driver’s Vocational Licence and the PHC Driver’s Vocational Licence courses to help equip taxi and PHC drivers with digital skills such as using navigational apps.

Levelling up of capabilities of workers is also part of the vision for the air transport sector, as outlined in Air Transport ITM which aims to create 4,700 good jobs by 2020 and grow the value-add per worker.

In the third quarter this year, the Skills Framework for Air Transport will be launched to set out the core competencies and skills for all key air transport jobs. This will serve as a reference for those who are already in the sector or for those wanting to join the aviation industry. 

To help air transport workers adapt to technological changes at the workplace to their advantages, and take on new roles that will challenge and fulfil them even more. This will also allow them to add greater value to their jobs and their companies, and overall to our economy.

Recognising the need to enhance the workforce’s Air Traffic Management (ATW) capabilities, CAAS has taken the initiative to introduce a new scheme of service that will provide air traffic controllers (ATCOs) more exposure across the range of ATM functions and allow them to delve even deeper into specific functions. ATCOs will even participate in the development of advanced software and hardware that are more sophisticated than those available today.

Under the new scheme, ATCOs can progress along 2 tracks of Management or Specialist and build their expertise along either track.

Second Minister Ng emphasised that MOT is committed to making travel even more convenient and seamless, across the island and beyond, for Singaporeans. At the same time, it will help workers to keep up with the changes and have good careers in the transport sector

“We can look forward to a more liveable and well-connected Singapore, supported by robust and effective transport systems,” he concluded.

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