Debate over ERP

Singapore November 9th, 2007

I had a debate with a friend of mine yesterday on my way home about the entire ERP fiasco – and I qualify the use of that term because it doesn’t seem to work – despite raising charges. It did feel like I was paying a lot more for very little improvements. In addition, Singaporeans have a tendency to get over things rather quickly – just like the $2 peak hour surcharge for taxis, and they quickly get back to their usual way of doing things as if nothing happened.

For someone who used to drive (albeit for a very short while), I tried to beat the system by finding alternative roads. For instance, if I needed to go to Orchard Road in the morning, I’d try driving from the north down via Thomson Road and Marymount Road; but lo and behold! There’s a gantry there – so that didn’t work too well.

The next time round, I decided to play smart and went along Lornie Road down Adam Road before turning left towards the city. Lo and behold! Another gantry just before SCGS. The alternative way to skip all the gantries (besides the one at Orchard Road), is to go along Lornie Road, down Adam Road into Farrer Road before turning left into Holland Road towards Tanglin Road. By then, I think anyone would rather pay the ERP and get stuck in a sligher and shorter jam. In addition, you won’t believe how bad the traffic condition at Farrer Road was. Seriously, I fear the erection… of another ERP gantry at Farrer – just like what they did at Upper Bukit Timah Road.

Speaking of Upper Bukit Timah Road, I thought the ERP was meant to encourage people to use other alternative routes? If that’s the case, then what’s the point of having a gantry at BKE towards PIE and another one along Upper Bukit Timah Road? If I am staying at Bukit Panjang, I think I’m pretty much stuck with my fate if I am heading towards town.

Anyway, back to the debate. My friend – let’s call him X, believes that the LTA is genuinely making a conscientious effort to reduce the jams along the expressways and he thinks that the department is at a loss of ideas except to raise ERP charges. X feels that there is insufficient input to the department that the ERP is not working as well as it should, which I have to agree to a certain extent because to the layman on the streets, it does seem like a rather silly idea. Over time, people will just get over with the charges and just drive – ERP or not. It may act as a deterrent, but it’d never work as a good regulator.

Many a times, I toyed with the idea of suggesting to the LTA (via email or forum) to impose a really hefty charge, like $10 per gantry – which will definitely keep the expressway jam-free for a while, and observe what happens. However, I fear for my life and decided against it.

Soon after, the evening ERPs were introduced – yes, I was only talking about the morning ones so far, which is in activation from 6pm to 8pm. However, I heard news of it being extended to run from 5:30pm to 10:30pm, which I am suspecting may just affect the *new* gantry just before the PIE exit on the CTE towards the north. However, for the person who now takes cab occasionally instead of drive (i.e. me), what used to be a 3 hour jam from just before 6pm to about 9pm and at worse 10pm, now extends till 11pm or even near midnight. The frustration of being stuck in a jam at 1130pm with the taxi fare ticking away with midnight charges is… beyond words. It does seem like I’m at the losing end regardless of whichever approach I take. Are buses or the SMRT the ideal solution? I’ll leave that for another day.

To me, the ERP doesn’t seem to work for the morning, nor for the evening and what the evening ERP does seem to do, is to stretch the jam way into the night. As for the morning ERP, I have given up driving and probably not in a position to comment – but from the feedback that’s flooding the blogs and mainstream media – it doesn’t seem to help much (else the ERP charges wouldn’t have to be increased, right?).

Mr X, however, still believes that the LTA wants to resolve the jams and was suggesting that the LTA turn off not one, not two, but all gantries for 1 week to observe the status quo now compared to the times before the ERP was implemented. I was telling him that the LTA will never do that because there’s always the fear of realising that the ERP indeed does not improve traffic that tremendously and that the gantries will all become white elephants.

To me, there are Y number of cars that you have to fit into the roads. If the LTA/government decides to plant ERPs everywhere, then the initial idea to stagger jams/reduce jams/divert drivers simply becomes a revenue churning source. No one will ever give up such a gold mine, will he?

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