Whoever said that the taxi operators are heartless blood suckers, who care only about their bottom line and not the welfare of the people who rent and drive their taxis and paying high rents to the (*add your own expletives here*) operators, should eat their own words now. Apparently, the tax reduction that the operators enjoy in the near future may now be passed down to the taxi drivers.

For ComfortDelgro, this works out to be about S$2,700,000 per year. Disbursing this amount to their drivers definitely seems like a generous move on their part because they would have to answer to their shareholders at the end of the day, since any additional money to any company should not really be considered "free money" but usually taken into consideration and contribution to a company’s bottom line.

Well done to all the taxi operators, I say. Well done. =) Who says that taxi operators are heartless? ;)

CABBIES stand to gain from the 15 per cent cut in road tax taking effect in July.

The cut in road tax will result in savings of $4.4 million a year – or $180 per vehicle – for the entire industry, and operators are expected to pass this on to drivers.

ComfortDelGro, which has 15,000 out of the 24,500 cabs here, said it is working with its drivers’ association on how to disburse its $2.7 million in annual road tax savings.

‘We will find out if drivers prefer cash or other means like top-up to their Medisave accounts,” said company spokesman Tammy Tan.

ComfortDelGro chief executive Kua Hong Pak said: ‘The annual savings of $2.7 million are significant to us – but they are even more significant to our drivers.”

Likewise, SMRT Taxis vice-president Lo Chee Wen said the company will pass road tax savings on its 3,000-strong fleet to drivers.

The newcomers are following suit too.

Separately, cab companies stand to save another $8.2 million a year or so on fleet replacement. This is on the back of a 10 percentage point cut in the additional registration fee (ARF), a major car tax.

But no one is looking to pass savings from ARF reduction on to cabbies. Observers say this could be because other costs, such as certificate of entitlement (COE) premiums, could rise. Also, the replacement rate is uneven across the industry.

Both operators and drivers reckon the wider Electronic Road Pricing (ERP) coverage and possibly sharply higher charges will have an impact on cab availability in ERP-controlled areas.

Smart Taxis managing director Johnny Harjantho said the expanded ERP network ‘will certainly discourage drivers from entering some areas’.

‘There is no guarantee that they will find passengers if they enter,’ said Mr Harjantho.

Cabby Joseph Ho, 48, said: ‘People are just starting to take cabs again after the fare increase. The ERP effect will definitely have an impact.’

Commuters are also apprehensive. Communications executive Ang Qianling, 23, said: ‘I will try to cut down on taking taxis, especially during the peak hour when the surcharges are so insanely high. It’s quite scary to imagine how much it would be when ERP is added to the fare.’

Teacher Melissa Lee, 26, said that following the fare hike, ERP would be an added burden.

‘I am already trying to avoid taking taxis now, but in times of urgency when I am running late, I have no choice,’ she said.

Housewife Chan Sze Ling, 44, said ‘all the more I will avoid taxis’.

‘Their fares are so high already, and if I have to pay even more for ERP…I think it is way too much,’ she added.

CHRISTOPHER TAN

Article obtained from straitstimes.com on 31st January 2008

This had been a topic of debate between my friends and I because the jams are still there despite all of them paying a premium to get to their destination. Well, we thought that the premium wasn’t high enough to deter people from using the road and something like S$10 may probably have an effect. However, having said that, if someone has to use the expressway/roads to get to their destination, then they would have to use it no matter what. This is especially so if the people who are using it need it in the course of their work and that the companies they work for are paying for it.

So really, they should really start with a high premium – like S$10 (seriously) – which may either:

  • deter everyone from using the roads – which then questions the purpose of the expressways/roads
  • fail and be crowded with cars again since almost every Singaporean has short term memory (STM, aka mice memory)

In fact, the jams got so bad at one time that we thought that someone should challenge *gasp* the LTA to turn off all ERP gantries for one week to gauge how effective the ERP system really was. Of course, we are in Singapore and such things never happen. Challenge the government? You must be kidding.

Anyway, the ERP rates will go up surely, but steadily so that people do not feel the immediate pinch and create a knee-jerk reaction that will scare everyone off – just like the taxi fare hike. However, again, Singaporeans being Singaporeans, everyone will bite the bullet (sounds familiar) and resume contributing to the building of the nation. =)

Nation above self.

Oh wait, sorry, this was supposed to be an ERP entry. =P

HAVING paid the Electronic Road Pricing (ERP) charges, some motorists still find themselves still stuck in a jam on roads and expressways here.

Transport Minister Raymond Lim said yesterday that this happens because there are many more cars on the road today than 10 years ago when the ERP system was introduced.

‘Our ERP system has served us well, but it is coming under strain,’ said Mr Lim.

Cars are also used more intensively here, clocking 21,000km a year on average, compared to 9,100km in London.

Also, the 50-cent increases to ERP rates are no longer enough to keep traffic going, seeing as how after it went up nine times in 2006, another 25 rate hikes were needed last year.

The new changes announced yesterday aim to fix this problem:

  • ERP will kick in much earlier under a new formula;
  • The basic ERP charge will go up from July to $2, from $1 now, and each subsequent jump will be $1, instead of 50 cents;
  • Sixteen more gantries will be put up, all to help ease congestion in the city area as well as on major roads islandwide.

Currently, the gantries go active once the speed of half the motorists travelling on a particular stretch over a 30-minute period falls below the optimal level of 45kmh for expressways and 20kmh for major roads.

However, in practice, many motorists will be travelling far slower. For example, speeds measured from 7.30am to 8am on a stretch of the Pan-Island Expressway this month showed that up to 38 per cent of the motorists were actually travelling below 45kmh, despite paying the ERP.

‘This also explains why there is at times a disconnect between what the Land Transport Authority says and motorists’ actual driving experience,’ said Mr Lim.

Under the new formula, ERP charges will kick in when, in line with international practice, just over 15 per cent of vehicles fall below ideal speeds.

So, at least 85 per cent of motorists will be assured of smooth travel when they pay the ERP charges,Mr Lim said.

Mr Lim expects that with the higher basic charge and larger increments, rate changes will be less frequent.

The new formula and higher charges will be phased in to give people time to adjust.

They will start in July in the Central Business District (CBD) and Orchard Road, after more bus and train trips come on line, and then to other roads in due time.

The number of gantries will also go up in phases, from 55 now, to 60 in April, 65 in July and 71 in November.

The focus is on the city area. Speeds on major roads in the CBD have fallen by over 25 per cent, from five years ago.

To cross major junctions, say, between North Bridge Road and Bras Basah Road, motorists must wait for three or more traffic light changes.

So, ERP will be used to discourage those motorists who are just passing through the already packed Suntec City, Bugis and Marina Square shopping areas in the evenings, and on Saturdays. They make up a third of the traffic now.

The ERP changes will have an effect on motorists like retiree William Chan, 65.

He said: ‘If ERP prices keep rising, we may switch to public transport, but we’ll still retain the option of driving to places that are far away.’

Others, like manager Chua Xin Kai, 28, will not make a switch – yet.

‘I’m paying so much for the car and after driving for 10 years, I am just lazy to take public transport. Maybe when I have to scrap my car in three years, I’ll reconsider.’

Until then, the Government expects to collect from such motorists $70 million more a year as a result of the changes.

And to show that this is not an excuse to raise revenue, but really to curb congestion, road taxes will be cut 15 per cent to the tune of about $110 million.

Mr Lim said: ‘If motorists were to drive less, the Government would be happy to collect less ERP revenue.’

ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY AMY TAN

chinlian@sph.com.sg

Article obtained from straitstimes.com on 31st January 2008

Road tax will be cut in-lieu of a raise in ERP rates. Effectively, there will be a 15% off road tax across the board, but in place of this, ERP rates will go up in increments of S$1.00 instead of the usual S$0.50 and the base ERP rate will be S$2.00 instead of S$1.00. There will eventually be 71 ERP gantries by year end.

Other sweeteners will include a cut in ARF for COE vehicles, down 10% to 100% from the current 110%. More roads and wider roads will also be built in an attempt to improve traffic conditions. Essentially, motorists will be paying more at the end of the day – even with the tax cuts, if they do not change their driving habits. After all, a 15% reduction in road tax is only about a savings of S$120 per year for cars less of 1,001cc to 1,600cc – which is good to cover 60 days of ERP fees at S$2.00 each pass.

AFTER announcing sweeping changes to improve the bus and train services markedly, Transport Minister Raymond Lim on Wednesday spooned out the bitter medicine in the final part of the Land Transport Review: a substantially expanded electronic road-pricing (ERP) coverage to keep Singapore’s roads moving smoothly.

There is good news too – vehicle taxes will be cut, more expressway will be built and the Central Expressway widened to ease the perennial traffic woes among the northern corridor.

In the last instalment of his three-part review, Minister Lim said 16 new gantries will go on between April and November, bringing the total number in operation to 71. This is just the start.

The base ERP rate will be upped from $1 to $2, with the increments in $1 instead of the current 50 cents. To make ERP more effective in a rising affluent community, these changes will be made gradually.

The trigger point of ERP implementation or rate increases will change too. Currently, as long as average speeds on expressways and arterials roads are within 45-60kmh and 20-30kmh respectively, all is fine.

But soon, 85 per cent of road users must move at these speeds to stave off ERP.

Motorists are expected to fork out $70 million more a year on ERP if they do not change their commuting habits. Last year, they spent $98 million, or an average $115 per vehicle.

Road tax to be cut across the board
To show that ERP is not for raising Government revenue, Mr Lim announced that road tax will be cut by 15 per cent across the board, a move that will cost the Government $110 million a year. The last time road tax was cut was last September, by 8 per cent.

To curb vehicle population growth, the minister also announced that the 3 per cent annual allowable growth rate – a minor component in a formula that determines COE supply – will be halved to 1.5 per cent from April 2009.

This could potentially reduce the number of car COEs by 8 per cent.

10% cut in ARF for vehicles
To offset what might be a consequential rise in COE premiums, the additional registration fee (ARF)for cars, taxis and goods vehicles will be cut by 10 per cent, from the current 110 per cent of the vehicle’s open-market value to 100 per cent. This will kick in in March.

Besides the tax cuts, the minister announced other sweeteners to help the ERP medicine go down. These are:

  • $14 billion worth of new road projects for the next 12 years – compared with $3.4 billion spent on roads in the last decade.
  • A new highway – the largely underground North-South Expressway linking Woodlands to the East Coast Parkway – will be built. Costing $7 billion to $8 billion, it will be ready by 2020. It will be Singapore’s 11th expressway and is expected to reduce travelling time in the north-east corridor by 30 per cent.
  • Building of the new Marina Coastal Expressway, a 5km underground expressway linking the Kallang Expressway to the Ayer Rayah Expressway. It will cost $2.5 billion and expected to be ready by 2013.
  • The Tampines Expressway and perennially congested Central Expressway will be widened from July to 2011.

Mr Lim also announced during a visit to Kallang-Paya Lebar Expressway on Wednesday morning that the second phase of the Kallang-Paya Lebar Expressway, stretching from the Pan-Island Expressway to the Tampines Expressway, will open to traffic in September.

To give motorists have another alternative to driving, the frequency of bus services along corridors affected by the ERP expansion will be increased to one every 12 minutes by June, from one every 15 minutes now. And by August next year, one every 10 minutes.

The number of premium bus services in these areas will rise from the current 42 to at least 72 by June.

And for the first time since mass transit started here two decades ago, bus services will be allowed to duplicate sections of mature MRT lines.

Mr Lim added that other intelligent transport solutions such as the Expressway Monitoring and Advisory System or EMAS will be expanded to optimise the use of the roads.

But he cautioned that increasing road capacity and deploying traffic engineering measures will not in themselves guarantee smooth flowing roads.

‘Additional lanes and new roads attract more traffic and congestion soon returns. As a Time Magazine writer put it, ‘traffic is like water; it oozes across all available surface,” said the minister, noting that the insatiable appetite for more cars has led to an uphill battle against gridlock in many cities.

In fast growing economies like China, the car population grows at more than 20 per cent a year and peak-hour traffic in mega-cities like Beijing and Shanghai crawls at 5km an hour. In the United States, motorists spent more than 4.2 billion hours stuck in jams, enough time to fill 65 million iPod Nanos with music, and used up enough extra fuel to fill 58 supertankers, he said.

The ‘congestion invoice’ in the US stands at some $78 billion each year while congestion costs are estimated to be about 1% of GDP in European countries such as Britain and France.

He said the use of ERP to manage traffic has made it possible for many Singaporeans to own cars.

‘And so the vehicle population has grown steadily to the 850,000 vehicles today. With rising affluence, not only are more Singaporeans owning cars, they are also using them more intensively. While the number of cars increased by 10 per cent between 1997 and 2004, the number of car trips increased by 23 per cent, more than double.’

‘The effects are telling. Congestion levels have increased by about 25 per cent since 1999, with more roads congested during the peak hours. A December 2007 Singapore Business Review article entitled ‘Gridlocked Nation’ warned that ‘if Singapore’s growing traffic problems were not solved soon, the surging economy could feel the crunch.’

More updates to come.

Article obtained from straitstimes.com on 30thJanuary 2008

It’s been confirmed. With effect from 1 March 2008, taxi fares for Prime taxis will follow the big boys. They will be implementing everything from the head to the toe – from the 30 cents increase to S$2.80 for the flag down rate to the 35% increase in the peak hour surcharge. It’s interesting how one of the cabby commented about following the big boys, but I guess that is common Singaporean mentality – just follow the big ones and you can’t go too wrong.

Seems like my last avenue of cheap taxi is gone.

AFTER holding out for over a month, Singapore’s smallest cab operator, Prime Taxis, will raise its fares to come in line with other companies here.

At a meeting yesterday, over 90 per cent of Prime’s 120 cabbies voted in favour of raising fares, said general manager Tan Choon Chye.

From March 1, the flagdown rate for the company’s 100-plus copper-coloured cabs will rise by 30 cents to $2.80.

Thereafter, the fare will jump by 20 cents every 385m – up to 10km – from 10 cents every 210m previously.

At the same time, Prime will implement what commuters have called the most unpopular change of all: a 35 per cent surcharge on the metered fare during peak hours. That is up from the previous flat charge of $2.

This surcharge ends up being especially pricey for commuters who make long-distance trips. For instance, a $22 ride before the fare hike now costs nearly $30 during peak hours.

Mr Tan said, however, that Prime’s flagdown is still lower than the $3 levy for other taxis with automatic transmissions.

‘Automatic cabs are smoother and more comfortable for passengers,’ he said.

Prime cabby Lim Poh Huat, 50, welcomed the fare adjustment.

‘We are a small player. Commuters who want a cab can’t wait for ours to come along. It is better for us to just follow the big boys,’ the 17-year veteran said.

Taxi-drivers are picking up fewer passengers since the fare hike on Dec 17.

But because of higher fares, most have been able to make as much money as they did before the increase. Prime cabbies faced a double whammy of fewer rides and no fare increase.

However, they enjoy the lowest running cost in the trade as taxi rental starts from $69, versus the industry average of $90. Prime taxis can run on compressed natural gas too – the fuel is about 25 per cent cheaper than diesel.

Part of parallel importer Prime Leasing, Prime Taxis started plying last September.

Its fleet consists of Japanese cars such as the Toyota Wish, Honda Airwave and Honda Stream.

Tomorrow, it will launch its limousine taxi fleet, starting with six Toyota Estima MPVs and one Toyota Camry.

There are now about 24,500 taxis in Singapore – 45 per cent more than in 1997.

christan@sph.com.sg

Article obtained from straitstimes.com on 30th January 2008

Yes, it’s that time of the year where people get scared to death in the LT of horrors, where teachers and principals get dunked into a pool of water (separately, of course), where games abound and prizes are way too attractive to give the games a miss. Yes, it’s time for Fun-O-Rama! But hor, for some strange reason, no one asked me if I wanted to buy any tickets. It’s usually around this time that I suddenly find my long-lost friends, but… this year’s so quiet!

Okie… maybe I am an outcast now… but if you have some Fun-O-Rama tickets that you want to sell, do feel free to leave a comment or drop us a message. ;) Oh wait, don’t tell me the tradition is broken and there’s no Fun-O-Rama this year? :o

I thought the Odex case was over from the previous article, but apparently, there’s a part what was not highlighted in the earlier article.

In an oral judgement, Justice Woo Bih Li ordered PacNet to reveal the identities of alleged anime downloaders to six studios producing the animated Japanese cartoons.

From this, alleged anime downloaders may be liable to further prosecution by the original copyright owners, but it is not known how this will be done or carried out.

THE RIGHT to privacy is no shield for those who commit online piracy, the High Court ruled on Tuesday.

In an oral judgement, Justice Woo Bih Li ordered PacNet to reveal the identities of alleged anime downloaders to six studios producing the animated Japanese cartoons.

These are those who had downloaded anime like Gundam, Cowboy Bebop and Naruto, which were made by Sunrise Inc, Kadokawa Pictures Inc, TV Tokyo Medianet Inc, GDH K.K, Yomiuri Telecasting, and Showgate Inc.

Justice Woo also dismissed the original plaintiff’s – anime distributor Odex – request for the same names, and ordered it to pay PacNet’s legal fees of $20,000.

Since Odex could not sue downloaders under Singapore’s Copyright Act, Justice Woo said there was no reason why it needed the names of the alleged downloaders – unlike the Japanese studios which own the copyright for the anime and could sue infringers.

On this ground, District Judge Ernest Lau turned down Odex’s request for the names at the Subordinate Court last September.

Odex, which launched a controversial crackdown on alleged anime downloaders last May, appealed his decision.

It subsequently asked Justice Woo to allow it to add the six Japanese anime studios as co-plaintiffs, which he allowed.

In the earlier decision, Justice Lau had also said that he was not wholly satisfied with Odex’s explanation of how it identified downloaders.

On appeal, Odex introduced five new affidavits to address this point.

Many online users celebrated the judgement while others cautioned that this did not mean the end of the crackdown.

Article obtained from straitstimes.com on 29th January 2008

Apparently, the Singapore dollar has risen strong against the greenback (US dollar), setting a 11 year record high of S$1 to US$1.4195. The Singapore dollar is traded against a basket of other currencies within a trading band known as the nominal effective exchange rate (neer). The currencies involved are not made known to prevent speculation of the Singapore dollar. This may have various implication as the US dollar is widely used in trades but the Monetary Authority of Singapore is not taking any further actions yet.

For my fellow Singaporeans, it’s probably about time to hit the US online stores! =P

SINGAPORE – THE Singapore dollar rose to 11-year highs against the US dollar on Tuesday while traders bet on another US interest rate cut this week to try to ward off a US recession, dealers said.

The dollar was at 1.4195 against the greenback, down slightly from 1.4187 earlier, and against 1.4244 on Monday.

‘The local currency is stronger because of the falling US dollar,’ said Joseph Tan, a strategist at Fortis Bank.

The greenback came under pressure after the US Commerce Department on Monday said sales of new homes across the United States fell 4.7 per cent in December from the prior month.

Property sales across the US declined last year and banks revealed hefty losses tied to ailing mortgage investments, leading to widespread fears for the US economy.

Mr Tan said the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) – the city-state’s de facto central bank – also wants to tolerate a stronger Singapore dollar to hedge against rising inflation.

‘We are not in any danger of intervention from the MAS at this stage,’ he said.

The MAS conducts monetary policy through the local currency rather than by setting interest rates.

The Singapore dollar is traded against a basket of currencies of the city-state’s major trading partners within an undisclosed trading band known as the nominal effective exchange rate (Neer).

Details of the trading band are not made public to prevent speculation in the Singapore dollar.

Most analysts expect the US Federal Reserve, the US central bank, to trim at least another quarter point off its key federal funds interest rate when it meets on Tuesday and Wednesday.

The rate is currently 3.50 per cent after the Fed slashed it by 0.75 percentage points in an emergency move aimed at calming global financial markets roiled by fears of a widening US recession. — AFP

Article obtained from straitstimes.com on 29th January 2008

Apparently, Odex’s quest to get the list from PacNet has hit a snag when the courts threw out their request. The reason was that the ownership of the copyright is not Odex’s and hence they should not have access to the list. On the other hand, the rightful owners of the copyrights may obtained the list should they sue.

My heart goes out to those who paid the settlements earlier on without any avenue to turn to. Wait, does it seem like the other operators just enriched Odex indirectly?

THE High Court on Tuesday dismissed anime distributor Odex’s attempt to obtain the names of PacNet (previously called Pacific Internet) customers who had allegedly downloaded the animated Japanese cartoons. Instead, it ordered the Internet service provider to reveal their identities to six Japanese anime studios.

In a verbal judgement in the High Court, Justice Woo Bih Li said that since Odex could not sue downloaders under Singapore’s Copyright Act, there was no reason it should be allowed to obtain the names of the alleged downloaders.

This is the same reason District Judge Ernest Lau had given for turning down Odex’s request for the names last September.

Odex had appealed the decision, and had subsequently made submissions to add six Japanese anime studios to its case. Justice Woo granted this request.

Since these studios owned the copyright and could sue, they will have access to the downloaders’ names, he said.

Article obtained from straitstimes.com on 29th January 2008

Happy Chinese New Year to all! Er… a little early hor =P but it’s ok because I’m giving away a hamper to the luckiest reader of the blog! Haha.. but I have one problem. Erm… I don’t know what contest to hold this time round. Quite dry this year… don’t know why. I think I seriously need help.

What is the easiest means of giving out free stuffs? I figured that people don’t like to post photos, send photos, do stuffs – or for that matter, do anything for anything else, even if it’s for free. Nowadays, it’s so difficult to give away free things right? Any ideas?

Well, the fact is that, you don’t really have a choice if you happen to be a driver who regularly drive through some gantries. ERP rates are set to go up with effect from 4th February 2008. All affected gantries will have their rates increased by S$0.50. If you drive past the Bukit Timah Expressway gantry, the Central Expressway gantry as well as the Pan Island Expressway gantry, then you may want to take note of it. Likewise, if you have a habit of driving through the gantries at Orchard Road, YMCA and Fort Canning unconsciously (like how I once did and went "oops!"), you may want to appreciate that the gantries are still on from 7:00pm to 8:00pm on weekdays and 5:30pm to 6:30pm on Saturdays with charges.

SINGAPORE: Electronic Road Pricing (ERP) rates are set to go up by S$0.50 starting 4 February, according to the Land Transport Authority. At the Bukit Timah Expressway gantry, motorists will be charged S$1.00 from 7.30am to 8am, and S$1.50 from 8am to 8.30am.

At the Central Expressway (CTE) gantry north of Braddell Road, ERP rates will go up to S$1.00 for those driving from 7.00am to 7.30am. The same charge applies to those driving along the Pan-Island Expressway (PIE) at Adam Road from 8am to 8.30am.

Those going through the nine gantries at Orchard Road, the YMCA and Fort Canning gantries will have to fork out S$1.00 on weekdays from 7pm to 8pm. The same charge applies for those gantries on Saturday afternoons as well, from 5.30pm to 6.30pm. – CNA/ac

Article obtained from straitstimes.com on 28th January 2008