Update: If you are looking for a list of the ERP gantries and the charges, you may retrieve it here. I was thinking of linking the one provided by Street Directory, which comes with pictures! But I scared kenna sued for linking…

I was on the PIE towards Tuas when I noticed a familiar pair of pillars being raised near the KPE exit. Yes, I was right. It is part of the familiar structure that we all lovingly know as the ERP gantry. It not just strikes fear in car owners, but ordinary folks like myself who need to flag the occasional taxi in a rush. Speaking of which, I tend to make myself heard whenever I pass an ERP gantry…

In a taxi… talking to taxi uncle when the taxi goes under the ERP gantry

ERP: *beep*

Me: Ouch…

Uncle: Bitten by ERP ant ah?

Not funny, taxi uncle; not funny at all. Indeed, every time I pass by a gantry, I remember the millions that the government has spent building them. At the back of my mind, I kept wondering on one question: How do they recover their Return On Investment. Well, I am only being logical – when the government spends money, I am sure they will want to get something good out of it – and it’s only natural that they do; if only they put in as much, or more vigilance when investing in overseas projects and businesses – some of which had been in the red for quite a while. Of course, it’s all part of a business decision and that risks have to be taken. So, what really is the business decision behind the ERP gantries? If the minister claims that they are losing more money than gain, then there has to be some gains that they are getting, else it just doesn’t make sense to build that many gantries.

Now, this is probably one of the most uninsightful posts of all because I seriously have no idea. Some have claimed that the Certificate of Entitlement (COE) that car owners have to purchase returns the money into the kitty, but there is, of course, no substantial proof. However, if Mr Lim Swee Say’s words are anything to go by, then the government suffers a net loss of S$40 million based on the supposed fact that they will collect S$70 million a year from the ERP increase while at the same time, losing S$110 million due to the 15% reduction in road tax (Source: AsiaOne Motoring, http://www.asiaone.com/Motoring/News/Story/A1Story20080625-72781.html).

Of course, nothing is mentioned on the road tax in following years.

So, is the government really serious in reducing congestion? If they do, then why don’t they nib the problem at the bud and reduce the number of COEs issued every fortnightly? Reading on another article gave a better insight; that the government is progressively shifting from vehicle ownership taxes to usage charges. This means that there is a chance when road taxes will hit a minimum – but that’s also when we pay ERP charges not just for congestion control, but as a means of road taxation. In simpler terms, the honey will come later.

On a bigger perspective, the government is laying grounds for a future method of road taxation, where literally, every road pays. They pay the government, that is. eventually, there will still be road tax, albeit a minimum sum, but the moment you drive on major roads, that’s probably when road taxation starts since it’s supposed to be part of a usage charge.

In the mean time, the government or LTA is probably used to the initial complaints that they hear every so often whenever they declare a raise in ERP charges or erections of new gantries. They have a bigger goal in mind and that is to move towards usage charging eventually. Everything else is secondary for now.

Of course, PR blunders are hard to miss whenever the government or agencies try to find a logical explanation for their actions. This comes in the form of a newspaper article which was first published in The Business Times on 23rd June 2008 (Source: AsiaOne Motoring, http://www.asiaone.com/Motoring/News/Story/A1Story20080623-72438.html). It was on how ERP actually helps businesses, and it said:

‘ERP changes are necessary to manage congestion effectively,’ Mr Yam (editor: Mr Yam is the LTA Chief Executive) explains . ‘Faster travel times lead to overall lower transport costs and ultimately help businesses to remain competitive. Congestion also adversely impacts family life as people spend more time on the roads.’

I thought this was a rather catch-22 statement. At the rate things are happening, faster travel times can only be achieved if ERPs are implemented, which in turn increases the cost of operation of businesses. This will have a spill-over effect which will see some businesses switching to public transport, which need not necessarily lead to faster travel times since there is now more people on public transport. There are many ways to remain competitive, and if we assume that travel timing is the same across all companies (since all of them are using the same roads as each other), the other way to do so is to offer competitive pricing. If faster travel times is achieved through ERP – which increases the cost of operation… then where does the competitiveness come from?

Of course, what LTA got right is on the part that congestion adversely impacts family life as people spend more time on the roads. However, having longer ERP timings may also mean that more people spend more time in office just to avoid paying – which in turn means family life is also affected. Public transport? Well, it’s just as congested now although I am happy that they have improved on the frequency of the trains. The difference between now and then is that now, we have lesser people waiting on the platform, but the trains are just as packed. I guess it really depends on where you are taking the trains from.

Now, I wonder when the next transport fee hike is coming…

Expect to see more of these gantries in coming months

New KPE will have 16, taking grand total from 60 to more than 80

By Christopher Tan, Senior Correspondent

EVEN as motorists cope with five fresh electronic road-pricing (ERP) gantries along the Singapore River and extended operating hours at others in the city from this week, more gantries are set to come onstream.

Besides the half dozen announced for spots along roads such as Commonwealth Avenue, Alexandra Road and Serangoon Road – to go up by November – 16 more are planned for the new Kallang-Paya Lebar Expressway (KPE), which will run 12km from East Coast Parkway in the south to Tampines Expressway in the north. Three quarters of it will run underground.

When it opens fully on Sept 20, it will have the most ERP gantries among all roads here.

According to a Land Transport Authority (LTA) spokesman, however, they will not all be switched on at the same time, unless the average speed dips below 45kmh in the tunnels.

The new gantries form part of a massive ERP project the LTA recently awarded to MHI Engine System Asia, a subsidiary of Mitsubishi Heavy Industries.

Worth $83 million, the contract includes 27 new gantries, all to be up by this year, the replacement of some older gantries and maintenance works.

The cost is higher than the $80 million spent on Singapore’s 60 existing gantries, the first of which went up 10 years ago.

Asked about the huge expenditure, the LTA said construction and materials costs had risen over the years. Each three-lane gantry now costs $1.5 million, compared to $1 million before, said the spokesman.

The expansion of the ERP network will see almost 90 gantries here by the end of the year.

Five gantries went up in areas such as Toa Payoh Lorong 6 and Geylang Bahru in April. Like those for the future KPE, it was decided they would only be switched on if traffic speeds dipped below the 45kmh threshold for expressway speeds. All have since been switched on.

The 45kmh threshold will be adjusted over the next few months. To stave off ERP, 85 per cent of vehicles will have to attain the optimum speed, instead of half the vehicles now.

‘For safety reasons, it is essential that we keep traffic in the tunnel smooth-flowing,’ the LTA spokesman said of the KPE.

Asked if that meant ERP on the KPE may be operational over weekends as well, the spokesman said no decision on that had been made.

But retired traffic planner Joseph Yee expects the KPE gantries to be switched on before long. He explained that when the LTA conducted traffic forecasts using computer simulations, it found that without congestion pricing, ‘the KPE would be jammed quite soon after it opened’.

Mr Yee expects the Marina Coastal Expressway (MCE) now being built to have ERP too. The $2.5 billion MCE is a 5km underground road connecting the KPE and ECP to the Ayer Rajah Expressway. It is due to be completed by the end of 2013.

Motorists are not looking forward to the fast-expanding gantry network.

Said housewife Beverly Wong, 38: ‘That is terrible. Food and fuel prices are increasing. This isn’t helping.’

To ease the pain, a 15 per cent cut in road tax will kick in this month; public transport services have also been beefed up to make buses and trains a more viable alternative.

Editor of Torque motoring magazine Lee Nian Tjoe, 30, expects some drivers to be priced out, but he says the majority will continue driving into ERP areas.

Aircraft sales engineer Ng Tzong Sheng, 30, says he does not need to drive into ERP zones, but he wonders whether ‘average speeds’ could be improved by better synchronising traffic lights and carrying out roadworks only during off-peak periods.

christan@sph.com.sg

Source: Straits Times Interactive, http://www.straitstimes.com/Prime%2BNews/Story/STIStory_255258.html

Article extracted on 7th July 2008



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