The Electronic Road Pricing (ERP) system – institutionalised in 1998 – has been in place for over a decade; and even though there has been a multitude of controversy and public backlash suggesting the ineffectiveness of the system, little has been done on the part of the authorities to address the concerns. With the number of vehicles on the roads rising disproportionately to the increase in roads and expressways, the recent proposal to possibly adopt the Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS) seems to be a subtle acknowledgement that the tens of gantries installed have been considerably ineffectual.
Congestion is relative, varying from individual to individual based on different circumstances in different areas; however, the Ministry of Transport (MOT) and the Land Transport Authority (LTA) have the responsibility of relating to on-the-ground sentiments. While the ERP network has been efficient in its collection of tax revenue for specific road usage; the biggest question that is hanging on the minds of millions of Singaporean motorists would be: has the overall system been constructive in addressing the problem of congestion for most road-users?
The original intention of ERP was to encourage motorists to consider alternative, less-congested roads during peak-hour commute: so as to ease traffic flow along frequented roads and expressways. Nonetheless, the continuous construction of the gantries have not only reduced the diverse options for motorists, but many drivers have simply accepted the bottleneck conditions as a fact of life, and have simply grown numb in terms of the ERP payments. Simply put, ERP has increasingly failed as a deterrent: yet the administration persistently introduces gradual fare hikes and announces the outreach of the network without properly evaluating the results of the system.
For starters, the relevant agencies should study the existing ERP system; and subsequently reflect the findings with the public. The last published Land Transport Review on LTA’s website was dated back to 2008, which means that a major evaluation of the current ERP system has not been endeavoured for almost two years. Since congestion is relative, vehicular speed can be a good substitute to determine the aforementioned. More regular and consistent data should be released on the speeds through individual gantries and roads; general averaged speeds cannot be used because conditions vary in different areas. To assert that overall speeds island-wide has increased is meaningless because it would not identify areas where ERP gantries may be unnecessary, and reflect when it has not been beneficial on other roads.
It is becoming increasingly evident that traffic congestion measures cannot be generalised, and must be tackled on a case-by-case basis. ERP may work for some districts, and there are instances where configurations would have to be made to the road infrastructures. If not enough is done appropriately, in the long-term, road congestion might escalate disproportionately beyond our control.