Monday, December 15, 2008

"More say ERP helps"

The story is here.

Technically, the headline is correct. "26 per cent of drivers polled this year said ERP had reduced traffic compared to 15 per cent last year." So more drivers indeed believe that ERP has reduced traffic.

But the headline is disingenuous. The salient point is that more than half of all drivers still do not believe that ERP has helped to reduce traffic.

This begs the question of whether ERP is really meeting its stated objectives of reducing road congestion. In a way, it is, but for who's benefit? The full article mentioned an academic saying that (brace yourself) perhaps we should implement more ERP gantries if they seem to be having the desired effect. 

This seems to be one instance when the cure is worse than the disease. Sure, you could reduce traffic by upping ERP to astronomical levels, but then no one would drive anymore.

Going back to the point about more than half of all drivers not believing that ERP has helped to reduce traffic, where's the objective data, as opposed to survey data? Surely, with a system as sophisticated as the ERP gantry, we can measure how many vehicles (as a proportion of total registered vehicles) pass beneath the gantry and plot this figure in a chart with time of day on the x-axis. Comparing before and after charts would be really authoritative data.

What's more troubling is that a vanishingly small minority of drivers (less than 5%) would consider reverting to public transport.

That isn't a surprise. While I used to believe that our public transportation system was worth the effusive praise previously showered (once upon a time ago) on it by local media, I've long switched to the view that the much vaunted efficiency of our allegedly world-class public transportation system has been compromised for a while now. Thank god I walk to work every morning instead of fighting with the crowds.

When it comes to public transportation, the situation in Singapore is similar to the food situation here. Yes, the food situation.

Is Singapore a food paradise? Kind of. Hokkien mee and char kway teow still taste great, and certainly better in Singapore than in most other places (exception probably being Malaysia). But we also have loads of generic food courts serving homogeneous versions of "local favorites", which are frankly, quite blah.

And if you asked me which city has the best food, I am just as likely to say New York (for its sheer diversity and availability), Tokyo (for ultra-fresh seafood) or even Madrid (for tapas) as Singapore. Other cities have food as good as Singapore's, if not better.     

So the same goes with public transportation. Singapore does have a relatively good public transportation system. Relatively. But does it have problems? Yes.

Is it the best of the best? No.

Is it one of the best? Again no. Is it even just slightly better than the world cities that Singapore continually likes to measure itself up against? 

I have to say a firm "no" here as well (although I wouldn't say that Singapore's public transportation system is worse; it is still broadly comparable in quality.) Most world cities today have efficient public transportation systems, just like they have good food too. We shouldn't expect to have anything less in Singapore as a world city. If we want to consider ourselves as part of the top league of cities, then we should benchmark ourselves accordingly.

(unless the local media and government decides to drop their endless refrain of "how lucky we are to live here", in which case, I would be more than willing to concede that yes, we have a brilliant public transportation system, and food, for a second-tier city).

The point is that today, what we have (in many things, incidentally, not just public transportation) is merely the average standard among world cities; it no longer deserves any special accolades or allowances.  

For the record, of all the cities that I have ever visited, the one that scored the highest for public transportation, in my opinion, was Berlin.

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