Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Why our public transportation system should be a cut above the rest

Thinking about my previous post yesterday, I had a brief epiphany.

My contention in the latter part of that post was that our public transportation system, while still of relatively good quality, was no longer deserving of special praise and in fact has problems. Unless we demure that Singapore is competing in the league of world cities, a good public transportation system is in fact de rigueur for us.

Then I realized that while our current system seems adequate, a good, middle-of-the-league public transportation system for Singapore is not good enough

It should be an excellent one, a best-of-breed even, one that should be the envy of other cities much like Changi airport is.

I can think of at least 3 reasons why:

1. The total cost of car ownership (including usage costs) is high by government design due to the imposition of numerous fees and tariffs (e.g. ERP, COE etc.). It is hence incumbent on the state to make public transportation a compelling alternative to car ownership. If the state chooses to stint on public transportation spending, then car ownership will continue to be in demand as public transportation is perceived as an unviable alternative. Then it can be argued that all that extra revenue that the state derives from charges like COE and ERP is simply economic rent garnished from its citizens. This is especially so if the state does not explicitly channel revenue from car ownership tariffs (such as ERP) to public transportation development.

2. Our land area is limited. This is the same reason why the government wants to control the population of cars. An excellent public transportation system is one way of maximizing the use of our land.

The two reasons above are not new. They are even boringly unoriginal. By themselves, they merely argue for a "good" public transportation system, which, let's be charitable here, we already have.

3. The third reason is a new reason I offer as to why we need the best system that we can develop. As a modern industrialized economy that still relies quite a bit on manufacturing, we are (as of 2004) #23 on the list of countries by carbon dioxide emissions per capita. That's not exactly a low ranking, particularly if you consider Japan (#34) and South Korea(#39) which are also manufacturing Asian economies. Further, none of our energy comes from renewable sources.

Even if we ignore a "moral imperative" to develop a best of breed public transportation system to raise energy efficiency and reduce emissions, there is a separate issue we must consider.

In an era when climate change is, even if overshadowed by the financial crisis, clearly on the global agenda, it may be that in the not-to-distant future, countries that are recalcitrant about reducing their emissions, and have small or marginal economies (unlike say, the USA or China), will be looked on by other countries with the same amount of respect as countries with a track record of human rights violations (i.e. like the global pariahs of North Korea and Myanmar). 

In other words, a country's 'green cred' could well become a critical component of foreign policy. And if the Obama administration puts the environment near the top of the agenda, which is a complete about-face from the Bush administration's consistent refusal to ratify the Kyoto Protocol, then 'green cred' could well be the new face of international diplomacy.

And what better way to help serve the public, save the environment and bolster foreign policy than with the best public transportation system possible? 

1 comment:

Gerous said...

The government is not interested in any green effort, unless they are able to tax it. Case in point, government considering to implement a carbon emission tax.

If the government is really interested in saving the environment, they should not remove the CNG conversion rebate, and they should give a rebate for people who wants to buy a hybrid vehicle.

my 2 cents worth.