Archive for January, 2008

Telling, innit?

When we decide that we have to build a transport route right through some of our last remaining nature reserves (and thus at huge environmental and cultural cost), we choose to build an expressway instead of a rail link, although the latter would carry more commuters in total and help those commuters who at present have the relatively longer commutes (public transport commuters versus drivers).

Elitist transport policies, anyone?

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Another Blow to the ‘World-class’ Myth

Some highlights from a study done by a certain Ooi Giok Ling, as reported by the Business Times:

Singapore ranks poorly among global cities for the reach of its public transport system, according to a recent comparative study of 50 cities by Ooi Giok Ling from the National Institute of Education.

The Republic ranked 31st in terms of total length of public transportation lines per 1,000 people, Prof Ooi’s study shows.

[…]

Singapore has just 0.1 km of subway track per square kilometre, compared with 0.4 km for Hong Kong, 1 km for London, and 4 km for Paris, said Dr Kog.

‘We still have a very long way to go in terms of MRT transport. To reduce the car population, we need very good public transport,’ he said.

Out of the 50 cities, Singapore also ranked 37th in terms of total length of reserved public transportation routes per thousand people.

Singapore ranked 20th in terms of total number of public transport vehicles per million people.

[…]

It also ranked 44th in terms of daily trips made by foot per person, and 8th in terms of daily trips made on public transport per person.

The study covered major cities in Europe, the US, Australia, Japan, China, India, South-east Asia and the Middle East. The European cities did especially well, said Dr Kog.

So Singaporeans walk a lot less than people in the other cities surveyed. Since we have a high ranking for public transport usage, they probably didn’t count walks made to/from public transport stops as trips made on foot. I find the sedentary habits of people here quite shocking —- many would consider even a 200m walk ‘far’. And I think these habits are at least partly a result of urban planning that does not, for example, encourage you to walk to the grocery store instead of driving, even if it’s only 1/2 km away. For example, many of my walks would be a lot more pleasant if they didn’t involve crossing large busy smelly arterial roads where I either have to wait for ages for the green pedestrian lights or detour (both horizontally and vertically) to an underpass/overpass. Small roads are far more friendly to pedestrians.

He also said Singapore’s garden city concept does little for nature and biodiversity – a view echoed by many environmentalists here, including the Nature Society and its president Geh Min.

Instead, planners ought to think about urban biodiversity. Part of this, ironically, is to consider packing more people into a smaller area.

Yes. Singapore’s urban planning seems to be modelled after American urban sprawl. The only difference being we have somewhat better public transport linking ‘suburbs’ to ‘hubs’. But we have the strip malls, the centralization of services within each ‘suburb’, the car-centric design of each ‘suburb’, the channeling of all traffic through a few often-congested arterial roads, the expressways linking suburbs to other suburbs with few other transport options available, etc.

Dr Kog, who is president of East West Engineering Consultants, also said many buildings in Singapore are built in ways that force occupants to rely on air-conditioning, due to lack of ventilation.

The country cannot mandate against use of air-conditioning, but could legislate for building conditions that are less dependent on air-conditioning, he said.

This is another of my bugbears. Many buildings in Singapore have completely air-conditioned interiors. This seems to be quite unnecessary. Supposing that it is necessary for office productivity to have air-conditioned workspaces, we could still design buildings to have outward-facing, well-ventilated corridors (a la HDB flats) or common non-work areas like pantries and lobbies. Like it or not, the whole world, and that includes us, has a responsibility to the environment. Sadly the economy does not provide its own carbon tax, so inefficient, inconsiderate building designs aren’t penalised. And one doubts the government would want to penalise the construction industry thus (besides, non-air-conditioned corridors are so third-world).

Bikes are Still Toys

When I read somewhere that the Transport Minister had indeed mentioned some pro-cycling measures, I’d actually dared to hope that it’d be something like being able to bring bikes on trains during off-peak hours, or bike racks on public buses, or even bike lanes on the roads. No such luck, of course.

From his speech:

Facilitating Cyclists

44 Cyclists are another group that we will facilitate. There is a growing interest in cycling, with more people cycling for recreation, or to get around the neighbourhood.

45 We invited some of them to our land transport review focus group discussions to see how we could better cater to their needs. Some cyclists asked for more bicycle stands around our bus and MRT stations. Others made the point that some foldable bicycles were not much bigger than prams, so why not allow them onboard our trains and buses?

46 Responding to this, LTA together with the public transport operators will launch a six-month trial from March 2008 to allow cyclists to carry their foldable bicycles on board trains and buses. LTA will also work with NParks and other agencies to leverage on the park connectors to enable cyclists to get to public transport interchanges more easily. Bicycle parking facilities at the MRT stations and bus interchanges in housing estates will be improved.

47 The cyclists also shared their ‘war stories’ and asked us to help improve safety on our roads. Following a pilot in Changi, LTA will put up signs to alert motorists to the presence of cyclists along frequently used cycling routes such as those in West Coast and Thomson from March 08. LTA and the Traffic Police have also started a trial to allow cycling on pedestrian footways in Tampines.

48 But at the end of the day, it is also an issue of mutual accommodation – for the motorists to look out for cyclists on the road; and for cyclists to have a care for pedestrians.

OK, token statement of ‘don’t kill them!’ in #48. #44 I find quite disappointing: the ‘growing interest in cycling’ is summarised as ‘more people cycling for recreation, or to get around the neighbourhood’. Transitioning to cycling as the main mode of transport (i.e. more than just pedalling the 1km to your local supermarket) is not mentioned. I wasn’t expecting it to; but it does show that we have a long way to go before it’s an acceptable part of one’s lifestyle.

#45: Still no normal bikes on trains, and foldable bikes allowed only on a ‘trial’. And again more encouragement to use park connectors to get to places, and only to local public transport interchanges. I don’t like park connectors for commuting for the simple reason that you have to go really slowly to avoid endangering other users on them. And they also have the unsatisfactory connotation that bicycles belong in parks, as toys, not as vehicles.

To end on a less sour note, this is better than the nothing that I’d expected from the Land Transport Review, but the mindset of Bicycles=Toys still permeates the minister’s speech.

Dodging the Question

So SMRT has responded to letters from ST readers complaining that the shuttle buses deployed during the recent breakdown had drivers who got lost and took more than an hour to make trips that would have taken only a few minutes by train. However, SMRT’s letter does not address the issues of unsatisfactory bus service. They merely reiterate that they had responded quickly, deployed all the staff they had, deployed all the buses they could get, etc. Not a word on the poor set-up of the replacement bus services or the incompetent drivers.

Letters below the fold.
Continue reading ‘Dodging the Question’

Well Spotted.

By zm the studious bloke:

from the annual report, passenger trips have increased 11% from 2002 – 389.7m to 434.9m. However, car kilometres operated dropped from 81.4m to 77.1m. SMRTC has been aggressively cutting costs by cramming as much as people into each train and reducing frequencies since 2004, to maximise shareholder value.

You can download SMRT’s annual report here.

I have excerpted the relevant table from the 2007 annual report:
SMRT’s cost-cutting

This shows that the more crowded trains aren’t just an illusion of grumpy commuters. Average operating car occupancy rose by more than 10% between 2002 and 2007.

Now look at their financial statistics:
SMRT’s 2007 profits

Railway EBITDA per car kilometre, a measure of profit, rose by more than 10% as well between 2002 and 2007. Total car kilometres had dropped, but by only about 5%, so overall their profits rose.

All this makes their following self-praise rather nauseating:
patting yourself on the back

You know that someone is lying through his teeth when he uses the phrase ‘quantum leap’.

Quick Thought About the Land Transport Review

How are they going to enforce the ‘cars must give way to buses coming out of bus bay’ rule? When they wanted to enforce the bus lane hours, they once installed cameras on buses so they could take photos of cars that were in front of them. But taking photos of cars zipping past in the next lane is much more difficult. I have this uneasy feeling that this rule may be about as useful as the present ‘please give way’ signs on the back of buses.

Anticipation (not)

The Land Transport Review is coming out in two parts. I have a hunch it will contain little or nothing about bicycles. How long must we wait before “multi-modal” transport includes bicycles?