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Found 14 results

  1. Loki

    What the duck!

    Really give up on the Straits Times. Today's paper states that these are "trained ducks". What ???
  2. The Great Singapore Drive source: https://www.straitstimes.com/multimedia/graphics/2020/10/great-singapore-drive/index.html?shell The land border with Malaysia is closed to tourists, while the Singapore Tourism Board is promoting domestic tourism. For drivers who miss their motoring trips up north, what are the interesting driving routes here that they can take and where are the unusual places they can visit? Follow Straits Times assistant news editor Toh Yong Chuan virtually as he embarks on a 200km drive around the island to find out. Ready, set, go!
  3. New size criteria let bigger dogs live in HDB flats source: https://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/new-size-criteria-let-bigger-dogs-home-in-on-hdb SINGAPORE - Housing Board (HDB) flat owners can now adopt bigger dogs under a government scheme that has revised the size criteria for rehoming local mixed-breed canines. Dogs up to 55cm tall, with no weight limit, can be rehomed to HDB flats under Project Adore, the Animal & Veterinary Service (AVS) said on Sunday (March 1). Previously, only dogs under 50cm and up to 15kg could be rehomed to HDB flats under the scheme. Large dogs are usually not allowed to be kept in HDB flats, but Project Adore enables this with proper documentation and measures in place. The scheme began in 2012 and allows HDB dwellers to adopt a local mixed-breed dog, typically larger in size than HDB's approved breeds. They cannot be bought from shops or breeders but must come from one of five participating welfare groups - the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA), Action for Singapore Dogs, Save Our Street Dogs, Exclusively Mongrels and Causes for Animals. Stray dogs are taken to vet clinics or the SPCA's clinic to be sterilised, vaccinated and microchipped before being rehomed through the animal welfare groups. AVS, which comes under the National Parks Board, estimates that 50 more dogs, on top of the average of 250 dogs, could be rehomed each year under the new changes, which will be assessed in a two year pilot. The scheme had seen 1,335 local mixed-breed dogs rehomed as at Dec 31 last year. Potential adopters will be screened and all must abide by stringent ownership conditions, such as sterilising, routine vaccinations and undergoing obedience training courses. The AVS announced on Sunday that the K9 public adoption scheme, which allows the public to adopt retired sniffer dogs, will be extended for another two years, as no canines were available in the initial one-year pilot. Dog lovers Brenda Chong, 27, and her husband Heah Yong Chian, 29, are proud owners of three-year-old Belle, which was once a stray in Tuas. The couple, who live in a three-room HDB flat in Telok Blangah, adopted her under Project Adore from Causes for Animals in August 2018. Ms Chong, who is undergoing a diploma conversion course at National Institute of Early Childhood Development, said: "In the beginning, she was a little reserved because she has never been in a home before but now, she is very comfortable. We know, because she makes yawning noises and likes to sleep everywhere, including our bed."
  4. We Should Be Paying For The News We Read, And Here's Why. source: https://blog.seedly.sg/why-pay-for-news-paywall I am not the most articulate writer, nor am I good, experienced, (or thick-skinned enough) to demand that you pay for a piece of my writing. In fact, most of the time, I believe that useful, factual information should be made available and free to the masses, especially when it helps equip people to make better decisions. As a reader, I love not paying for news. Years ago, when news outlet TODAY gave out free printed newspapers at MRT stations, I would excitedly take one and devour the daily news on the train ride to school. Yet, our entitlement to free content disturbs me, and having studied journalism in my undergraduate years, I’ve learned how the simple act of not paying for news has the ability to change certain industry practices, and how this has affected Singapore’s changing media landscape. Charging For Access: How Much Does It Cost To Pay For News? Before delving into my op-ed piece on the importance of paid readership, here’s a quick overview of the different subscription models different news outlets employ, for you to get a sense of the costs involved in a subscription-based model for local, and overseas news agencies: Paying For News In Singapore Overseas News Subscription Fees As seen, not all publishers charge highly for news, and international news organizations like Wall Street Journal and The Times have relatively affordable subscription rates. News outlets also have different practices. The New York Times and The Economist allow you to read a certain number of free articles each month, while The Straits Times labels certain content as ‘premium’, setting up a paywall that allows only it’s subscription members to access certain articles. [Op-Ed] Why It Matters That Readers Pay For News Voluntarily. Setting up a paywall definitely leaves a bad taste in the mouth for most readers. Evidently, when Straits Times set up its paywall for ST Premium back in 2018, it received a hell of a backlash from its readers. To be sure, I am not advocating for paywalls, nor am I encouraging newsrooms to slap hefty premiums that border on being exploitative, on readers. What I believe in, however, is for readers to pay their own way, for quality content that they enjoy. Call me idealistic, and this may be a bit of a stretch: but I find paid readership, coupled with the production of unique, high quality and compelling content from news outlets, will do Singapore’s media landscape a lot of good. Paid Readership Encourages Newsrooms To Act More Independently In the code of ethics put up by the Society of Professional Journalists (I learned this in a media ethics class, ok.), journalists are called to Act Independently. Given the current media landscape where advertisers and the government are newsroom’s main source of profits and livelihood, it is difficult for companies to be reader-centric. Reuters Institute Digital News Report 2017 on digital news consumption showed that 16 percent of Singaporeans pay for online access (this includes ongoing subscription, donations, or one-off purchases), with less than half of its readers saying the trust the news in Singapore. This figure is extremely small and is insubstantial in sustaining the day to day operations of news outlets. What happens then? To compensate for the lack of income, newsrooms start filling their papers with advertorials, injecting a banner or two as page breakers between the content you and I read. Some even move to sponsored articles, where media outlets can earn from $5,000 to $10,000 per sponsored article. Media outlets backed by governments are expected to adhere to certain guidelines and red tapes. There is an apparent struggle with balancing corporate and national interests with ethical journalism work: Once money is involved, there is a need to consider the image of both the corporate and government. Slowly, things start to veer off-course and the line between advertising and reporting starts to blur. It is hard for journalists to be seen by the public as individual entities that are delivering news in a manner that is neutral, especially in areas of politics, financial news, advice, and even government policies. Can you blame them? The content space is extremely saturated and difficult to compete in, and this is made worse when readers don’t find value in paying for news. In such a climate, it is difficult for independent media outlets to thrive, or even survive if they were to stick to the meagre amounts they earn through paid readership. Local news companies are known to be state-controlled, without a unique voice that speaks on its own. This greatly diminished readers’ trust and respect for the newspaper, and when little regard is held for a biased source, people will no longer find value in paying for news. As such, it is important for news companies in Singapore to move away from being ‘politically correct’, and move towards a system that puts readers at the forefront of its interest. When readers find value in paying for news, we create an ecosystem where we have a steady flow of income from a solid readership base. This reduces media outlets’ reliance on firms and corporations for money, and in turn, give newsrooms more leeway when it comes to generating genuine, unbiased content. Should ‘Paywalls’ And Subscription Model Be The Way To Go? That said paywalls and subscription models may not necessarily be the way to go, especially when doing so limits its access to the people who are unable to afford it. Yet, on an individual level, if readers were to pay an amount that they are comfortable with to the publications whose work they recognise as good, value-adding and unique, perhaps that will result in a change in journalism practices to be more grounded, and reader-centric. What Can News Outlets Do To Encourage Readers To Pay For News? Of course, the responsibility of paying for news should not fall solely on readers. As readers, we only pay for things that we find worth paying for. I’m no expert, but here are some ways that may encourage readers to pay for the news they read. Deliver Quality News And Opinion Pieces With Strong, Compelling Takeaways Personally, I subscribe to The Economist and The New York Times. To me, I believe that readers pay for things they value, and I value the in-depth articles from The Economist and the eloquent, well-thought Op-Ed pieces from The New York Times. Aside from those, I love the videos and articles created by South China Morning Post and the occasional thought pieces from TODAY’s Big Read or RICE Media. Developing A Niche According to a study done by the American Press Institute, people are drawn to news for two reasons: First being a desire to be informed citizens (newspaper subscribers, in particular, are highly motivated by this) and because the publication they subscribe to excels at covering certain topics about which those subscribers particularly care. Perhaps, developing a niche, or multiple specializations on topics that speak to the reader may be a viable way forward for news organizations. Paying For The News We Read Paying for news is a sustainable way in which readers can contribute, for independent news media to thrive. Granted, this is a multi-faceted issue, and support from readers can only go so far, especially when the onus is also on news companies to remain as an independent entity. Do you think that news content should remain free for the masses? What would encourage you to pay for the news you read? I’d love to hear your thoughts and the alternative voices to this debate.
  5. Someone we know here 😊
  6. woooooooo, @Mockngbrd is this you? @RadX you lost liao lor, you only appear in MCF mag, ah mock now one up go nation wide liao, to beat him you need to find a way to get yourself onto CNA then can. Leave wall streets Journal out first, so can give some hope to others.....
  7. Singapore ranked 27th Worst in the latest Press Freedom listings... They were narrowly beaten to 26th spot by Libya where 7 Journalists were murdered and 37 kidnapped. This is the highest position that Singapore has ever achieved in the "Worst Press Freedom" listings....
  8. As a small island with short driving distances, Singapore has a practical set-up for electric cars, which are better for the environment than carbon-emitting petrol-fuelled ones. Yet it has only 127 "green" cars - 124 plug-in hybrid vehicles (PHEVs) and three battery- powered electric vehicles (EVs) - registered for use. They make up just 0.02 per cent of the 600,000-plus cars here. One of those electric vehicles hit the headlines earlier this year, highlighting the hurdles that environment-conscious motorists face if taking the petrol-less road less travelled. When Mr Joe Nguyen, 44, the vice-president of an Internet research firm, imported a used electric-powered Tesla, it was slapped with a $15,000 tax surcharge under the Carbon Emissions-Based Vehicle Scheme (CEVS) after undergoing tests by the Land Transport Authority (LTA). Since then, two other Teslas have come to Singapore. They were given rebates of $10,000 and $15,000. Mr Nguyen has said he would write to his MP to get his car re-tested. Yet, EV ownership is rising in other countries, most noticeably in Norway, which has the highest market penetration of green vehicles. About 15 per cent of new cars registered in Norway are EVs. If plug-in hybrid vehicles are added in, this rises to one in every three, or 30 per cent, of new cars. PHEVs run on batteries which can be recharged with an electrical socket, but they also have a conventional engine to take over as a back-up. What is the key to Norway's electric car popularity, and what are the lessons for Singapore? CASE STUDY: WHAT SWAYED A CAR BUYER Mr Mindaugas Zilys, 32, a postman who lives in Honefoss, about an hour's drive north-west of the capital Oslo, paid 585,000 Norwegian kroner (S$99,000) for his Tesla Model S two years ago. This works out to be similar to or slightly cheaper than a comparable fossil fuel car in its class. What led Mr Zilys to pick the Model S - which is Tesla's luxury sedan - was not exactly pro-environment zeal, but rather the fact that the Norwegian government introduced a slew of incentives to make the electric vehicle more attractive. The Model S, for example, apparently gets a huge tax exemption of around US$135,000 (S$187,700), owing to a policy of no purchase/import and value-added tax for zero-emission cars. Another significant economic incentive is savings on petrol, which is expensive in Norway. Mr Zilys figured he would save about 30,000 kroner each year, compared with using a combustion-engine car. "Over seven years, I would save about 210,000 kroner. I will not buy a petrol car any more - driving an electric car is way more fun," Mr Zilys told The Straits Times. Other benefits for EV owners include free municipal parking, access to bus lanes and a low annual road tax. No wonder, then, that out of the 2.6 million passenger cars in Norway, about 120,000 of them are EVs and PHEVs, accounting for about 4 per cent. LURE OF TAX SWEETENERS Electric vehicles do not enjoy instant tax rebates in Singapore, unlike in Norway. However, Mr Petter Haugneland, communications manager with the Norwegian Electric Vehicle Association, when asked about lessons for Singapore, pointed to the success of the measure in his country. He said during an interview in Oslo last month: "To boost the uptake of EVs, you have to look at the tax system for cars. That was the most effective measure in Norway's case." How much cheaper is an electric vehicle in Norway? Mr Haugneland gave the example of the Volkswagen Golf. In Sweden, the electric version costs 98 per cent more than the fossil fuel equivalent, but in Norway, it is 1 per cent cheaper, thanks to the massive tax exemptions for EVs. The use of EVs is also encouraged, from no charges on toll roads or ferries, and access to bus lanes. The latter proved so successful in Oslo, such that buses became slowed down by EVs. Mr Haugneland said it was later mandated that for EVs to use bus lanes, drivers had to ferry other passengers - in other words, carpool. But the benefits will not last forever. The zero tax incentives will continue to 2020 and then be reviewed and adjusted, depending on the market developments. Still, tax rebates are, ultimately, "funded" by taxpayers. In Norway, the tax subsidies and other financial benefits given to EV owners brought about a projected tax shortfall of two billion kroner last year, according to a Reuters report in May that year. EV proponents argue, however, that the cleaner air and reduced pollution is something that one cannot put a price on. And, monetary issues aside, experts point out that conditions in Singapore are conducive for EVs. Motorists here clock an average daily mileage of over 50km in their cars. The range of an EV today, on a single charge, is upwards of 100km. Extreme cold temperatures can also diminish battery performance, so this concern is less relevant here. BROADER ENVIRONMENTAL GOALS In April, Singapore signed the Paris Agreement on climate change, setting a bold target to reduce its emissions intensity by 36 per cent from 2005 levels by 2030. Dr Sanjay C. Kuttan, from the Nanyang Technological University's Energy Research Institute, sees a move to more EVs - cars and buses - as one of the ways to achieve that goal. And he reckons there is no better time than now to ramp up its adoption. He notes the Government's plan for an islandwide car-sharing programme - to be launched by the middle of next year - as a key "step forward". The initiative, called BlueSG, will see 2,000 charging points being built, of which 20 per cent will be available for public use. Motorists can avail themselves of 1,000 electric cars under the 10-year initiative. "We have already committed to more EV infrastructure than we have cars on the road. We are actually now short on cars," he said, adding that one charging station can support as many as four cars. But there needs to be a further push to "level the playing field" between fossil fuel cars and EVs, so both are given a chance to succeed equally in the market, he said. CARBON REBATES DEBATE Another area that lacks a level playing field is the calculation of carbon rebates. Under the LTA's CEVS, CO2 emissions for electric cars are derived from a grid emissions factor. This takes into account the amount of CO2 produced from power plants to generate the electricity EVs use. But CO2 emissions for petrol and diesel cars are based solely on tailpipe emissions. Dr Kuttan said this disadvantages EVs: "I don't think they have done the maths on an apple-to-apple basis. In the carbon emission calculations for fossil fuel cars, they don't calculate the production of the fuel and the transportation from refinery to petrol station." This was pointed out in a white paper study led by Dr Kuttan, published in August by the Sustainable Energy Association of Singapore (Seas), and which proposed other tweaks to the CEVS. In the top band of A1 - cars that produce from zero to 95g of CO2 per kilometre - a rebate of $30,000 is given. But with more differentiation within the band, there is room for low or zero-emission cars to be given more incentives. The white paper also suggested changes to the Building and Construction Authority code to ensure that new buildings all have space provisions for EV charging infrastructure, and for bus fleets to go electric. OVERSTATING THE BENEFITS? But not all experts are convinced that having more EVs is a good idea, because the "benefits" also depend on how power plants produce electricity. In Norway, where around 99 per cent of the electricity supply is generated from hydropower, having more EVs is a no-brainer. But SIM University senior lecturer Park Byung Joon said: "In Singapore, most of the electricity is generated from natural gas. While natural gas is far less environmentally damaging than coal, it is still a fossil fuel." Dr Park also questioned whether EV batteries - which contain toxic chemicals and heavy metals - are good for the environment. He said there is a lack of research on the "life-cycle assessment" of an EV's environmental footprint, "from the manufacturing process, while the product is used, and when it is disposed off". THE WAY FORWARD Adapting Norway's road map to the electrification of its vehicles, may not be ideal, considering the underlying cost of increased tax incentives, and that Singapore's electricity generation is not entirely clean. Reworking the CEVS is a sound suggestion. And in its car-lite push, the Government is heading in the right direction by test-bedding EV use in fleets, such as the car-sharing initiative, and an e-taxi pilot with 100 cabs, that is now progressively rolling out. Whether they harm the environment more than save it is debatable, but EVs perhaps have a bigger future to play in autonomous shared-usage services - self-driving taxis, pods, and buses. In those applications, they carry more people at a go, and can be more efficiently deployed - upping their environmental quotient. The following article is written by Adrian Lim, Correspondent with The Straits Times.
  9. BMW i3 wins 2014 ST Car of the Year http://www.straitstimes.com/lifestyle/motoring/story/winner-2014s-st-car-the-year-bmws-first-electric-car-the-i3-20141227 Readers however chose the Merc Benz C Class as their Car of The Year http://www.straitstimes.com/lifestyle/motoring/story/online-poll-readers-choose-mercedes-benz-c-class-car-the-year-20141227
  10. ST_Opinion

    Put fairness into fare reviews

    ECONOMISTS generally prefer to meet society's desire for equity through targeted, lump-sum transfers to the poor rather than across-the-board subsidies that depress prices. This is because broad-based subsidies not only distort prices, but their main beneficiaries are also usually the rich. Where targeted transfers are provided, the dominant view in economics is that the state should finance these subsidies. This is because equity is a social concern; it is only fair that society - rather than profit-maximising firms - pays. Seen from this perspective, the Public Transport Council's (PTC) announcement of fare increases, combined with targeted help financed by the Government for lower-income individuals and other segments of the commuting public, are both efficient and equitable. Yet, announcements of fare increases in Singapore are usually met with acrimony by a sceptical public. Why is this? One reason could be that commuters are unimpressed by the quality of our public transport system. Trains and buses are crowded during peak hours, and delays are common. When confronted by these inconveniences, it is tempting for commuters to ask why there should be any fare increases at all, and to point to the healthy profits that Singapore's two public transport operators (PTOs) enjoy as evidence that the fare increases are unjustified. Another reason is scepticism over the fare adjustment formula the PTC uses. This formula, which was revised late last year, is (rightly) responsive to the cost structure of the PTOs. But given the duopolistic structure of the public transport industry here, it is fair to ask how regulators could possibly know if our PTOs' cost structure is efficient. This asymmetry of information between regulators and operators bedevils all markets with regulated monopolies. In a market where there is genuine competition between many producers, consumers are far more likely to accept price hikes caused by across-the-board cost increases. But in a duopolistic market such as Singapore's public transport industry, even justified price increases might seem like price-gouging to consumers. In short, the question of whether a fare increase is perceived as fair and justified is often linked to how the public transport industry structure is organised. But the reality is that organisational form - whether it is government organisation or a commercial one - is a poor predictor of how efficient or productive an organisation will be. The experience of public transport privatisations elsewhere has been mixed at best. In some cases, such as the privatisation of the British Rail and the London Underground public-private partnership, privatisation has failed and required large capital injections by governments to bail out failing private operators. This does not suggest that publicly run transport systems have been resounding successes. A government-run public transport system may remove the problem of information asymmetry between regulator and operators, but there is no guarantee it would result in higher efficiency and lower fares. If a government-managed public transport system achieves lower fares via operating subsidies by the state, commuters would be paying for those subsidies indirectly through their taxes. Perhaps, the missing variable in the PTC's fare revision exercise is that it is not seen as being fair enough. First, insights from behavioural economics suggest that in most people's minds, losses loom larger than gains. Various experiments suggest that we value losses twice as much as gains of the same size. This suggests that our adverse reaction to a fare increase is much stronger than our positive reaction to the offsetting subsidies. Second, there is no penalty built into the fare review mechanism to penalise the PTOs for poor quality. The Fare Review Committee preferred to address quality lapses outside of the fare review mechanism. The committee's decision is not without merits. Fares should be set based on the cost of doing business on the assumption that the PTOs are performing at the standards set by the regulator. If the PTOs are constantly penalised for poor quality through lower fares, they may end up in a financial position that makes it difficult for them to meet the prescribed quality standards in the first instance. Nevertheless, this well-intentioned approach of decoupling penalties for poor quality from the computation of fares is insensitive to people's equity bias. It severs the link people want to see between price and quality. Commuters may thus interpret higher fares without a commensurate improvement in quality as simply a reward for mediocrity. To satisfy the public's demands for fairness, policymakers can consider harmonising their fare review cycles with their reviews of the PTOs' performance.That way, the public will have less reason to believe that the PTOs are taking them for a ride - in more ways than one. -- ST FILE PHOTO by Donald Low and Alisha Gill for The Straits Times
  11. Singapore's great weakness is that it is an absurdly small nation. Paradoxically, one great strength of Singapore is that it is an absurdly small nation. Hence, Singapore can try things out on a national scale that few other nations can dream about. Let me suggest one such bold national project. Let Singapore become the first country in the world to have an all-electric fleet of vehicles: cars, trucks, taxis, buses, etc. Singapore can create a new chapter in world history by becoming the first country in the world not to have petrol-fuelled engines on the road. And why should Singapore do this? There will be at least three massive benefits from doing so. Healthier population First, Singaporeans will breathe much cleaner air. Without petrol and diesel engines, there will be much less carbon monoxide, nitrous oxide, particulate matter and other pollutants in the air. As a result, I have no doubt that the health of Singaporeans will improve. There will be fewer instances of asthmatic attacks, and incidents of cancer may also go down. Singapore will also become the quietest city in the world. Economists have not yet established simple and easy ways of measuring such “positive externalities” that will flow from an all-electric fleet in Singapore. Yet, there is no doubt that the environment will improve massively. Singaporeans will become a happier nation and Singapore will become an ever more attractive destination for the best global talent. (Oops, maybe I shouldn’t say this!) Second, Singapore would be positioning itself for the day when a global carbon tax or emissions trading system is introduced. The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change just released its latest climate change report. The evidence is now irrefutable. Human activity, especially in the form of greenhouse gas emissions, is warming the planet. Many countries will suffer the negative effects of rising sea levels and bouts of extreme weather. Singapore will be one of the biggest losers if the worst-case scenario unfolds. While Singapore is too small to make a large difference to climate change mitigation efforts, an all-electric fleet would help us deal with a global carbon tax, thus boosting national competitiveness. Delay climate change By creating an all-electric transportation system, Singapore can help to delay climate change. How? Singapore’s behaviour alone will not make a massive difference. But bear in mind that the Asian middle-class population is about to explode, from about 500 million now to 1.75 billion by 2020. If these new middle-class citizens begin buying petrol-burning cars, the planet will be literally, not metaphorically, fried. Clearly, some powerful examples will be needed to demonstrate that the world would be better off not buying petrol-burning cars. By going all-electric, Singapore will act as a key catalytic agent to help to prevent global warming. The manufacture of electric cars emits more carbon than that of traditional vehicles because of the energy-intensive methods used to mine, smelt and process the iron, lithium and rare earth elements that go into the batteries and other components of electric cars. But studies have shown that electric vehicles make up for this by having much lower carbon emissions when they are in use. Most of Singapore’s electricity is generated from natural gas, a relatively clean fossil fuel. Using electric cars will result in an effective 66 percent reduction of carbon emissions in comparison with petrol- and diesel-powered cars. Cars as status symbols The third benefit of creating an all-electric fleet is that it will help to reduce the obsession with cars as a status symbol, as electric cars will simply be seen as functional vehicles to get from point A to point B. For the few Singaporeans who insist on having status symbols like Maseratis, Ferraris and Lamborghinis, I would like to strongly recommend the Tesla, the environmentally friendly status symbol. By moving to an all-electric fleet, we shift the status competition in Singapore away from having the most powerful and fastest cars to having the most environmentally friendly ones. So who should lead the charge to convert Singapore’s car fleet into an all-electric one? I think I know what is going on in the mind of any Singaporean who is reading this sentence. Every Singaporean will expect the Government to take the lead. Unfortunately, this is the wrong answer. If the Government tries a top-down strategy, there will be a lot of resistance. The only way such a massive change can take place smoothly is for it to be a bottom-up initiative. New developmental approach Indeed, as Singapore approaches the 50th anniversary of its independence and Singaporeans ponder on the next 50 years, the country should consider a major change of approach to the future development of the country. Singapore has been extraordinarily successful in our first 50 years because of a remarkable number of government-initiated policies. Let me just cite Singapore Airlines, Changi Airport, PSA, and the Singapore Newater story as a few examples. None of these were citizen initiatives. However, for the next 50 years, we will need a balance of government-led and citizen-led initiatives. Making Singapore the first electric vehicle nation should be the first citizen-led initiative in the nation’s history. Anyone who thinks that a single citizen cannot make a significant difference should look at the record of Tesla Motors and its chief executive Elon Musk. Mr Musk is giving a personal guarantee (including with his personal money) that the Tesla will retain as much second-hand value as the equivalent Mercedes. Even more astoundingly, he has begun building charging stations so that you can drive from Los Angeles to New York in a Tesla. If you can drive across a large country like the United States in an electric vehicle, it is surely possible to do so in Singapore. No charging station in Singapore will be more than a few kilometres away. In fact, charging stations could even be installed in private parking lots and driveways. The Government can help by creating an infrastructure that supports electric vehicles. It could also provide tax and other benefits. Currently, because of the high cost of electric vehicle batteries, such cars cost more, thus placing the vehicle in a higher tax bracket than cheaper but less environmentally friendly cars. Even the recently introduced Carbon Emissions-Based Vehicle Scheme (CEVS) does not offset the higher costs. Sadly, Tesla had to close its dealership in Singapore without selling a single fully electric car after less than a year because it was not able to receive “green tax benefits” from the Government. But the benefits that would flow from the creation of an all-electric fleet would be far greater than the tax revenues that the Government stands to lose in giving out tax benefits. In short, it is a “no-brainer” for Singapore to become the first country in the world with an all-electric vehicle fleet. No other country can do it as easily as Singapore. The benefits in all dimensions - environmental, health, social - will far outweigh any costs. Indeed, I cannot think of any real cost to making the change. So the big question is: Which citizen of Singapore will stand up and take the lead? If the movement succeeds, it will “electrify” both Singapore and the world. The hour has come. Let the right man or woman stand up and lead the movement. -- ST ILLUSTRATION : Miel by Kishore Mahbubani for The Straits Times
  12. Even though most of the infrastructure plans outlined in the latest Land Transport Masterplan were announced in the run-up to the Punggol by-election in January, the document is admirable for the way it maps out methodically what Singapore needs to do to keep its population moving up to 2030. But a masterplan requires more than just hardware. It needs to spell out more qualitative targets, rather than focus on quantitative ones such as the length of rail network and number of buses. It needs to get to the crux of what leaves commuters satisfied: service quality. While the plan spells out issues such as service frequency and reliability, as well as walking distance to and from a train station or bus stop, the proof of the pudding goes beyond that. There is a need to look at how crowded it can get, the quality of air-conditioning, train speed (which has been patchy of late), station dwell time, dependability of services such as lifts and escalators, and even noise level on trains. The plan needs to deliver that lofty promise touted famously by a leading airline - "making sure you arrive in the best possible shape" - if public transport is to have any chance at all competing against the car. Here, the goal is to make public transport a choice mode, rather than a mode of no choice. To do that, there needs to be a slight shift away from an engineering-centric way of meeting an objective and measuring how successful we have been doing so. But that does not mean diminishing the importance of engineering. In that respect, the quality of infrastructure needs to be nailed down, since this will eventually determine its reliability and longevity. In light of recent rail breakdowns, it appears that there are still struggles with water leakage in tunnels - an issue faced by builders since the Central Expressway opened more than 20 years ago, despite improvements in construction material and technology. These leaks appear to be the root cause of many MRT incidents, including at least two tunnel fires and tracks that corroded barely three years after a new line was opened. If leaks are indeed unavoidable - as claimed by the Land Transport Authority - then it must be made sure that water is channelled safely away from all operating parts such as rails and cables. And if such parts cannot be placed out of the path of water, then at least ensure that they are water-resistant. There is little point stating that Singapore's infrastructure specifications meet international standards - each geographical region poses its own set of challenges. So engineers here should specify standards that are suitable for local conditions - just as car makers 'tropicalise' models meant for hot and humid markets. It is true that it is the responsibility of operators to ensure operating assets are well-maintained and flaws are fixed quickly. But that responsibility becomes much more onerous if an infrastructure is prone to one form of failure or another in the first place. Singapore pays top dollar for its infrastructure. So it is reasonable to expect a high level of robustness. Another area that needs overhauling is a transport framework that suffers from the tension arising from profit-oriented operators providing a public service. It is now clear that publicly listed operators face opposing values of satisfying shareholders and commuters. While it is in their commercial interest to keep operating assets in good running order, they may be tempted to delay repairs and upgrades for as long as possible. Or do the barest minimum. 'Softer' measures of service quality, such as crowdedness or efficiency of air-conditioning, matter even less. So Singapore needs to move swiftly to a regime where the Government takes ownership of all operating and fixed assets, and, preferably, assumes revenue risk. The operator would then be tasked with focusing solely on meeting a clearly laid out set of service standards - without worrying about the bottom line, because their profit margins would already have been fixed. An effective carrot-and-stick regulatory system will then ensure that the welfare of commuters is prioritised. Any masterplan also needs to be stuck to. One way to ensure this is to have longer stints for ministers and permanent secretaries. Former Transport Ministers Mah Bow Tan and Yeo Cheow Tong outlined ambitious rail projects during their terms. Mr Yeo told Parliament in 2000 that Singapore would have 540km of rail lines by 2030. But only now are some of these projects being built; and we will have only 360km of rail by 2030. A plan in 1997 to upgrade the signalling system of the North-South and East-West MRT lines - which would have allowed trains to run at closer intervals - will be completed only in 2018. If those original plans were adhered to, our transport infrastructure would have kept pace with the population boom. As it is, the rail expansion programme listed in the Land Transport Masterplan 2013 may be merely playing catch-up, as Singapore continues to grow. It does not help that some of the new lines are three- or four-car systems - unlike the six-car models in the country's older lines, and eight-car or scalable systems found in some cities. Finally, this may be time to re-examine two even more fundamental assumptions about transport - that public transport is good and private transport is bad; and there is a need to keep increasing supply to meet demand. To start, we can stop demonising cars, which play a crucial role in any land transport landscape. With fast-emerging technologies such as autonomous vehicles, they might even become more efficient than public transport. With an average occupancy of 20 percent today, a bus may not be more efficient than a car during off-peak hours. Especially when a bus consumes far more fuel and far more road space. The second assumption of building more and more to meet demand is fallacious too. Consider how Singapore's population has grown 110 percent since 1981 but the number of trips (excluding cycling and walking) has spiked by more than 360 percent to 12.5 million a day. Since people commute primarily because they have to, and not so much because they want to, this exponential growth in trips is a tad worrying. If the trend continues at the same pace, it may not be sustainable - economically or environmentally - to keep building more infrastructure to cater to demand. We need to find a better way. And that may require urban and transport planners sitting down together to improve accessibility, and not just mobility. The way we live, work and play on this little red dot also needs tweaking if Singapore wants to avoid the maladies of a mega- city. And that will involve more mixed-use developments, flexi- hours, tele-commuting, walking and cycling. Picture credit: ST Photo - Ashleigh Sim
  13. ST_Opinion

    Driving towards a driverless commute

    It is the 15th of June 2030, and for Sam and Sue of Ann Arbor, Michigan, it is going to be a busy day. Their daughter Sophia has a 9:00am karate match. At noon, her older sister Sally's high school graduation will begin. And, by 3:00pm, the house must be ready for Sally's graduation party. At 8:40am, Sam uses a smartphone app to order a ride from Maghicle, Ann Arbor's mobility service, which uses self-driving robotic vehicles. Within minutes, Sam, Sue, and Sophia are headed for the karate club. En route, Sophia studies videos of her opponent's past matches, while Sue catches up on e-mail and Sam orders appetisers and flowers for the party. They arrive at the club on time, and the robot proceeds to pick up someone else nearby. Sally, who must arrive at school by 10:30am, has already ordered a Maghicle ride. When she boards at 10:15am, she receives a text message from her best friend Amanda, who wants to ride with her. Sally enters Amanda's address in the Maghicle app, and the robot chooses the best route. At 11:30am, as a victorious Sophia trades her karate uniform for something better suited for her sister's graduation, Sam receives a text message confirming that a small temperature-controlled pod has delivered the appetisers for Sally's party in the secure, refrigerated drop-box at the house. When Sophia is ready, the family orders another Maghicle ride, this time to Sally's school. They take their seats and, as Sam waves to Sally sitting with her classmates, he is struck by how quickly 17 years have passed. In 2013, Sam's day would have been far more difficult, stressful, and expensive. He would have wasted far too much time in his petrol guzzling Sport Utility Vehicle (SUV), stuck in traffic jams or searching for parking. Now, because he does not need to own a car, he spends far less on transportation and has more time to do as he pleases. With services like Maghicle enabling people to get around safely, affordably, conveniently and sustainably, Sam does not have to worry about his family getting into car accidents, as his parents worried about him. By contrast, today's road transportation system is inconvenient, unsustainable and dangerous. Of the nearly one billion motor vehicles worldwide - enough to circle the planet 100 times if parked end to end - some 95 percent depend on oil for energy, making car travel subject to resource geopolitics and price volatility. Furthermore, combustion engines account for more than one-fifth of the world's carbon emissions, contributing significantly to climate change. And, with more than 1.2 million people dying on the road each year, car travel remains a proven killer. Sam's world of 2030 is not mere fantasy. But achieving it will require a thorough overhaul of the existing road transportation system - and that means overcoming the complex combination of public and private elements, vested interests, ingrained business models and massive inertia that has so far impeded its development. Indeed, with certain institutions and industries benefiting when all of the system's components - vehicles, roads, fuel stations, traffic laws, regulations, vehicle standards and licensed drivers - work together, no transformational development has occurred in road transportation since Karl Benz invented the car and Henry Ford popularised it. A narrow focus on, say, developing better batteries, improving fuel efficiency or making car production more sustainable is inadequate to catalyse the needed transformation. A genuinely transformational solution is needed - one that meets the needs of consumers, businesses, and governments. An integrated network of driverless, electric vehicles that are connected, coordinated and shared should form the core of that solution. Such vehicles would be programmed to avoid crashes, leading to fewer deaths and injuries and less property damage. In order to minimise the excessive resource consumption associated with driving, the vehicles would be tailored to trip characteristics, such as the number of passengers. For example, lightweight, two passenger vehicles can be up to 10 times more energy efficient than a typical car. In the United States, where 90 percent of cars carry one or two people, reliance on such vehicles would result in a dramatic decline in carbon emissions, which would fall even further as a result of less road congestion and smoother traffic flows. Moreover, the land and infrastructure needed for parking would be significantly reduced. Under such a system, personal mobility could cost up to 80 percent less than owning and operating a car, with time efficiencies augmenting those savings further. For Americans earning a minimum wage of $7.25 an hour (S$9.25), time spent driving at a speed of 30 miles (48km) an hour costs $0.24 cents a mile (S$0.31 per 1.61km). At the U.S. median hourly wage of US$25 (S$31.89), each mile costs $0.83 (S$1.06). Given that Americans drive roughly three trillion miles annually, saving just one US cent a mile implies $30 billion (S$38 billion) in annual savings. The technology needed to advance such a scheme exists. The task now is to introduce prototype systems in representative communities, in order to prove what is possible, discover consumers' preferences, determine the most attractive business models and identify and avert unexpected consequences. Once the prototypes have proved effective and practical, they should scale quickly without public incentives. As with other innovations - such as mobile phones, e-books, digital photography and music, and flat-screen televisions - large-scale deployment will occur when the new technologies reach the market tipping point, when their value to consumers exceeds the costs to businesses of supplying them. Policy makers would be responsible only for guaranteeing the expanding system's safety. A cleaner, safer, more convenient road transportation system is possible - and closer to being realised than many believe. It needs only the chance to prove itself. Picture credit: Agence France-Presse