Parliamentary Questions for the Minister for Transport

Hazel Asks the Transport Minister

Accidents at Roundabouts in Silver Zones

8 May 2024

Ms Hazel Poa asked the Minister for Transport (a) what is the current total number of roundabouts located in Silver Zones; and (b) what is the number of accidents reported at roundabouts located in Silver Zones for each of the last three years.

Mr Chee Hong Tat: There are a total of 15 roundabouts located within the 40 existing Silver Zones today. There was a total of four accidents reported at roundabouts within Silver Zones from 2021 to 2023.

Non-Technology Savvy Passengers

2 April 2024

Ms Hazel Poa asked the Minister for Transport whether he will consider imposing licensing conditions on companies with a significant market share of the taxi and private hire transport sectors to offer telephone booking and cash payment options so as to cater to passengers who are not technology-savvy.

Mr Chee Hong Tat: Call-booking trips currently make up about 1% of all point-to-point trips. As announced at the Ministry of Transport’s Committee of Supply, ComfortDelGro will continue to offer call-booking services as it currently fulfils more than 99% of these trips. [Please refer to “Committee of Supply – Head W (Ministry of Transport)”, Official Report, 5 March 2024, Vol 95, Issue 130, Budget section.]

All taxi and ride-hail operators already accept cash payment for street-hail and ride-hail services.

Waiting Times for Cross-border Bus Services

2 April 2024

Ms Hazel Poa asked the Minister for Transport (a) with more Singapore and Malaysia cross-border travellers allowed to use e-gates, whether LTA has observed an increase in median waiting times for cross-border bus services in line with the increased speed at which travellers are clearing immigration checks; and (b) whether LTA will consider increasing the frequency of cross-border bus services during peak hours (including weekends) to reduce congestion caused by travellers waiting for buses at the checkpoints.

Mr Chee Hong Tat: The Land Transport Authority and Immigration & Checkpoints Authority have worked with bus operators to add more trips and facilitate shuttle services between the Singapore and Johor checkpoints during peak periods. In March 2024, we added more trips for services 160, 170X and 950 on weekends; and reduced the average scheduled headway for Service 170X from eight minutes to five minutes.

Yuan Ching Road Accident

26 February 2024

Ms Hazel Poa asked the Minister for Transport whether the Ministry will consider providing a pedestrian crossing or an overhead bridge along Yuan Ching Road where a 12-year-old girl was killed in an accident recently.

Mr Chee Hong Tat: Pending the outcome of the Coroner’s Inquiry and Traffic Police’s ongoing investigations, LTA will review if additional measures are required.

Transition to SimplyGo Fare Platform

5 February 2024

Ms Hazel Poa asked the Minister for Transport (a) what is the reason for choosing a transport payment system like SimplyGo that does not show commuters the fares and deductions; and (b) what are the benefits that justify this trade-off.

Ms Hazel Poa asked the Minister for Transport (a) whether the cost of $40 million to renew the present card-based ticketing system and continuing to run it alongside the SimplyGo system is a one-off or recurring expenditure; (b) how much has been spent or committed to be spent in (i) the development of the SimplyGo system and (ii) this conversion attempt, including time, manpower and other expenses.

The Minister for Transport (Mr Chee Hong Tat): Mr Speaker, may I have your permission to take Question Nos 2 to 22 together? My reply will also address Written Question Nos 56 to 59 for today’s Sitting and related questions from Mr Christopher de Souza1,2, Mr Edward Chia³, Mr Mohd Fahmi4,5 and Mr Zhulkarnain Abdul Rahim⁶ for subsequent Sittings.

Mr Speaker: Yes, you may. Please proceed.

Mr Chee Hong Tat: Thank you, Sir. Mr Speaker, I will first provide a background on why we implemented the SimplyGo account-based ticketing (ABT) system since 2019. Next, I will go through the considerations for the Land Transport Authority (LTA)’s announcement on 9 January 2024 to sunset the card-based ticketing (CBT) system for adult commuters. Finally, I will explain why we decided on 22 January not to proceed with this original plan and how we move forward from here.

Before we had SimplyGo, commuters used stored value cards like EZ-Link cards and NETS FlashPay cards to pay their public transport fares. These cards work on a CBT system, where information like the card balance is stored on the card itself.

In 2016, LTA observed that more commuters were using contactless bank cards and mobile wallets for retail payments. Other major public transport systems were also starting to offer commuters the option of using these payment modes.

Our existing CBT system is unable to support bank cards and mobile wallets because these do not hold stored value, and transactions cannot be processed on the CBT card reader. To enable such payments, we needed an ABT system. In an ABT system, when commuters tap their card or smart device, their fares are computed at the backend, and not at the fare gates or bus card readers.

LTA started a pilot in March 2017 to allow payments by bank card via a new ABT system, which was subsequently scaled up into the SimplyGo system in 2019.

Since its launch in 2019, more commuters used SimplyGo over time. In December 2023, 41% of adult commuters were using bank cards and mobile wallets for public transport, while another 23% of adult commuters were using SimplyGo ABT stored value cards. In total, 64% or about two-thirds of adult commuters were using the SimplyGo ABT system in December 2023.

The proportion of adult commuters using SimplyGo has continued to increase after our announcement on 22 January 2024, when the public was informed that LTA would extend the CBT system for adult commuters till at least 2030. From 23 to 31 January 2024, about 9,000 adult commuters, or around 1,000 per day, have converted their CBT cards to the SimplyGo system. We now have close to 70% of adult commuters using SimplyGo in end January, with 44% using bank cards and mobile wallets and 25% using SimplyGo stored value cards.

Many commuters chose to use SimplyGo because of its benefits. For example, it allows commuters to use bank cards and mobile wallets for public transport, instead of carrying an additional card. If a registered user loses his SimplyGo stored value card, he can block it and protect the value in his account. Users can also top-up their SimplyGo cards for their family members via the app, without having the card physically present.

However, SimplyGo has its limitations too. It operates on the ABT system and hence it cannot display the fare deduction and card balance information at the fare gates and bus card readers, without causing delays to the flow of commuters. Commuters are able to view their transactions and balance by using the SimplyGo app or the ticketing machines at train stations and bus interchanges.

LTA is not aware of any current technical solutions to overcome the latency problem for ABT cards. Other public transport systems around the world, such as London and Hong Kong, face the same limitation with their ABT systems. Like us, their CBT systems can display fare deductions and card balances, but their ABT systems are currently unable to do so.

Sir, I will now explain the considerations for LTA’s 9 January 2024 announcement to sunset the CBT system for adult commuters from 1 June 2024.

LTA is currently operating three systems: the SimplyGo ABT system and two separate CBT systems developed at different times to support the adult cards and concession cards respectively. The two CBT systems are separate and the cards on each system are not compatible.

Like all IT systems, our CBT systems have a finite shelf-life. As the CBT system for adult commuters would reach end-of-life in 2024, LTA had to make a decision whether to extend the system, or to stop operating it after it reaches end-of-life.

To extend the system until at least 2030, LTA would need to spend an estimated $40 million to buy new hardware and equipment, and then operate and maintain the system over the next few years. This is a cost that LTA had wanted to avoid incurring by sunsetting the CBT system for adult commuters.

Between 2020 and 2023, LTA consulted different groups of commuters to gauge their readiness to transit to an ABT system. LTA also issued SimplyGo ABT cards to seniors, adults and students and gathered their feedback after they used the card for a few months. In total, LTA engaged over 1,000 commuters.

During these engagements, one of the feedback we received from seniors in particular, was that they were not very familiar with using the SimplyGo app and preferred to continue viewing fare deductions and card balances at fare gates and bus card readers. Based on this feedback, LTA decided not to shift concession card holders over to SimplyGo and instead retain the concession card CBT system for these commuters.

LTA also took on board feedback to improve the user experience for the app, such as enabling push notifications to alert app users when they make fare transactions and when their card balance is low. We also ensured that commuters who are not using the app could check their transactions and account balance using the ticketing machines at bus interchanges and train stations.

After observing that more adult commuters were coming on board the SimplyGo ABT system – I have mentioned earlier, two-thirds by December 2023 – LTA assessed that it could proceed to announce its plan to sunset the CBT system for adult commuters by 1 June 2024. It made the announcement on 9 January, with the intention of giving commuters sufficient time to make the transition before 1 June.

The 9 January announcement was met with strong reactions from commuters. While many have switched to using SimplyGo, LTA had under-estimated the strong preference of some commuters who wanted to continue seeing their fare deductions and card balances immediately at fare gates and bus card readers. After listening to the feedback from commuters, we understand their concerns and respect their preferences. We therefore decided not to proceed with the earlier decision to sunset the CBT system for adult commuters, so that commuters who prefer to have the option of using CBT EZ-Link cards or NETS FlashPay cards to pay for public transport can still do so.

With this change, there is no need for commuters to convert to SimplyGo. Those who find SimplyGo useful can switch over to the ABT system, while those who want to retain their current CBT cards can continue to do so. Commuters have a choice and can decide which system they prefer.

In making this decision, we will not be able to avoid the estimated cost of $40 million to maintain the adult CBT system till at least 2030. However, we will have an extended CBT system that can serve the needs of adult commuters who want to continue viewing their fares and balances at fare gates and bus card readers. The estimated cost of $40 million will be borne by the Government and will not affect public transport fares. We will also find ways to integrate the two CBT systems over time without affecting commuters and to reduce overall costs where possible.

I have tasked LTA to improve the features and user experience of SimplyGo and to find ways to overcome the technical challenge so that it could display fare deductions and card balances at the fare gates and bus card readers without slowing down the flow of commuters. There is currently no solution at the moment, but we will try our best. We will work with other Government agencies and we will work with industry experts to explore possible solutions.

Dr Lim Wee Kiak asked about fare errors. Sir, these can occur with both CBT and ABT cards, though the error rate is very low. When commuters encounter fare errors, they can surface their fare disputes to claim a refund.

With the extension of the concession card and adult CBT systems, both systems will be able to operate till at least 2030. And we retain the option for adult commuters and concession card holders to remain on the CBT system if they wish to do so. We do not have to make a decision now on whether to extend these systems beyond 2030.

In making the decision subsequently, important factors would include whether we can overcome the current technical limitations of the ABT system and which system commuters prefer to use. We will consult widely to understand the needs of different groups of commuters and carefully assess the costs and benefits.

In planning and implementing our next steps, the Ministry of Transport (MOT) and LTA will continue to spend public funds prudently. In areas where we can save money, we will try to reduce costs as much as possible. But where it is necessary to spend, we will do so.

Ms Hazel Poa (Non-Constituency Member): I understood the Minister’s explanation about the latency in the ABT because the information has to be retrieved from the server. So, my question is: can the Minister explain why it is not possible to store the balance information on the card as well? By duplicating the information on the card, we will be able to retrieve the information faster.

My next clarification is on the focus group consultations. Is the Minister saying that for the more than a thousand users that LTA has consulted, there was no or minimal feedback regarding this desire to have their card balances shown on their cards?

Mr Chee Hong Tat: Mr Speaker, the information for ABT is not stored in the card, because, for example, if you have credit cards, there is no card balance to talk about because it is a credit card, bank card or mobile wallet. So, because of that design in the ABT system and the majority of ABT users are actually using bank cards and mobile wallets, as Ms Poa would have heard from my main reply earlier. This is currently not in the ABT system not just here, but also in other cities. Whether we can find a solution to overcome the latency problem, we will try our best.

At the moment, we are not aware of any solutions that can be applied at scale to the whole public transport system, both here and overseas. But we will work with our industry experts and other Government agencies and, if we can find a solution to overcome this latency problem, that would be a plus to enhance the usability and the features of SimplyGo.

The second question, just to clarify, Mr Speaker, I did not say that there was no feedback from the 1,000 commuters with regard to the concerns of not being able to view the fare deductions and card balances at the fare gates and bus card readers. In fact, that was one of the first feedback that came to LTA, especially from seniors. And based on that feedback, LTA then decided not to proceed with the plan to sunset the CBT system for concession cardholders because we understand that, for seniors, many of them told us that they are not familiar with using the app, so, that is why we decided to retain the CBT system for concession cardholders.

For adult commuters, there was some feedback, but we also heard positive comments about the benefits. So, I think, in the end, the decision taken was based on an important consideration, which is, until we can resolve the technical limitations, it is good to give commuters choices and options so that those who prefer the features of SimplyGo can choose to use SimplyGo, if they wish to; those who prefer the features of the CBT system can continue to use these cards, if they wish to.

Note(s) to Question No(s) 2-22:

¹ To ask the Minister for Transport what is the reasoning behind the necessity for phasing out the card-based ticketing system for use on buses and trains in favour of the SimplyGo system.

² To ask the Minister for Transport with regard to the SimplyGo system, whether there are ways to inform commuters of their fare and balance at the point of tapping out without slowing down commute.

³ To ask the Minister for Transport (a) what are the cost-benefit analyses that justified the decision to invest an additional $40 million in extending the legacy card-based ticketing system for public transport; and (b) what measures are being taken to ensure the efficient use of these funds while balancing the needs of commuters.

⁴ To ask the Minister for Transport (a) what are the factors that prompted the decision to postpone the phase-out of the EZ-Link card-based ticketing (CBT) system in favour of SimplyGo; and (b) what are the benefits and long-term vision for promoting account-based ticketing cards as compared to the CBT cards.

⁵ To ask the Minister for Transport how does the Ministry plan to engage with commuters and address concerns about fare display and technical challenges related to usage of SimplyGo cards and ensure that future transitions in public transportation payment systems are met with better preparation and responsiveness to user needs.

⁶ To ask the Minister for Transport (a) what are the plans to increase resources and manpower at MRT stations, bus interchanges and other public transport nodes or areas, to facilitate the upgrading of the current EZ-Link cards to SimplyGo cards for members of the public, especially senior citizens, students and residents of low-income households; and (b) what are the plans to raise public awareness of the benefits of upgrading to SimplyGo cards.

Updating Maps After Building New Roads

10 January 2024

Ms Hazel Poa asked the Minister for Transport (a) whether the Land Transport Authority works with online map providers to update their maps once new roads are built, especially in new estates, such as Tengah and Bidadari; and (b) if so, how can such updates be carried out in a more timely manner.

Mr Chee Hong Tat (for the Minister for Transport): The Land Transport Authority (LTA) publishes new road network map data on LTA Data Mall. This data is consolidated from LTA, Government agencies, such as the Housing and Development Board, JTC Corporation and private developers. LTA also informs online map providers of road network changes prior to road openings to allow them time to update their maps. LTA will continue to work closely with agencies, private developers and online map providers to ensure updated map information is provided in a timely manner.

Assistive Mechanisms in New Buses

9 January 2024

Ms Hazel Poa asked the Minister for Transport (a) whether the Ministry has conducted an estimate of the cost for new buses to be fitted with (i) ramps that can be automatically lowered for commuters in wheelchairs instead of ramps that need to be manually operated by the bus driver and (ii) kneeling mechanisms that allow the body or entrance door of buses to be lowered to facilitate boarding by the elderly or people with disabilities; and (b) if so, what is the estimate of these costs.

Mr Chee Hong Tat (for the Minister for Transport): It can cost up to $8,000 to include an automated ramp on each new bus.

Since 2018, we have introduced the bus kneeling mechanism, which costs about $5,000 per bus, as a standard feature on all new public buses. To date, about 70% of our fleet has been equipped with this mechanism.

Certificates of Entitlement

4 July 2023

Ms Hazel Poa asked the Minister for Transport what percentage of COEs went to HDB flats owners or dwellers for each year in the past 10 years.

Mr S Iswaran: The proportion of car-owning households living in public housing was around 70% in 2013 and declined to 55% in 2019, before increasing and remaining stable at around 60% over the last three years.

4 July 2023

Ms Hazel Poa asked the Minister for Transport (a) whether the Ministry has done any simulation or studies to assess the impact on COE prices if the supply of COE has been stable; and (b) if so, what are the results.

Mr S Iswaran: The Land Transport Authority studies all potential changes to the Certificate of Entitlement (COE) system carefully, including conducting sensitivity analysis where appropriate. Multiple factors can have an impact on COE prices, including but not limited to the general economic climate, changes in commuting patterns, and trends in consumer preferences. We are, therefore, mindful of the limitations of such analysis and cautious in drawing conclusions.

4 July 2023

Ms Hazel Poa asked the Minister for Transport for each year in the past 10 years, how many COEs were allocated to car owners who belong to households that after such allocations would have (i) one car, (ii) two cars and (ii) three cars or more respectively.

Mr S Iswaran: I had addressed similar Parliamentary Questions by Mr Gerald Giam on 29 November 2022 and 10 January 2023, as well as in my Ministerial Statement on 8 May 2023. The Member can refer to these past answers and statement as there has been no material change in the allocation of Certificates of Entitlement. [Please refer to (a) “Data on Families Owning More than One Car”, Official Report, 29 November 2022, Vol 95, Issue 77, Oral Answers to Questions section; (b) “Proportion of Households Owning Two or More Cars”, Official Report, 10 January 2023, Vol 95, Issue 80, Written Answers to Questions section; and (c) “Meeting the Transport Needs of Singaporeans”, Official Report, 8 May 2023, Vol 95, Issue 102, Ministerial Statements section.]

6 November 2023

Ms Hazel Poa (Non-Constituency Member): Mr Speaker, I would like to seek two clarifications from the Senior Minister of State. Firstly, the Senior Minister of State mentioned that for motorcycles, he recognised that it is used for commercial purposes and for livelihood, but that it is similar to private hire vehicles and, therefore, no special considerations given. Can I ask whether MOT has done a study into what percentage of motorcycles is being used for commercial purposes, compared to private cars?

The second clarification is: does the Senior Minister of State have a breakdown of the percentage of COEs in the Open category that is eventually registered to the different categories? And when these COEs are being used to register, say, for Cat B vehicles, when it is deregistered, does the COE go back to the Open category or does it go to the Cat B category?

Mr Chee Hong Tat: Mr Speaker, first, I need to clarify that I did not say that there are no additional support given to motorcycle owners. If Ms Poa had heard my speech correctly earlier, I said that we do recognise that some Singaporeans rely on motorcycles for their livelihoods and there are higher proportions of lower-income individuals among motorcycle owners compared to car owners, and that is why the ARF, road taxes and ERP charges for motorcycles are lower, compared to the other vehicle categories. So, just to clarify that point.

Sir, if I may just also add to earlier questions on the commercial vehicles. Our Light Goods Vehicles ARF is also set at a lower rate: 5% of open market value (OMV), which is much lower than cars as well.

So, we do recognise and we will, as part of the policy that we set, try and see how we can cushion and provide more help for these categories of vehicle owners, while not going against the fundamental principles that, ultimately, defines COE as an allocation mechanism, and we do need to allow the market to work to decide how to allocate the limited supply of COEs.

Sir, as for the motorcycles – it is actually not so straightforward because how do you consider whether this motorcycle is used for commercial or used for personal, when the individual actually uses it for both? And in different cases, and for different individuals, the proportion may actually change. Some of them do use it for commercial purposes from time to time, some of them use it more frequently, similar for PHCs that are owned by individuals. So, I think it is very difficult for us to tell for sure that this is the exact percentage.

But what we recognise is that the nature of how these motorcycles are being used is similar to PHCs because you use it effectively for dual use, unlike say, commercial vehicles, where it is mainly, predominantly for business needs.

Sir, the second question that Ms Poa raised about the Open category, I think I have explained earlier that this is a way for the system to be able to re-allocate, to better meet the demand from the car buyers. So, if the Open category bids are being won and it is being then used for a certain category, it actually reflects what the buyers, what the market demand is.

There are different ways of addressing the need for a more progressive system. But I would put forth to Ms Poa and to the House that COE, while there is an element of that in having Cat A and B, it is actually not the only tool that we have to achieve that progressive element in our car ownership system. Actually, the bigger, and perhaps more direct, tool is the ARF where you very clearly differentiate based on different OMV of the vehicles, how much ARF they have to pay, and it is tiered and progressive.

Mr Speaker: Ms Hazel Poa.

Ms Hazel Poa: Thank you, Mr Speaker. I would like to ask the Senior Minister of State again. Just now, there was a question I asked which was not answered and that is when Open category COE is deregistered after being used to register for a certain category, when it is deregistered, does that COE go into Open category again or to the category that it was registered for?

Mr Chee Hong Tat: Mr Speaker, if the Open category COEs is used for a particular category of cars, then when that car is deregistered, it will go back to that category. But there is a mechanism to then flow part of it back to the Open category, in order for the quota to be re-allocated again. That is part of the system design.

ERP 2.0 On-board Unit

6 November 2023

Ms Hazel Poa asked the Minister for Transport whether the next generation ERP system will continue collecting the data of vehicles when the vehicles are outside of Singapore.

Mr Chee Hong Tat (for the Minister for Transport): The Electronic Road Pricing (ERP) 2.0 system will not collect data when vehicles are outside of Singapore.

6 November 2023

Ms Hazel Poa asked the Minister for Transport what is the expected cost to the Government for providing the installation of the ERP 2.0 on-board unit for vehicles.

Mr Chee Hong Tat (for the Minister for Transport): The Land Transport Authority (LTA) awarded the Electronic Road Pricing (ERP) 2.0 project to the consortium formed by NCS Pte Ltd and MHI Engine System Asia Pte Ltd at a cost of S$556 million in 2016. As the project is still ongoing, the overall project costs will only be finalised upon completion.

Wage Growth of Public Transport Workers

4 October 2023

Ms Hazel Poa asked the Minister for Transport (a) in the past five years, what is the median wage growth for (i) Professionals, Managers and Executives, (ii) non- Professionals, Managers and Executives and (iii) senior management employed by public transport operators; (b) whether the Ministry will consider making this data publicly available in future fare review exercises; and (c) what is the reason for using the national wage index rather than the wage index specifically for the public transport operators.

Mr Chee Hong Tat (for the Minister for Transport): I thank the Member for her question. I have addressed it in my reply at the Parliament Sitting on 3 October 2023. [Please refer to “Impact of Deferring Public Transport Fare Increments”, Official Report, 3 October 2023, Vol 95, Issue 113, Oral Answers to Questions section.]

Number of COEs for Citizens and Foreigners

2 November 2020

Ms Hazel Poa asked the Minister for Transport from 2000 to 2019, what is the annual number of COEs going to (i) Singapore citizens (ii) permanent residents and (iii) foreigners.

Mr Ong Ye Kung: The complete Certificate of Entitlement (COE) records date back to 2002. Since then, the breakdown of COE allocations on average every year are: 22.5% companies registered in Singapore, 77% to Singapore Citizens and Permanent Residents, and 0.5% to foreigners. The Land Transport Authority does not track the detailed breakdown of COE allocation between Singapore Citizens and Permanent Residents.

9 Jan 2023

Mr S Iswaran: … the Land Transport Authority has identified a computational error in an earlier set of data, which mentioned that 0.5% of COEs were allocated to foreigners from 2002 to 2019, provided in response to Ms Hazel Poa’s written Parliamentary Question on the allocation of COEs and published on 2 November 2020. The figure should be 2.3%, instead of 0.5%. The proportion of COEs allocated to foreigners remains low today, and has not changed significantly over the years.