Saturday October 13, 2012
Motorists to be hit in the pocket again
INSIGHT DOWN SOUTH
By SEAH CHIANG NEE
A new GPS system of charging self-drive commuters adds pressure to switch to public transport.
AS one of the world’s most expensive countries for car-owners, Singapore has started to test a new satellite-tracking technology to tax vehicles on congested roads.
The government plans to use the Global Positioning System (GPS) to track cars on congested roads and highways and charge them levies. If necessary, this may replace the current annual road tax.
Satellite tracking will replace the current Electronic Road Pricing (ERP) system that uses some 80 electronic gantries located at various busy expressways and in the city centre.
The GPS trial began in May on a stretch of Woodlands Avenue 12 not far from the Causeway, said the Today newspaper, quoting the Land Transport Authority (LTA).
The replacement of road gantries would happen in the space of 18 months, it added.
When operational, the new technology can change the travel habits of nearly a million motorists in the republic as well as visiting Malaysian drivers.
This new form of charging motorists may make it even more expensive to use a car in Singapore. For the state Treasury, it will be a more effective source of revenue.
It will be a step closer to the day when operating a car in space-challenged Singapore will be out of reach of the middle class.
The new system’s other capabilities include better traffic control like catching speeding vehicles and those which beat red lights, spotting illegal parking or tracking hit-and-run drivers.
It can help find stolen cars, assist police in solving certain types of crimes, and aid in tracking offenders.
The Straits Times, however, warned: “Singaporeans will have to watch not only their back, but high in the sky whenever they think of committing a traffic offence.”
The authorities can also – if they want to – use it to keep track of the movements of political foes.
“Big Brother will be watching you!” exclaimed one blogger.
A web surfer said it would really bring things to a whole new level: “In future your car would be watched every hour of the day, seven days a week. And that’s just plain creepy.”
A transport official mentioned no launch date, but said these are still early days. It could be a few years before all problems are ironed out and the system becomes fully operational.
He said: “(The trial area) Woodlands Avenue 12 is a suitable site as it is a relatively straight road with high traffic volumes, and a good mix of different vehicle types.”
The way our population is expanding, there is little prospect of the motorist avoiding the move away from the car to public transport, however crowded it may be.
It does not augur well for the aged, the sick and the handicapped. Official projections see the population reaching 6.5 million, but land space will remain the same.
A plethora of taxes, some uniquely designed in Singapore to reduce the car population and private car usage, has succeeded well in two areas – cutting traffic jams and lightening the burden on Singa-porean pockets.
There are few countries where buying and operating a car is more expensive than in Singapore. Any elected government that tries the same measures will be out the door in the next election.
As a result, Singapore has only 12 cars per 100 people, half of Hong Kong’s 24.
The taxes imposed on private cars in Singapore are so devilishly complex that it would take a whole chapter to list them and explain how they work.
The purchasing costs include these mind-boggling factors: registration fee, cost price, road tax, COE (certificate of entitlement), additional registration fee and Customs duty.
Understandably, many Singaporean buyers do not fully understand them; they simply pay – and grumble.
Increasingly, young professionals are emigrating to countries where cars are a lot cheaper.
Here, a medium-sized 1,600cc Japanese car costs around S$120,000 (RM300,031), enough to buy a bungalow in many Asian countries. This is twice the price 18 months ago following a surge in COE prices.
How the government intends to operate the GPS system is anyone’s guess. But it will have more options than the current gantry technology.
For example, it may impose a road levy charging the motorist according to mileage covered, the time of usage or the location – or any combination of the three.
If it replaces the flat annual road tax, it could mean that the charge meter could start running the moment the owner drives his car out of his house.
“Under satellite tracking every time he drives to the corner coffee shop for a toast-and-egg breakfast, he pays for using the road,” a veteran taxi driver explained.
An advantage is that he may no longer pay an annual road tax, which could benefit infrequent motorists.
In time, the GPS method of charging may become even more unpopular than the current electronic gantry system.
Some people believe it would be implemented either long before or after 2016, the next general election.
The whole thing is part of the government’s strategy to get Singaporeans out of their cars and into public transport.
City planners want 70% of peak-hour trips by Singaporeans to be on trains and buses eventually.
The way to do it is to hit commuters in the pocket.
Years ago, an enthusiast who ran a special car blog estimated that a Singaporean must earn S$7,650 (RM19,125) a month to be able to buy and operate a car without financial stress.
At that time, the average family income was S$7,000 (RM17,500) a month.
That led to his conclusion that “a car has become a luxury item in Singapore”.