Many people think that prices for certificates of entitlement to buy vehicles will decline from next year
How to drive more cars onto the roads With current technologies, vehicles can be charged varying rates based on actual time of ERP crossing rather than on fixed rates and periods -- PHOTO : ST

MANY people think that prices for certificates of entitlement to buy vehicles will decline from next year. That is because a large number of cars would be 10 years old from then on and would have to be scrapped. Since a new COE is issued when a car is scrapped, the reasoning is that this would lead to a large increase in COE supply and consequently, lower COE prices.

Unfortunately, this expectation ignores a few salient facts. First, the typical car owner is unlikely to give up his car unless forced to do so by acute financial circumstances or poor health. He will bid for a COE to purchase a new vehicle or buy a used car when his vehicle has to be scrapped.

Second, if the economy improves, incomes will rise. Someone waiting to purchase a car is likely to seize this opportunity to buy a new or used car.

Third, many expatriates, especially those in middle and senior positions, purchase cars when they move to Singapore. The growth in expatriate population will further exacerbate the COE issue.

Finally, more Singaporeans are graduating from tertiary institutions and will hold well-paying jobs. Their first major purchase is likely to be a car, driving up demand for - and prices of - COEs.

One of the aspirations of the middle class is car ownership. Any plan to increase wages and improve jobs needs to allow for a significant, if not proportionate, increase in the vehicle population.

It is thus clear that demand for COEs will far exceed supply. This problem can be alleviated by increasing supply of COEs, but that will lead to increased traffic congestion. More roads can be built, but that is costly and should also be the last option in land-scarce Singapore.

The alternative solution, in the near to mid-term, is increasing the throughput of existing roads, that is, to strive for more efficient road usage by vehicles.

There are practical ways to enable higher volumes of traffic on existing roads.

First, modify and extend the use of Electronic Road Pricing

ERP gantries have proved to be less than effective in reducing vehicles on the road at peak times.

Unless the ERP charges are increased substantially, the gantries will serve more as a revenue collection device rather than a deterrent for road usage.

With current technologies, vehicles can be charged varying rates based on actual time of ERP crossing rather than on fixed rates and periods. ERP fees can be designed so there is a high peak-period charge, and the fee is proportionately reduced based on actual time before and after the peak period.

Real-time ERP charging allows for rates to vary with congestion, to encourage drivers to delay their journey or use alternative routes.

These measures can help to normalise traffic flow over the day. An islandwide satellite-based ERP system is a viable alternative to the ERP gantry, with charges varying by time of travel and congestion. Larger vehicles, which take up more space on the roads, can be charged higher rates.

Second, use technology to track vehicles

POSSIBLY the biggest contributor to traffic congestion is inconsiderate or bad driving, such as speeding, road hogging, tailgating, queue jumping, changing lanes without signalling and obstructing lane change.

It is now possible to track the location and speed of a vehicle on the road through radio-frequency identification (RFID), satellite tracking and other location-based technologies.

When a driver knows that his vehicle on the road is being monitored by the authorities, he will be motivated to follow the rules.

When a traffic violation is detected, the Land Transport Authority's tracking and monitoring system can issue a warning to the vehicle via a message displayed on the next roadside digital billboard and/or directly to an in-vehicle control system.

When the warning is ignored or when there is a serious violation, the owner of the vehicle is automatically issued a traffic violation summons.

Use a black box

ROAD accidents are another major contributor to traffic congestion. Even a minor accident can lead to a serious jam, if drivers engage in lengthy altercations, with cars blocking other vehicles, ignoring the Traffic Police advice that drivers involved in a minor accident move on and sort out responsibilities and claims later.

In this regard, a vehicle black box can be helpful. The black box, as part of an in-vehicle control system, records speed, direction, location and condition of vehicle and video images of the vicinity captured by front and rear video cameras. The secure black box can be "opened" only by the relevant authorities to access data to resolve accident matters as well as traffic rule violations.

Drivers involved in accidents can exchange personal contact details and then drive on, with minimal disruption to traffic flow.

With mandatory in-vehicle black boxes and an islandwide vehicle tracking and monitoring system in place, the current speed limit on the expressways can be increased to 100kmh to handle more traffic.

Today's vehicles are equipped with sophisticated steering and braking systems and safety features. A higher speed limit should be feasible without compromising road safety and efficient traffic flow on highways.

The writer is a retired professor from the Nanyang Business School, Nanyang Technological University.