Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Use your brake more than your horn

To motorist,

Use your brake more than your horn.

If you see the vehicle ahead signal a change of lane or make a swtich at the last minute without warning, you can use your brake rather than your horn.

Sometimes, the vehicle in front may be unfamiliar with the road or overlook to move to the right lane in time. Be helpful and considerate. Give way.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Taxi fares in various cities

This comparision was made in January 2008. Here is a rough comparison of taxi fares for a 5 km trip during the peak hours.

London GBP 9 SGD 30
Sydney AUD 12 SGD 16
New York USD 8 SGD 12
Singapore SGD 7 (plus ERP and CBD)
Hong Kong HKD 40 SGD 8
Taipei NT 160 SGD 8

Taxi fares are no longer cheap in Singapore. The most expensive is London.

Taxi fares in Taipei

I was in Taipei at the beginning of 2008. I found their taxi fares to be as follows:

1. Starting fare for first 1250 m, NT 70 (SGD $3.50)
2. Surcharge after midnight, NT20 ($1)
3. Calling a taxi - no charge
4. Distance fare for 250 m or 84 secs of idling, NT5 ($0.25)

Fare for 5.11 km daytime, NT157 ($8)

The new fares, which took effect recently, was decided by the Taipei City Government based on three proposals submitted by interested parties. The decision was accepted by the taxi operators. The revised fare was necessary based to cover higher operating cost, due to higher oil prices.

Observation: The taxi fares in Taipei are much simpler than Singapore. The fares are regulated and produce a satisfactory outcome for commuters and taxi drivers.

Taxi fares

Singapore has a complicated system of taxi fares. The fares differ according to the taxi company.

In most cities, there is a uniform taxi fare. This is a fairer system to the commuters and to tourists.

SMS taxi booking

Some taxi companies now allow SMS taxi booking. But they continue to charge the high booking fee of $3.50 (peak period) and $2.50 (off-peak period).

With SMS, the cost should be lower, as there is no need for human intervention. If the taxi company reduces the booking fee, it will encourage more people to book a taxi (and not wait to flag down on the road).

Monday, August 11, 2008

Infrastructure cost of MRT and PRT

I suspect that the infrastructure cost to build a MRT is much higher than a PRT, to transport the same number of passengers. The PRT is modular and appears to be a more efficient system.

I think that there are studies on the relative infrastructure cost. I will be looking into it. But, the experts promoting the PRT are likely to be able to locate the answer for me.

Different fares for seated and standing passengers

Planes have first class, business class and economy class paying different fares. Long distance trains (i.e. not commuter trains) also have first class and normal class, with different fares.

I wonder if the MRT trains can also introduce 2 classes, a higher fare for people who wants a seat and a lower fare for standing passengers. This is how it can be done.

The front carriages have seats; the back carriages are for standing passengers only. If the passenger enter a front carriage, it is recorded in the smart card (ez-Link). On exit, a higher fare is charged.

This is just an idea. It is worth exploring.

Energy Efficiency of PRT - calculation

Someone asked me, "How can the PRT be more efficient than the MRT?" The MRT has economy of scale and should use less energy. I think that the PRT can be more efficient because:

1. the number of podcars can vary according to demand.
2. the podcars can go straight to the destination, without having to stop at the intermediate stops

A Transportation Enthusiast provided the following useful information for my calculations:

> Consider weight alone as a rough estimate of energy usage. This is not fully accurate, but can give a ballpark number for energy efficiency.
> According to Wikipedia, MRT trains weigh about 214,000 kg unloaded and can carry a maximum of 1920 passengers (492 sitting, 1428 standing).
> A ULTra PRT weighs about 700kg unloaded and carry 4 passengers.

I will approach the calculation in this way:

> Train 214,000 kg / 1920 passenger = 111 kg p passenger
> Podcar = 700 kg / 4 = 175 kg p passenger

Assume an average occupancy of 50% during the peak and off-peak hours.

> Train (50% occupancy) = 222 kg p passenger
> Podcar (50% occupancy) = 350 kg p passenger

We have to consider the energy used in starting and stopping the train. Assume that this adds to an additional 20% in energy use.

The final adjustment is for distance travelled. The podcar can take the direct route and cut down the distance. The train follows the same schedule and forces all passengers to travel longer. Assume that the difference in distance is 30%.

The final energy consumpiton is:

> Train 222 X 1.2 X 1.3 = 346 kg p passenger
> Podcar = 350 kg p passenger

Both train and podcars can probably consume the same energy.

The podcar beats the train in the following respects:

> Shorter travelling time, due to direct route
> All passengers in the podcar are seated.

If the podcar can be filled with 4 passengers (through pod-pooling, to reduce cost per passenger), the pod beats the train in energy consumption as well.

Disclaimer: This is just a simple calculation. It is based on assumptions that may differ in actual practice. Take the conclusion with a pinch of salt!

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Sharing a pod

At the pod station, passengers who wish to share a pod to a popular destinatio, e.g. the train station, bus station or shopping mall, can wait in a certain queue. When 4 people have arrived in the queue, they can enter the pod. They share the cost of the ride.

On the return journey to the home, they can also stand in certain areas (according to their destination or zone). They can talk to the other people in the spot and identify who can share the pod back home.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

SMS booking of taxi

I am working with a technology partner to introduce SMS booking of taxi.

A passenger can send a SMS with the postal code to a server. A SMS will be sent to the passenger within two minutes, giving the particulars of the taxi. The taxi driver will call the passenger shortly afterwards. They can communicate the pickup place. Tentatively, the fare is $1.50 for off-peak hours and $3 for peak hours.

The passenger can download a program into the mobilephone. This program allows the passenger to press a button to send a SMS to the server, with the current location (i.e. no need to enter the postal code).

If no taxi is available, the server will send a SMS back within two minutes. The SMS message will contain the LTA taxi booking number for the customer to call.

I hope that many people will find it to be more convenient to get a taxi to come to the doorstep and do not mind paying $1.50 extra. The taxi driver does not need to waste petrol in plying the road to look for passengers.

The passenger can also book a taxi at a lower booking fee of $1. If a taxi is available, the taxi driver will call the passenger. If there is no call within 3 minutes, the passenger can assume that the taxi is not available. There will be no SMS message to notify the customer about the status of the taxi.

Powering the pod

The pod operates on batteries. This is clean and efficient energy.

The pod should be designed so that when the battery level reaches a certain point, the pod will not take any more passenger, and will instead proceed to the battery station. A technician can insert a fully charged battery into the pod to replace the used battery. The used battery will then be charged.

When fully charged, the pod can be despatched to the next station where it is needed.

This approach ensures that all the pods are put to maximum use to meet the demand, and the charging of the battery is carried out as a separate off-line operation.

Manpower efficiency of various modes of transport

At one time, the MRT is more efficient in the use of manpower. The ratio of workers and passengers is quite low in the MRT. The highest ratio comes with the use of taxis.

The PRT changes the equation. It has the convenience of a taxi but does not require a driver. It is more efficient that the MRT.

Energy efficiency of PRT and MRT

Someone asked me, "How can the PRT be more efficient than the MRT?" The MRT has economy of scale and should use less energy.

I think that the PRT can be more efficient because:

1. the number of podcars can vary according to demand.
2. the podcars can go straight to the destination, without having to stop at the intermediate stops

Board the train last

Due to overcrowding, many passengers want to board the train first, in case the train is full.

If the passenger is taking a few stops, it is better to board the train last and stand near the door. Let the long distrance passengers can board the train first and move towards the center.

This will avoid squeezing pass passengers when the passenger wish to alight.

Encourage more people to take public transport

I read this article a few months ago. It was printed in the Straits Times.

I hope that someone in the Ministry of Transport or Land Transport Authority will consider and implement some of these ideas.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Manual override on a pod

Some people are worried about riding in a pod which is automatically controlled.

Actually, there should not be any serious concern. We already use the LRT and the Skytrain at the airport. They are automatically controlled.

Perhaps, the concern is that the pod can be travelling faster, and is smaller. Perhaps, it is travelling a longer distance.

This concern can be addressed by allowing a "manual override" in the pod. When this is activated, the pod will go to the nearest station and stop there. This allows the passengers to disembark.

If there is any mechanical problem in the pod, it can also move automatically to the nearest station.

This feature of "move to the nearest station" on mechanical problem or manual override can enhance the confidence in the PRT system.

Efficiency of PRT and LRT

Which is more efficient, a PRT (personal rapid transport) or LRT (light rail transport)? What is the difference?

A PRT operates like a taxi. It offers point to point transport. It is used exclusively by the initial passengers and does not stop at intermediate points to pick other passengers. The journey time is shorter. All passengers have a seat.

A LRT operates like a bus. It stops at all intermediate stops to allow passengers to embark and disembark. The journey time is longer, as the train has to stop at every stop. Some passengers have a seat; others have to stand.

The train (i.e. LRT) is less efficient as all the passengers have to make many stops, which takes up energy. If the train is replaced by 100 pads (say) and each pod is able to travel non-stop on its journey to its destination, it should save energy.

Studies have shown that the energy used to transport a passenger on the PRT is lower than the LRT or MRT.

Minibus in Hong Kong

Someone asked me about the operation of the minibus system in Hongkong. Is there a fixed schedule? Are the fares fixed?

From my research, the system operates as follows:

1. The minibus has to be registered and is required to run on a certain route. There is no control over schedule or fare.
2. The operator is allowed to charge his displayed fare and to run at any time. They can increase their fare on a rainy day.
3. There is no fixed schedule. The number of minibuses that ply a route will demend on the market demand. This is similar to the supply of taxis.
4. The minibus can drop and pick up passengers anywhere along the route, except for the busy town areas where they are restricted to the stops (for control of traffic and safety).

The minibus offers nearly the same convenience as a taxi, but at a considerably reduced fare. It improves the efficiency of the transport system.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Senior citizen fares

SBS provides concession for senior citizens (60 years and older) throughout the day. SMRT provides concessions during the off-peak hours. The maximum fare is around 66 cents, regardless of distance. This is a useful concession to senior citizen.

My friend, who is over 60 years, was not aware of this concession, although he has been using public transport over the years. When I told him of the concession, he applied for it and was surprised that it saved him some travelling cost.

Re-confirm the appointment

I arranged a meeting at 8 pm on Sunday night at my home. One of the attendees came to my home at 8 am in the morning. He misunderstood the time.

I faced the problem as well. Sometimes, the date, time or place has been changed, but some people were not notified or they forgot to update their scheduler.

Lesson: Before leaving your home or office for an appointment, give a call on the mobile phone to the other party to confirm the time and place. In making an appointment, always ask for the mobile phone number of the party that you are meeting.

Feeder service

We have to introduce feeder service like in Hong Kong. They are operated by small operators and given the freedom to run their service according to market demand. Many people find this service to be excellent.

More details in:

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Elevated guideway for PRT

A PRT requires the use of elevated guideways. Some people think that this is unsightly.

I have seen designs of the elevated guideways. It can be quite attractive. The guideways are narrow and light and does not need to carry a heavy load. It can be placed at the middle of existing roads.

When the pod arrives at a station, it can take a side guideway which can move to a elevated platform at the side of the road or to the second level of a building.

Parking charges at Suntec

I had lunch at Suntec City. The parking charges for 2 hours was $4.28. I found it to be quite expensive. I had to pay $1 ERP charge as well. It would have been better to take the bus from my office to Suntec City at $0.66 per trip.

ERP charges

This morning, I drove through 2 ERP gantries along the Central Expressway at 9.20 a.m. The charges are now displayed. I was surprised that the charge was $0.50 per gantry, or a total of $1 for two gantries. I had the impression that the charges were much higher. It is useful that the ERP charges are now displayed. It is not as painful as I thought.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Premium bus - higher fare, better quality

Some people are willing to pay a higher fare to get a better seat in an airplane. They are called first class and business class.

We can have the same arrangement for a bus. Certain buses can be designed as premium bus by a different color. They will charge 50% more in fare. As they are more expensive, some people will avoid taking the premium bus. Others who are willing to pay the higher fare can be assured of a seat and no crowding. The premium bus should run on the same route as the regular bus.

Automated controls in PRT

The PRT system requires the pod to move automatically, after the user keys in the destination. The challenge is to design the navigation and control system to ensure that the safety of the pods and the entire system.

There are many approaches to the design of the system. Some people are ambitious and want to have a sophisticated system - which is costly and may not be achievable.

I can think of a simple system that can operate efficient and is practical to implement. It comprises of two components:

1. The vehicle control system. This will ensure that the passengers are seated and secured safely. It checks that the pod moves at a safe speed and is able to slow down in tandem with the vehicle in front or if there is an obstacle. It also receives instruction from the central control system on the route to take.

2. The central system. This system is aware of all the pods in the network and will instruct each pod on the optimal route, after considering the traffic in the entire system. This will reduce congestion and ensures the smooth flow of traffic.

By adopting the dual approach, it will be possible to design a workable system that ensures a high standard of safety and efficiency.

Pods wait for people

A PRT uses a pod. It typically seats 4 people. It waits for the passengers and moves away when the passengers enters the pod. This is more convenient that a bus or train, where people have to wait for the vehicle.

A pod is used like a car. The car waits for the owner. The owner arrives, enters the car and drives away.

If 100 people drives a car, the 100 cars are parked in the parking lot. This takes up a lot of space and is quite wasteful. At any time, perhaps 10 pods can serve the needs of 100 people. Each person orders a pod and uses it to move to the destination. The pod is then available for another person to use. As the 10 pods are moving nearly all the time, there is little need for parking space.

The use of pods will be more efficient than cars. It will be more convenient and economical. As the pod is automatically driven, there is no need for a person to drive the pod. It is like a taxi without a driver.

I believe that PRT will improve the transport system tremendously, especially for local transport (i.e within a town).

Lower Petrol Price

I filled up my petrol tank. The petrol price is $2.03 per litre. One month earlier, it was $2.24 per litre. The price has dropped by 10%. I hope that this trend continues, and that the petrol price will come down to a more normal level.

Seat on MRT train

I took the MRT from Toa Payoh to Yio Chu Kang at 12.30 pm. It was supposed to be the lunch hour. The train was half full, and many seats were available. This was a pleasant surprise!

Monday, August 4, 2008

My concept of a PRT

Here is my concept of a PRT (personal rapid transport). The system uses a pod carrying 4 passengers. It operates like a taxi without a driver. It runs on elevated guideways and is computer controlled. The PRT has the following advantages, compared to cars and taxis:

1. One pod can replace 10 cars, as it can be take many trips a day
2. It reduces traffic congestion as it runs on elegated guideways
3. It can operate smoothly compared to taxis, as the pods do not compete for business
4. The guideways can be lighter than the tracks used for LRT or MRT
5. The PRT is useful to provide a feeder service within a town.
6. The pods run on battery or electricity.

I believe that the economics will favor the use of the PRT.

Crowded trains day and night

I find the SMRT trains to be crowded at all times of the day and night. During the off-peak hours, SMRT reduces the number of trains. It means a longer waiting time and packed trains all the way. Even if I travel at 10 p.m. at night, I hardly have the chance to find a seat.

In this type of condition, most passengers will not give up their seat to the elderly and to ladies. It is so rare to have a seat that they must hog it all the way.