Sunday, December 6, 2009

Security measures went absurd

I went through security screening 2 times at the airport in Banda Aceh and another 2 times at Medan where I took a connecting flight to Singapore. Each time, I was screened on entry to the airport and on entering the waiting area. I had to remove my mobile phone, keys and other metal objects for the screening.

On return to Singapore, I was screened again. This is a special exercise carried out an random. In total, I was screened 5 times on this trip.

I wonder if all the screening was really effective. If there was a terrorist or hijacker, would they have a better way to send in a bomb or weapon, rather than carry them as a passenger? If a terrorist went as a passenger, would the elaborate screening catch them?

With the countless screenings that are being carried out at airports around the world, did they manage to catch a terrorist? It is easy to carry out these screening mindlessly under the umbrella of "security". This is also good business for security consultants and airport personnels.

I hope that someone will really check on their effectiveness, or look for better ways to solve the problem.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Excellent train service in UK

I had to take a trip from London to Canterbury. I found the train service to be excellent. I was able to book for the train ticket online. There was a good schedule with a train connecting these cities every hour.

On both legs of the journey, the train was rather empty during the off-peak hours. But they still run the service to give a convenient connection to the passengers. This may increase the train fare, but the fare is still affordable (about SGD 60) for a return ticket on a journey that takes 90 minutes.

I have the option of taking the bus, which is cheaper. But the bus runs only two trips a day, and the timing did not suit me.

There is a fine balance between cost and convenience. The authority in the UK appears to be able to get this balance right. I hope that Singapore can learn from this observation, instead of leaving matters to the "free market".

Tan Kin Lian

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Magnificent views of Paris

I just visited Paris to meet people at the research institute INRIA. I did not take any pictures of Paris, although it was a beautiful city. Someone sent me these wonderful images of the Eiffel Tower and other sceneries of Paris - much better than I can ever take with my own photos.

Dear Mr. Tan,
One of my friends sent this to me. I am sharing this just in case you have not seen it. Today's technology make possible to see the wold with having to leave home. Just enjoy.

The Eiffel Tower - like being there yourself.

You will see the Eiffel Tower like never before....push the arrows and put it on the full screen 360 deg

Click on the link:

Sound provided as well.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Cheaper way to travel on London Underground - Oyster card

If a commuter pays by cash to buy a ticket on the London Underground, the standard fare is 4 GBP (SGD 10) regardless of distance. This is very expensive, especially for short trips.

The commuter has the option to buy an Oyster card and pay a lower fare, starting from GBP 1.60 for travel within zone 1 (in Central London) or GBP 1.10 within the same zone outside of zone 1. The fare increases according to the number of zones travelled, but is still lower than GDP 4.

I did not realise about the big difference when I paid GBP 4 for a short trip of about 5 stations within zone 1. The station staff did not tell me about this option, when I bought the ticket from the counter. This was poor service.

Lack of refuse bins

I was not able to find a refuse bin at most part of Heathrow Airport. I mentioned this to the staff at the check-in counter and asked her to throw away the wrappings that I had carried in my pocket. She explained that this is due to "security reasons". Frankly, I think that the security people have gone overboard in their measures. While security is important, it has to be practical and sensible and not caused a lot of inconvenience to the public. The real risk has also to be measured.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Visit to research lab for the Cycab

I visited the research lab of INRIA in Paris to see the Cycab - a driverless electric vehicle. This project started more than 10 years ago. It is now on demonstration in a few cities in Europe.

The Cycab is still a prototype and need a manufacturer to bring it to commercial production, and to bring down the cost to an acceptable level. The cost of the prototype is rather high and is not commercially acceptable.

There is also the challenge of getting the regulators to accept these vehicles on the road. At the current time, the automated vehicle has to move within its own guideways, i.e. separate roads.

It may take another 5 to 15 years for the automated vehicle to be used more widely on the roads.

Tan Kin Lian

Delay in ULTra System in Healthrow

I visited Terminal 5 to look at the ULTra system. This is an automated transport system to bring passengers from the car park to the terminal.

I asked the staff at the Information desk. She said that many passengers had asked the same question, but she did not hear about the ULTra system being ready yet. She thought that it had been delayed.

I asked a French transport expert who was monitoring the development. He told me that the planned starting date is December, i.e. next month. There were some technical hitches that needed to be sorted out.

The first phase of the ULTra system involved less than 100 vehicles. When fully operational in 3 years time, it would involve a few hundred vehicles and would cover the entire Heathrow Airport and the nearby areas.

Many people look forward to this new development, but there had been a few delays. I hope that the technical problem will be cleared up and that the ULTra system can encourage other countries to adopt similar systems.

Name of mass transit systems

Here are some of the common names:
London - Tube
New York - Subway
Paris - Metro
Singapore - MRT

I find the names used in London, New York and Paris to be quite convenient. It is easy to refer to a station by the name Tube, Subway, Metro rather than MRT station.

Maybe some creative person can find a one-syllable, easily pronounced name for MRT. How about Mart or Rapid?

Train service in Paris

I took the train from Gare du Nord station in Paris to Versailles Rive Driote. I had to take the RER Line and change to the SNCF train. The fare was only Euro 1.60. This was surprising low.

I asked my French host why the fare was low. He said that the fare only meet one third of the cost and that two-third was subsidised by the government. He explained that the subsidy was intended to encourage more people to take public transport, instead of using their private cars.

This makes sense. We are so used to paying not only the full cost of public transport but also contributing to the big profit of the public transport operators, under our "no subsidy" appraoch. It is time for Singapore to re-think some of our policies.

Tan Kin Lian

London Underground (1)

I took the Picadilly Line from Heathrow Airport to King's Cross station in London a 9 pm. The journey took more than 1 hour. The train was rather empty and less than half the seats were occupied. Every passenger was seated for the entire journey. The seats were made of soft cushion and comfortable.

The level of comfort of the London Underground beat the MRT in Singapore significantly. The MRT train is packed most of the day, even late at night. I often had to stand during the entire journey. The seats in MRT were made of hard metal.

It is costly to travel on the London Underground in London compared to MRT in Singapore. The difference is about 3 times for the same distance. But the London fare it is cheaper than taking the taxi in Singapore, for the same distance.

Another name for the London Underground is the Tube. Each station is called a Tube station. This is easier to pronounce compared to Underground or MRT. The people in London use their thinking and came out with a good name.

Tan Kin Lian

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Heathrow Airport

The passport check at Heathrow Airport went smoothly. There was a staff at the directing the visitors to the right counter. The form for the passport check only asked for essential information. It did not try to capture tourist statistics.

The information counter at the airport provides excellent service. The staff are courteous, knowledgeable and helpful. This is probably the best that I have experienced among airports in the world. In many other airports, the information counter is hard to find and is not well manned.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Entertainment system on Emirates planes

I took an Emirates flight to London. I find the personal entertainment system for each passenger to be well designed. The console is placed in the seat in front of the passenger. The video is a touch screen. It is convenient to use and does not get in the way.

Among the airlines that I have taken, the placement of the console in Singapore Airlines is the most inconvenient. It is located on the side seat and is difficult to access or put back.

When Singapore Airlines first introduced the entertainment system, it was a leader in providing this entertainment. Over the past twenty years, it did not improve on the ergonomic design. Today, many airlines have overtaken Singapore Airlines in this respect.

I hope that the management of Singapore Airlines will travel on their airlines, in the economy class, and in other airlines. They can learn a lot from the improvements made by other airlines.

Tan Kin Lian

Signage at Changi Airport

I have been using Changi Airport for more than 30 years. I usually go to the display board to look for my flight and the checkin counter. I learned recently that many other airports have a better way to tell their passengers where to checkin.

There are big signs to direct the passenger to the counters according to the airlines. As this arrangement is fixed, it is practical to use these permanent signs rather than depend on the display board.

The regular travellers already know which counters to checkin, according to the airlines. For those who are not regular travellers, the signs by airlines would be more useful.

After 30 years of operation, it is time for Changi Airport to adopt the best practice used at other airports.

Tan Kin Lian

Monday, November 16, 2009

Widening of Central Expressway

The Central Expressway is being widened. The stretch from AMK 3 to AMK Ave 1 had been opened. There was a smooth flow of traffic for vehicles moving to AMK Ave 1.

The Land Transport Authority has done a great job. I look forward to the completion of the widening of other stretches of this expressway.

I hope that the LTA is now planning for the future. There will be the need for a second level expressway to take vehicles that are travelling to the central business district.

Smooth traffic along Tampines Expressway

I travelled along Tampines Expressway from Yio Chu Kang to Tampines at 8 am this morning. I was surprised that the traffic was smooth flowing. I had expected congestion along this expressway at this time. It was a pleasant drive.

Convenience of train in UK

I am visiting the University of Kent in Canterbury to see a friend, who is studying there. He suggested that I take the coach, where there is a special promotion. However, the coach schedule did not fit my schedule.

I decided to take British Rail. I was surprised to find the wide choice of train schedules that fit my own travelling schedule. This is the convenience of train service.

People who have more flexible time can take the coach and pay a lower fare (about 30% less). This is the benefit of real competition which offers choice to consumers (i.e. to take the train or bus).

I hope that a similar arrangement can be made in Singapore. Commuters can take the trains between the different towns. Bus services can also provide a choice for commuters to travel from between the town.

Tan Kin Lian

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Buses arriving soon

When I wait at a bus stop, I usually know that my bus will be arriving within 5 to 15 minutes. I do not mind waiting as I can take a rest or have something to do.

My problem is that I have to look far away at the service numbers of the arriving buses, so that I can signal my bus to stop. This is stressful, especially as my eyesight is not good. This problem is also faced by many older people.

It will be useful for each bus stop to have a digital display to show the service numbers of the buses that are expected to arrive within the next five minutes. This will give sufficient notice to the passengers to get ready.

Our bus companies and Land Transport Authority have experimented with a high cost system using GPS. However, this system has not worked well, due to the inherent problems of tracking the buses with GPS and sending the data to each bus stop.

A polytechnic lecturer told me that some countries have adopted low cost, wire mesh technology to provide this information. I am not clear about how this system works. Apparently, it is possible for the bus to transmit its service number using this technology to be received at the bus stops and for the distance to be measured. If this technology works according to my guess, it is possible to install a low cost system to show the service numbers of the approaching buses.

I hope that some experts can see if this system is already adopted in some countries and see how it can be implemented in Singapore.

Tan Kin Lian

Friday, November 6, 2009

Work near the home

Singapore is a small place. Many people think that it is all right to live in one part of Singapore and to work in another part.

With traffic congestion and crowded buses and trains, it can take more than one hour to commute from home to workplace and the same time to return back. Travelling time and cost now becomes an important consideration.

To reduce travelling cost, time and congestion, workers should make a conscious effort to look for employment nearer their home. Employers should also consciously look for workers who live near their workplace. This is a win-win solution.

Workers are likely to work longer in a place, if the travelling time and cost is reduced. They may even be willing to accept a slightly lower salary.

Recruitment practices should now focus on workplace. It will be a good strategy for job opportunities to be advertised according to the zones, so as to attract the workers who live near by.

I hope that popular job portals should make a conscious effort to arrange the jobs according to zones, and make it easy for workers to search for job opporunities according to this criteria.

We need to change our mindset and recruitment practices.

Tan Kin Lian

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Nice to see you on the train

Someone smiled at me when I was leaving the MRT train last night. He said, "Mr. Tan, nice to see you on the MRT train. I do not see any top people on the train."

I asked him for his name. He recognised me as being the former CEO of NTUC Income, but I have not met him before.

I replied, "Yes. I wish that our government and business leaders should take the MRT like the ordinary citizens".

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

I took the MRT from Dhoby Ghuat to Yio Chu Kang at 10 p.m. The train was packed and was standing room all the way. Even at 10 p.m.

During the off-peak hours in Taipei, I was able to find a seat for most of the journey. In Singapore, it is difficult to get a seat even late at night.

What is the difference? In Singapore, the regulators and the public transport council do not care about the comfort of the passengers or the waiting time. The ministers and top civil servants do not take the train. SMRT wants to increase their profits to the maximum.

In Taipei, the government is more accountable to the people. This is the benefit of a more democratic and free election.

Tan Kin Lian

Congested roads and lost productivity

I had a meeting at Eunos. The GPS system in my car indicated that ERP cost $4.50. I decided to avoid ERP.

This was a bad idea. I went to pass many congested roads with slow moving traffic. The situation is as bad as Jakarta or Kuala Lumpur during the peak hours. A journey of 10 km took 1 hour.

I did not realise that the roads are so congested outside of the highways. So many people had to travel to work and spend a lot of wasted time and lost productivity. The situation is made worse by the construction works to build more roads and fly-overs.

The solution is to have better local services for the last mile and encourage more people to take public transport. Many people had to use private cars due to the poor public transport. It caused road congestion. Things have become quite bad in recent years.

Tan Kin Lian

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Letter: Singapore's public transport lags behind Hong Kong's

Printed in a newspaper

THERE is no real competition in the public transport sector in Singapore, unlike in Hong Kong where the companies running bus, minibus and train services compete for the same pool of passengers.

Here are two of my concerns about the transport infrastructure here:

- Lack of efficiency and poor response to market demand. SBS Transit introduced premium services to cater to office workers in the Central Business District. The services were well received. In Ang Mo Kio, where I live, service 549 was introduced more than a year ago and soon became very popular. But service 549 continues to be serviced by a single-deck bus and the frequency remains unchanged.

Also, other than premier services, all other bus services still make too many stops. When will SBS Transit realise a point-to-point service is essential?

- Lack of comfort. While SBS Transit has renewed its fleet, it has reduced the level of comfort. For instance, I noted a new fleet of buses was added over the past year - but all were single-deck buses with fewer seats. Given that these buses replaced double-deckers, this means consumers now have less chance of a seat, even during off-peak hours.

It is no wonder that the car population continues to increase, despite rising petrol, Electronic Road Pricing and parking costs.

Liang Hien Fung

Monday, November 2, 2009

Improve the "last mile" in public transport

Sent to Straits Times Forum page. An short version was published

A recent survey showed that a lower proportion of commuters are using public transport. More people are using private cars for commuting, adding to road congestion and insufficient parking spaces.

Commuters have complained for a long time about the unreliability of bus services, congested buses, long waiting and travelling times and poor connections to MRT stations.

The Land Transport Authority is working on the long term solution to add more MRT lines and to bring better connection between these lines. This will bring more stations within walking distance to key destinations and residential areas in Singapore.

However, some practical steps can be done immediately to improve the current situation. I suggest the introduction of local transport services, to use small buses and cars to bring commuters from their homes to MRT stations and bus interchanges and back to their homes. These services need a new set of regulations and operators.

The challenge in most public transport systems is “the last mile”. It is not possible to bring a MRT station within walking distance to every home, but if there is a convenient and low cost service to cover the last leg of the journey, public transport becomes an attractive alternative.

If this local service is available, there is no need to find more parking spaces for the “park and ride” scheme.

Hong Kong has an efficient system using light buses to provide the transport for “the last mile”. Singapore should follow this proven example. We can extend this concept to allow cars to be used as well to add flexibility and choice.

If the connection for the last mile works well, there is no need for the big buses to make many stops to pick up passengers. They can provide an express service to connect the different towns and pick up passengers only at key interchange points. The travelling time will be short and the bus schedules will be more reliable. Every passenger should be given a seat.

I hope that the Land Trasnport Authority can include this concept in its master plan and take early action to implement it.

Tan Kin Lian

Friday, October 30, 2009

Reserved parking in HDB estates

REX said that in some HDB estates, the reserved parking for season tickets apply only from 7 pm to 7 am.
I am not aware about this arrangement. Can someone please confirm that this is the situation and name the HDB estates? For others where the reserved parking is full day, please report also.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Hub and spoke system for bus services

I wrote about the hub and spoke system for bus services two years ago. I like to explain this idea again.

The hubs are the bus interchanges where many bus services will bring commuters to other towns. Preferably, these buses should run on express services that have few stops only at major interchange stops. They should run on fixed schedules. The travelling time should be short, as there are few stops to pick or drop passengers.

Each town should have two or three local services to bring commuters to the hubs and the MRT stations. These local services provide the "spokes" to connect the different parts of the town to the "hubs". They should run at frequencies of less than 5 minutes. If the demand is low, they can use small buses. If there is more demand, they can use bigger buses.

The feeder services can be runned by small operators, similar to a taxi service. This will give greater flexibility to change the supply according to demand. Hong Kong is operating this type of system, using light buses that are owned by invidiudal drivers.

The local services are shown in different colors for easy identification. They also have a single digit number. It will be easy for commuters to know which local service to take to a different part of the town. The fares should be fixed at an affordable rate. The road taxes and ERP charges on these local services should be waived or reduced.

This is how a commuter can take public transport. First, the commuter takes a local bus to the hub. Next, the commuter changes to a train or express bus to take to the destination hub. At the final leg, the commuter takes a local bus to the destination.

If the starting point or destination is close to the hub, the commuter can walk instead of taking the local bus. As the waiting time for a local bus is less than 5 minutes and the fare is affordable, the commuter may not mind taking the bus.

I understand that the Land Transport Authority is in favour of the "hub and spoke" approach, but there was so little news about the plans during the past two years. I hope that they can announce their plans earlier, and invite public discussion.

Tan Kin Lian

Unreliable display of bus arrival times

There is a letter in the newspaper about the unreliable display of bus arrival times. This is another example of expensive technology that does not serve its purpose. This electronic display uses GPS and broadcast technology to display the projected arrival times in the display boards, but is subject to traffic conditions, weather (blocking GPS) and system constraints.

I hope that the Land Transport Authority will implement my suggestion of local bus services that run at frequency of less than 5 minutes. There is no need to have a display of bus arrival times.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Inadequate parking for visitors at HDB estates

A few days ago, Today paper printed my letter regarding inadequate parking spaces for visitors at HDB estates, when many spaces are reserved for residents and are unused during the day.

HDB has replied that they have to strike a balance between the needs of residents and visitors. I hope that the person who replies for the HDB are aware of the following:
a) The inadequate spaces for visitors occur in many HDB estates
b) The situation has worsened during the past one or two years due to the expansion in car population
c) It is glaring to see many "reserved spaces" that are underutilised during the day
The HDB reply said that the spaces have to be reserved for residents at night. Surely, they can make the reserved spaces available for vistiors during the day (i.e. before 7 pm) rather than kept underutilised?
I hope that our planners will open up their minds and also visit the parking lots to get a feel of the actual situation.

Tan Kin Lian

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Will smart roads save money?

IBM is giving an award for ideas to improve transportation. Read here.

Electronic display on MRT trains

I noticed that the MRT train now has an electric display near the train doors. It displays the names of the next station and also the door that will be opening. I find this sign to be the most practical approach. It is probably the most economical and useful of all the display systems.

I hope that all the MRT trains will be equipped with this electronic display soon. I suggest that the messages should include Chinese to reach to a large proportion of the population. The Malays and Indians will probably find the English messages to be sufficient.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Automated gates - a waste of money?

The Singapore Immigration invested a lot of money to install the automated gates to check the passports and fingerprints of travellers. For a few months now, it has also employed a security person to check the passport of the traveller passing through these gates.

This is probably a reaction after an incident last year where someone left Singapore on another person's passport. Is it necessary to take this additional measure, i.e. have a person to check the photograph, when the risk is quite small? The automated gate already employed a finger printing checking system.

Does this suggest that the money spend on the infrastructure and the technology of the passport check and automated gages is largely wasted?

A courteous and attentive counter staff

I was waiting at the check-in counter for Valuair in Jakarta airport. This display showed the counter to be ready, but there was no staff a the counter. I waited for nearly half hour until someone came and told us that the check-in have moved to another counter in the next section of the airport.

After completing the check-in procedure, I told the counter staff about the time that I wasted at the original counter. She listened attentively and understood my unhappiness. After a pause, she said, "I will pass your feedback to the airport authority. Thank you for giving this feedback".

This is a rare occasion to have someone who can listen, and is not defensive about a mistake, and is free of stress. The closing remark showed that she is well trained.

Taxi ride to the airport

I took a taxi to bring me to the airport. I asked the taxi driver about his plans for the return trip. He had arranged to pick up another passenger to bring to the airport after my trip.

On other days, he would wait in the queue at the airport for about 1 hour to get a passenger. As there will be a plane arriving at a specific time, there will be passengers who need a taxi.

Both methods seems to be quite inefficient. The taxi driver has to drive 10 km to pick up the next passenger or to wait for 1 hour for another passenger. The wasted time and distance must add to the cost of taxi fares.

What is the solution? Make better use of taxi calling. This will reduce the waiting time and travelling distance. But, the taxi calling charge is now too high and customers are reluctant to call a taxi and pay $2.50 or $4.

In some countres, the taxi calling is free. This will improve efficiency of the taxi service and reduce wastage. This matter needs to be regulated, rather than left to the taxi companies to work out.

Tan Kin Lian

A counter staff who said "yes"

I bought a budget air ticket that does not have any check-in baggage. I am allowed to bring a small carry on bag up the plane.

I asked the counter staff to look at my carry on baggage. Can it be taken up the plane?

She said that there is a weight limit of 10 kg. My bag weighed 11.5 kg. So, it should be disallowed.

She asked, "Do you have a laptop computer?". Yes. She said "Tell the security guard that you have a laptop and he will allow you through".

Wow. This is unexpected. A counter staff who said "yes". This is so rare in Singpore. People are used to saying "no", even when they are in doubt.

Kudo to Jetstar.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Kallang Paya Lebar Expressway (KPE)

I have driven along the KPE a few times since it opened a year ago. I find the KPE to be rather underused. There were few cars, and the traffic moved quickly.

KPE is supposed to provide a convenient connection for residents of Sengkang, Punggol and Hougang to bring them to the city and other parts of Singapore. There is a large catchment of residents here. Why are they not using the KPE?

I wonder if it is due to the poor connection to other roads? Or that people are still not familiar with the KPE?

On a few occasions that I used the KPE, I was lost. I took the wrong exits and had a great deal of trouble to find back the right way.

It is so very costly and took a long time to build the KPE. It is rather sad to see it being under-utilised. Its failure to attract more traffic means that the Central Expressway (CTE) continued to be congested.

10 years ago, I wrote to the Minister for Transport to build a second level for the CTE as it was clearly congested at that time. This suggestion was not taken up - presumably as the Ministry had taken the decision to build the KPE. I believe that the second level CTE would be have "cheaper, better and faster" in relieving traffic congestion in Singapore.

But, I may be wrong in declaring that KPE is under-utilised. Perhaps people who use it can share their experience.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Road names and house numbers in America

I like the way that roads are named in America. For example, in New York, the avenues run from North to South and are numbered sequentially. The streets run from East to West and are numbered sequentially.

Even the houses are numbered in blocks of 100 to follow the street. So, a house 1704 will be after 17th street. It is easy for taxi drivers and visitors to find the right house.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Wasteful reserving of parking spaces

I visited my brother at his flat in Ang Mo Kio town center. My son, who was driving, went into the multi-story car park to park the car. We went up 11 levels to the roof. There were many empty spaces at the lower levels, but there were marked in red and reserved for season parking by residents. My son said, "This is crazy".

I agree. It seemed rather wasteful to have so many spaces reserved for residents, when they were unoccupied. Visitors had a difficult time to find an empty space to park the car. This situation has become extremely bad recently, due to the large increase in car population. It is difficult to find a parking space in many places all over Singapore.

The situation is very bad in HDB estates, due to the "crazy" and wasteful reserving of spaces for season parking that is not used in the daytime.

Confusing road names in Singapore

Dear Mr. Tan,
I have decided the Land Transport Authority must have a secret agenda of thwarting criminals. The road design in Singapore makes a quick getaway, or getting anywhere for that matter, nearly impossible.

As a transplant from the flat grid of Los Angeles, navigating the illogical, too-many-named or too-few-named streets here is maddening. What genius decided one neighborhood should have Springleaf Rd, Springleaf Ave, Springleaf Heights, Springleaf Gardens, Springleaf Drive and Springleaf Link?

When your friend says he lives on Springleafe Ave, you remember Springleaf, not avenue drive or road, it takes you longer to find the correct street than it does to reach the neighborhood. Couldn’t the designer have thought of a few more names?

Never mind that Singapore doesn’t have a Spring anyway, but the Springleaf theme could have been taken further and you could have distinguishable street names like Palm frond, Pandan leaf, etc.

Okay, so maybe some developer who never studied urban planning really liked the name Springleaf, and he doesn’t know the difference between an avenue (should have trees on either side), a road or a lane (narrow, lacking a median or shoulder).

But numbered streets should be straightforward, right? Wrong! Firstly the streets aren’t straight, secondly, there is no apparent order: 1 is not followed by 2, and so on. Ang Mo Kio Ave 1 crosses Ang Mo Kio Ave 3, 4, 5 and 6. It is a total maze.

Not only are there too few names, there are too many names too, for the same road! Balestier turns into Lavender which turns into Crawford. Kallang turns into Victoria which turns into Hill St. and the list goes on.

If there is any logic to the road design in Singapore, it is a perverse logic. Which is why I think the aim must be to prevent people from getting around easily.


Friday, October 16, 2009

Cash card for ERP

I wanted to top up my cash card for ERP. I went to 4 places and made 6 attempts to top up the cash card at DBS, POSB and ATS terminals. I got the mssage, "transaction failed".

I called my relationship manager at DBS. He suspected that my cash card was faulty. If this was the case, the ATM machine should give the correct reason, and not mislead me with the wrong reason.

I went to the Cheers outlet at the MRT station to buy a cash card. Sorry, out of stock.

Wow. It is such a hassle to top up the cash card. If I get fined for not paying ERP, it will make me explode!

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Speed of automated car

I am visiting Paris to see an automated car that runs on electricity. There is no driver. The car uses GPS to find its position and has a computer to control the direction of the vehicle. There is a sensor to stop the car if there is obstruction ahead.

Recently, I have been observing my car to see the ideal speed of this automated vehicle. I found that a speed of 50 kph is acceptable and quite safe.

The automated car can be safer than a car driver by a human driver, as there is less human error.

I shall be checking if the car can be used in congested roads and if it can detect red light and stop the car at a traffic light. If the light turns green, it should start the car.

I shall also check how the car handles a change of lane, and if it is dangerous to cut into another lane with a car behind.

Interest in Driver-less Taxis

An Indonesian student studying in Singapore read my blog posting about the driverless taxi and expressed interest to know more about it.

She said that the public transport system in Jakarta needs to be improved. Some commuters are worried about taking taxis due to security. They would love to have a driver-less taxi, if this is possible through technology.

I planned to visit Paris in November to study the driver-less electric vehicle that is being developed and tested in a few cities in Europe.

I believe that this system can operate as follows:

a) provide local transport within a distance of 3 km
b) bring commuters to the train station, bus terminus, or shopping mall
c) can be called by SMS
d) operate on green energy, i.e. electricity
e) be on call most of the time; reduce need for parking space
f) can be cheaper than taxi, as there is no need to pay the driver
g) can be safer than a human driver

I hope that this type of vehicle and driver-less taxi service can be implemented in Singapore to provide local transport. The current taxis can continue to provide long distance transport.

Tan Kin Lian

Monday, October 5, 2009

Efficient train system in Europe

I have to visit Paris for a short business visit. I decided to spend a few days in London to visit a friend.

For the day visit to Paris, I have the following options:
a) normal flight
b) budget flight
c) train

My friend advised that the train is the best option. It takes 2 hours to travel by train from London to Paris (less than the time required to pass through security at the airports). The fare is lower by train, e.g. a return ticket can be bought for SGD 160. There are many train services every day.

I hope that Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand can develop an efficient and fast train service to connect the cities, to encourage tourism and travel among the people.

Tan Kin Lian

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Re-structure of Taxi Service

I suggest the taxi service be restructured as follows:

a) Standard service - managed by LTA. Taxis offering standard service can pick passengers at taxi stands. Standard flag down rate, distance rate and peak period surcharge. Booking of taxis through a common call center controlled by LTA but outsourced to a service provider.

b)Local service - managed by LTA. Taxis can operate within a specific town. For short distance travel.

c) Premium service - managed by each individual company. Customers call their call center of the individual company to book for a taxi. The rates and conditions will be determined by each company.

LTA can change the terms of the standard service depending on the market demand and supply. If the rates are too low, there will be less taxis available and longer waiting time. If the rates are too high, there will be less customers and taxis have to wait (or they can rely on their taxi company's premium service.

This is market sensitive and helps to promote a free market for the standard and premium service. The premium service has to compete with the standard service to attract its customers. Competition works best when there is clarity in the market on the terms of service.

Tan Kin Lian

Give your views in this survey.

Advertisements and public transport

I dislike the painting of buses, taxis and trains for advertisements. These vehicles should have a uniform colour for easy identification by the commuters. When they are painted, they are no longer uniform and may be confused with private vehicles.

Similarly, there are too many advertisements in some train stations, especially those in the city area. These advertisements obscure the information needed by commuters for the next stage of their travel. At the exit in Republic Plaza, I had difficulty finding the direction and staircase to the escalator as there were so many food outlets, with their advertisements, that clutter the "exit" sign.

The Land Transport Authority officers should inspect the stations and make sure that there is a standard of clarity in the direction signs for commuters. They cannot leave these matters to the operators who are more focused on their profits.

Some commuters believe that when the operators make more money from advertisements, they will keep the fare low. From my observation, these are separate issues. The fares are based on several factors, excluding advertising revenue.

It is all right for advertisements to be placed in the inside of trains and buses or on the back panel of buses, but the amount of advertising space used should be limited and should not from the primary purpose of the vehicle or stations.

This will leave the advertising for other media, such as the mainstream media and the outdoor signs.

Tan Kin Lian

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Train from London to Paris

I wanted to travel from London to Paris for a day visit to meet with a research institution.

I searched Google for "London Paris train". I got a few links that brought me to the booking page for Euro Rail. It is impressive and easy to use.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Car parking should use the ERP system

Many car parks have now been upgraded to use the in-vehicle unit to record entry and exit and to impose the charges.

However, some old car parks still use the cash card. The motorists have to slot in the cash card on entry and exit from car parks. This is inconvenient.

According to a friend, even the car park at URA Center still use the cash card system. It is ridiculous as the Government insist that all motorist should pay their ERP charges by direct deduction from the cash card.

Perhaps the senior people at URA Center and in other buildings that use the cash card system do not realise the inconvenience that is suffered by their visitors. These senior people probably had season pass and are automatically passed through the barrier without using the cash card.

It is rather sad that the decision makers are not aware about the impact of their decision, or inactions, on the general public.

Tan Kin Lian

Replacement of ez-Link cards

There are over 3 million ez-Link cards that will expire on 1 Oct 2009 and cannot be used. Someone said that the balance in the ez-Link card can be claimed from the Transit Link office, even after expiry. This was not clear to consumers.

Transit-Link said that they have publicised widely to ask commuters to change to the new card. Is this true? I take MRT and bus regularly and was not aware about this "wide publicity". In fact, I was surprised to learn about the expiry date only today. I thought that there would be plenty of time to make a change.

I have been against the idea of a change to the new ezLink card. I felt that it would be costly and add to the fares paid by consumers. The large amount of money spent could not be justified by the additional value to be obtained from the new card. There was no clear explanation on why this change had to be made, and large amount of funds have to be spent.

Tan Kin Lian

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Using bicycles for the last mile

Some people use bicycles for the last mile, from their home to the MRT station. They have to park their bicycles at the station, taking up space and facing the risk of theft, vandalism and rusting (unless it is sheltered).

Some people use foldable bicycles that can be taken up the train. However, this is still not practical, as the bicycles have to be carried.

A good alternative is to have bicycles that can be rented for short trips. It can be returned at any of the storage points. A commuter can rent a bicycle near the home, ride to the station, and leave it there. The bicycle can be rented by the next commuter who wish to ride from the station to his home.

For this system to operate well, the operator must be authorised by the town council. It must be backed by law enforcement to ensure that the bicycles are not stolen or vandalised.

A town council can put in the capital, infrastructure, bicycle lanes and regulations for this service and licence a private operator to manage it. This is similar to the arrangement where the infrastructure of the MRT is provided by the state and is licensed to a private operator.

Some towns in Europe operate a bicycle service that is free for the public. The cost is borne by the taxpayers.

I hope that a bicycle service can be operated in our towns in Singapore.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Elevated covered walkways

There is a government campaign to encourage brisk walking through clubs that are formed all over Singapore.

I wish to suggest another way to encourage brisk walking that can be done everyday. For many people, the MRT station can be 1 or 2 km away from their home. They can be encouraged to walk for this last stretch, if it is safe and comfortable.

Walking is not practical in Singapore due to the hot climate, the occasional rain and the heavy traffic on the road.

I suggest that a network of elevated covered walkway, up to 2 km long, be provided to link several sectors of a town to the MRT station or bus interchange. This will encourage people to take up brisk walking every day and also reduce the congestion on the road.

There is an elevated covered walkway at the center of Taipei. It worked well and is popular. Hong Kong also has a network of elevated walkways linking the shopping malls.

Tan Kin Lian

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Express Bus

The Land Transport Authority is taking over the planning of bus routes in the near future. They will use the hub and spoke system.

In my concept of this system, there will be feeder buses to bring commuters to the town center where they can take MRT or express bus services. The express bus will travel between the towns and will have few stops along the way, e.g. only a major pickup points. They will operate on fixed schedules and are likely to keep to their scheduled times, as they only have to make a few stops. The travelling time should also be shortened.

This concept requires the commuters to be willing to change buses, from the feeder to the express bus and again to the feeder bus, or to walk if the distance from the hub is quite close. Most commuters use this mode anyway, when they take the MRT.

The advantage of the express bus is that the commuter is likely to have a seat. The MRT is likely to be more crowded and jam packed.

This will offer true competition between the MRT and express bus. Some people will take the express bus because of the comfort of a seat.

I hope that the Land Transport Authority is planning along these lines. So far, they prefer to plan in secret and do not wish to engage the public. This is a sad situation in Singapore.

Tan Kin Lian

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Long wait for a bus

I had to take a connecting bus to reach home from my office. I waited 30 minutes for the connecting bus No. 70 at the terminus. The normal waiting time is 8 mins but the bus was delayed. The queue was getting very long. Many people ahead in the queue gave up waiting and decided to walk to take another bus.

Later, I found a sign posted at the head of the queue, "Due to traffic jam, the bus No. 70 would be delayed". That was all. As this sign was posted in front, there was no way that people at the back of the queue knew about the delay, and how long the delay would be.

Most of the commuters would take this type of poor service as part of life in Singapore. There is no point in making a complaint. The people in charge, in SBS Transit or Land Transport Authority would not care. They might give some hollow apology or nice words, but they really don't care.

If there are sincere about the customer, they would have sent a staff to tell the people in the queue, update them about the arrival time and help them with alternative arrangements. After all, there are many unemployed people who would be delighted to have this type of job, even at low pay. Surely it is possible to have some customer service officers at the terminal? But, SBS Transit probably decided that employing people would cost money and eat into their profit. So, they would save on this money. It is cheaper to give hollow apology.

It took me 1 hour to get home from my office, travelling a distance of 2 km. It would have been faster for me to walk.

Sigh! This is Singapore.

Tan Kin Lian

Feeder service in town centers

I hope to see, in the future, the use of feeder services for each town. Each town can have 2 to 4 feeder services to serve the different parts of the town and bring the residents to the town center where the shops, MRT stations and bus interchange is located.

With just a few feeder service, the waiting time should be short (less than 5 minutes). As a commuter, I do not mind using a feeder bus to take the train or an express bus. When I drive to the MRT station, I have to park my car nearby and talk to the station anyway. The walking distance is usually longer.

If we use feeder buses, we do not need to have many direct bus services (maybe 200 services or more) to connect to different combinations of locations. These are confusing and inconvenient.

We need to simplify the system of bus services to make it more convenient for people to use the buses.

High cost low availabilty of taxis

Mr. Tan,
The best solution to the taxi problem will be low cost high availabilty of taxis, the next best solution will be high cost, high availabilty, but we have got the worst solution of high cost low availability. Not only this, taxi drivers are joining the bandwagon of conmen as they pull out all their stunts to squeeze commuteres of every dollar while not delivering value.

As I am writing this, I am waiting for a taxi company to reply to my feedback of my daughter taking a cab that cost over $15 from Ang Mo Kio to Yishun. It is ridiculous to be paying for such a short journey such a high price. What I understand from my daughter is that the taxi driver tried his best to stop at every junction and to tailgate at the most crowded lane. Taxi drivers seem to have evolved their techniques of maximising profit at the expense of commuters. What should be a fifteen minute journey turned out to be more than 45 minutes.

What must change is for an independent body to monitor feedback instead of the same company monitoring it as there is no motivation to improve. It is just like asking the banks to investigate their own wrongdoings. What we get is just lip service.

Furthermore, the LTA must review its policies for obviously it is not working. High cost low availability is the worst solution and even a donkey can achieve it!


Difficult to get a taxi

I had to get a taxi as my car was suddenly not available. I did not wish to call a taxi as I was not sure about the calling charge ($2.50 or $4).

I tried to get a taxi on the main road. It was very difficult. I could not see if the oncoming taxis were available or not. Some of the empty taxis could not stop, as the road was congested.

I had to take a bus but went to the wrong stop for my connection. So, I took a taxi again. The trip of 2 km cost me $8 inclusive of peak hour surcharge and the bus fare). It took more than 30 minutes, inclusive of waiting time.

It is a big hassle and very costly to get a taxi in Singapore. I hope that the Land Transport Authority realise that the taxi system does not work well.

Working close to home

My former student took a job at a well known international firm with an office in Changi Business Park. She was dedicated and hardworking and the pay was good.

However, she left after one month. She told me that the travelling time to the office took 1 1/2 hour each way. It was too long. She found another job that takes less travelling time.

It is important for employees to choose employees who live close to the place of work and has less travelling time. If the distance is too long, the strain caused by commuting will take its toll. Even a dedicated employee will give up.

It is important for employment practices to take this factor into account. Tell the job seekers about the place of work. Find out where they live and choose those who live close to the workplace. It is better for your long term retention of employees.

Government policy can help. Remove the stamp duty for the purchase of a home. An employee may be willing to move to a new house close to the place of work. This is for long term. Encourage young people to rent a place, rather than to buy a property too early.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Speed of automated vehicle

Earlier, I suggested a maximum speed of 30 kph for the automated vehicle. This is too conservative. It should be possible and quite safe to get the automated vehicle to drive at 50 km per hour. This will make the travelling more convenient.

Some people are worried about the safety of an automated vehicle, without human intervention. They do not have to worry. Our LRT operates automatically. Even planes are flown automatically, except for landing and takeoff. If needed, these functions can also be done automatically.

Convenience of a car

Some people buy a car for its convenience, to move around in rain or shine. But it is becoming quite inconvenient to use a car:

a) congested road
b) insufficient parking space
c) long walking distance from car park to destination

It is also quite expensive:

a) high parking charges ($3 for first hour, $1 for each half hour)
b) ERP charges
c) fines
d) high car prices, COE and monthly installments
e) high petrol price

The most convenient is to get a taxi or to car pool. Call someone to pick you and share the cost.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Car sharing using electric vehicle

I read a report that Paris will be introducing a car sharing scheme involving 4,000 electric vehicles. It is being championed by the Mayor of the city.

A member can book a vehicle by sending a SMS to the control center. A reply will be sent to tell the member the location of the nearest free vehicle (which should be within walking distance). The member can book the vehicle and drive it to its destination, which must be within the city. The vehicle can be parked there, waiting for the next user to book it.

The vehicle will be used for several trips during the day. The parking time is reduced.

This is more efficient than private cars, which are used by only the owner and are usually parked at the place of work for several hours each day. This requires more parking spaces and more vehicles, as each vehicle is owned by one person.

Car sharing is more efficient than private cars. The mode used in Paris is even more efficient, as it allows the car to be re-allocated for us, after reaching its destination.

A car sharing scheme allows the use of electric vehicles (which is not convenient as a private car).

Automated electric vehicle

Is it safe to be in an automated electric vehicle (i.e. driverless)? These vehicles move by GPS system and does not require a human driver.

It should be quite safe, for the following reasons:

a) It will have sensors that will detect obstruction and avoid crashing into another vehicle.
b) The vehicle is likely to travel at a slow speed, maybe not more than 30 kph.
c) It will mainly be for short distance, i.e. to the nearby MRT or town center.

The danger could be that other vehicles (driven by people) will knock into this vehicle which is moving at a slow speed. The risk is also small and can be reduced by allocating the inner lane to the automated vehicle and other slow moving vehicles. The faster vehicles can use the outer lane. Maybe they can share the bus lanes.

The driverless vehicles are most useful for private housing estates and also for the internal compounds of universities, polytechnics and business parks.

It may be possible to construct elevated guide ways for these automated vehicles. The guide ways can be of small gauge and quite inexpensive to build. It can be much smaller than the tracks used by the MRT train.

It will run on electricity stored in the battery of the vehicle - no polltion, good for the environment.

Watch this Animated video.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Visit to Research office of Cycab

I will be visiting the research office of the company that developed the Cycab. This is the driverless, electric vehicle. I will see if it is suitable to introduce this vehicle in Singapore. The research office is in France.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Car park charged $1.07 without giving any space

I entered the car park of a commercial building next to the Subordinate Court. As there was no parking space, I left the building. On the exit, a fee of $1.07 was deducted from my cash card. The car park owner felt that they are entitled to charge me to enter the building, even though there was no parking space. There was no grace period.

This is the profit driven motive. Charge customers, even though you do not give them the parking space that was promised. The standard of honesty in Singapore has deteriorated.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Planning the new bus network in Singapore

I read a news report in Today paper about the new network of bus routes to be introduced by the Land Transport Authority. I searched the Internet and found this article which was published nearly two years ago. After that, there seemed to be little news.

I like the following measures:
a) central planning of the bus routes by Land Transport Authority (rather than bus operators)
b) hub and spoke approach
c) better connections and shorter waiting time to the hubs
d) introduce more competition (but the measures are not clear).

I shall try to get more updates or visit the LTA and talk to the planners.

Tan Kin Lian

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Too many cars, insufficient parking spaces

When I moved into a housing estate 10 years ago, the internal roads were empty, as all the cars were parked within the driveway to the houses.

Today, the internal roads are crowded with cars parked on both sides. Many houses have two or more cars, so some have to be parked outside.

When I drive to other places, I faced the same situation. It is difficult to find a parking space within the buildings or on the roads. There are far too many cars. It is a big hassle to park a car.

The cost of parking is high. In many places, it cost $3 for the first hour and $1 for each subsequent half hour. It can cost more than $5 to park a car for a 2 hour lunch.

This is why I prefer to take public transport, wherever possible. It may even be cheaper to take a taxi, than to drive.

Long term solution: Introduce a driverless taxi service. This is now being experimented in some cities. Commuters can call for a car at any time to be driven to the destination. This car is then available to be called by another commuter.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Will the Metro change Dubai's car culture?

Not likely, according to this report. Quite strange, it seems that the Westerners are more likely to use the Metro than the locals. This is also the case in Singapore.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Tiger Air Website

I had a bad experience in booking my ticket with Tiger Air. The website was unstable and kept going back to the wrong page. I had to enter my bookings more than 5 times.

When I was almost ready to complete the transaction, I found that the ticket cost $395, instead of the $200 that I was earlier led to believe. I found that they added the airport tax separately. There was no indication of this additional charge in the earlier part of the transaction. I find this business practice to be quite unsatisfactory.

Dubai Metro opens

Dubai has opened its Metro system. It will be interesting to see how they have adopted the best lessons from other mass transit systems. More information here.

When I next visit Dubai, I shall give it a try. Dubai had a poor public transport previously. The opening of the Metro may change the landscape.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Higher productivity - reduce commuting cost

The strain on public transport and road congestion can be reduced, if more people work close to their home.

This requires a conscious effort by employers, workers and the Government. Employers should ask for the place of residence of their workers and give preference to workers who live nearby. They should also state their place of work in the job advertisements.

Workers should also choose to work in a place near their home, even if the salary and career prospects are more modest.

Employers need workers who are suitable for the jobs. If they exercise discretion, they will find many workers who are suitable. They can choose those who live nearby. Employers will also benefit from lower turnover of employers. When employees work closer to their homes, they are more likely to stay in the same job.

Government can play a role in encouraging employers to choose workers that require less time to commute to work. This will lead to higher productivity for the nation.

We have less crowded roads during the school holidays, when many workers take leave for vacation with their children. It would be nice if the roads are less crowded all round the year, by sensible employment practices.

This is a simple idea. I hope that it will attract the attention of the decision makers. It will be nice to have less crowded roads.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Staged Accident

A staged accident is created by a workshop. They engage someone to drive on a certain stretch of road and brake suddenly, causing the car behind to hit the car in front. The tow truck from the workshop appears immediately to tow both cars for repair. The repair bill is inflated.

Staged accidents had been happnening over the years in Singapore, but no action is taken by the Police against the culprits.

One day (and that was about 10 years ago), there was a staged accident involving the son of a Member of Parliament. The MP complained to the minister. For the next two weeks, there were many stories in the mainstream newspapers about the evils of staged accident and a big campaign to stamp it out. After a few months, the matter was completely forgotten.

This has to wait for another staged accident to occur to the family of an important person. Then action will be taken again. This is a sad state of affairs in Singapore.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

A considerate driver

I looked for a car park space at the big parking lot in Ang Mo Kio. All the spaces were taken up (except for many spaces that are empty but "reserved for residents).

After going a few rounds, I found a driver enter into a car. The driver saw me waiting for the space. He came out immediately, so that I could drive in. He stopped for a while to comb his hair and to straighten his window.

It is rare to find such a considerate driver in Singapore. Most people will delay leaving the parking space, and let the other driver wait for a longer time. They seem to enjoy making people wait.

I wonder why it is necessary to have so many parking spaces that are empty, which are "reserved for residents". This seems to be the case for many HDB car parks in Singapore. It is quite wasteful to keep these spaces "reserved" when there is obviously a shortage of spaces for visitors. Perhaps it is time to review this policy of reserving the spaces.

Reduced air fare

I booked a ticket to Ventianne, Laos. The fare by a regular airline, transiting through Bangkok, is $750. The fare by AirAsia, transiting through Kuala Lumpur, was $300,but it require 1 night stay in KL to catch the connecting flight leaving KL the following morning.

I told the travel agent of the AirAsia option. He checked with the regular airline and came back with a reduction of $100 in the fare (based on its low season fare). The regular airline is keen to have the business, so they are willing to be flexible.

Subsequently, I found that I could stay at the transit hotel at KL airport for less than $100. I find it to be convenient. I may still take the AirAsia option.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Valuair to Jakarta

I find Valuair to be a good, low cost airline. The fares are low. They allow allocated seats. The seats are widely space and comfortable (more space than many high cost airlines)

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Unexpected difficulty in connecting a flight

I had to travel to Jeddah for a board meeting. My travel agent booked a ticket from Singapore on Riyadh on Singapore Airlines to be connected to a domestic flight from Riyadh to Jeddah. This was a mistake.

When I checked-in at Singapore, I was told that I had to collect my luggage at Riyadh and re-checked in for the domestic flight. There was no arrangement to check through the domestic flight - due probably to the need for custom clearance.

The domestic terminal turned out to be several hundred meters from the international terminal and there was no ground transport. It was a long, never ending walk.

The signage at the domestic terminal was poor. There were many passengers waiting outside for the doors to open. I learned later that all the staff were on prayer and that terminal was temporarily closed. No one was there to tell an unfamiliar traveller like me.

I went through the security clearance into a hall to look for the check in counter. I learned later that it was the departure hall. The security guard allowed me through without a ticket. Later, I had to leave the departure hall to look for the check-in counter, which was "outside". There was a long queue at the check-in counter and the plane was departing soon. I finally managed to get into the plane just on time. It was stressful.

I though that, with this experience, the connection on the returned journey would be troublesome, but not unexpected. I faced some new unexpected problems, but I shall not relate them.

I learned later, that the travel agent could have made the connection at Dubai, instead of Riyadh. As Dubai is outside of Saudi Arabia, the connection would have been at an international airport. I would have arrived at the international terminal in Riyadh.

Lesson: Never make a connection from an international flight to a domestic flight. It is better to arrive at the international terminal of your destination.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Health form at Jakarta Airport

I had to complete a yellow form (for health clearance) at Jakarta Airport. It contained about 100 entries, which have to be written in small letters (as the form is quite small). It asked for information that are clearly irrelevant.

The health authority may not realise that this is an additional form, on top of the immigration and customer form that the traveller has to complete.

Guess what? The customs and health officials did not bother about what is entered in these forms. They did not realise that they are giving a lot of unnecessary hassle to the traveller (on top of security checks). I wonder why officials are so inconsiderate?

Security at the airport

I had to present my passport to the airline check-in counter, to the policeman guarding the door to the departure gate, and to the policeman guarded the automated gate for passport clearance, and to the scanner for the passport to the scanned. After that, I had to scan my fingerprint.

We introduced a multi-million dollar automated system for passport clearance. We now have to add another three levels of checking by people.

Many Singaporeans will insist that security is of high priority, so all these measures are for our own good. Really? Or is this another example of the mindless way to just follow procedure and instructions from above?

Another layer of check. I have to present my passport and ticket at the gate of the departure room.

Fingerprint system failed at Changi Airport

Our multi-million dollar fingerprint system failed at Changi Airport this morning.

I went through the automated gate, scanned my passport and my fingerprint. The fingerprint system rejected me several times and asked me to see the immigration officer.

A traveller in front of me had the same problem. He scanned his fingerprint a few times but was rejected. Finally, the officer asked him to scan his left thumb and passed him. He protested that his thumbprint had been accepted on many previous occasions (as he was a regular traveller). The immigration officer argued that the system was working fine, and that his thumbprint was wrong!

I had to intervene. I told the officer that I faced the same situation. My thumbprint was accepted yesterday at another gate and rejected today. The officer insisted that she was listening to the us, but really her mind was closed. This is a typical mindless approach adopted by many Singaporeans. Just follow the authority blindly.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Telecommuting is a trend for the future

Telecommuting, i.e. working from home, is getting to be popular. It has it positive and negative points. Employers are finding it difficult to manage the productivity and performance of the teleworkers.

Read this report.

An alternative arrangement is to encourage people to work close to their home, to reduce the time taken in commuting. This will require a change in tax and other policies that now tie people down to a fixed home and discourages them from moving their home to be close to the place of work.

Employers should also change the practices and choose workers who live close to the place of work.

Friday, August 21, 2009

US Immigration Form - Moral Turpitude

A visiter to the US was stunned by this question in the immigration form, "Have you been convicted of an offence involving moral turpitude"?

He could not understand the term "moral turpitude". What is covered under this definition?

Like most people, he was focusing on the wrong matter. He need not worry about the word "moral turpitude". He only need to focus on the word "convicted".

Has he been convicted in court? If he has not been convicted in court, and that applies to more than 95% of the population, he can answer "no" to the question without feeling any sense of uneasiness.

If he had been convicted in court, he would have known what the offence was. Most likely, it would have been a traffic offence, or littering or other type of minor offence. If it was involving "moral turpitude", he would have been told, and it would have been a more serious offence.

Lesson: Think out of the box. Do not focus on the wrong things. Do not focus on the difficult matter, when you can focus on the easy matter.

Quote from Dr. Goh Keng Swee
Dr. Goh Keng Swee, who was a former Deputy Prime Minister, economist and the architect of Singapore's economic development once said, "You do not need to describe an elephant. You will know that it is an elephant when it charges straight at you".

Public Transport Guide - cum Directory ($6)

Public Transport Guide

$6 only

Handy and light

Designed like a street directory, with
MRT, bus stops and services numbers.
Easy to locate any road or place

Click here to see a sample page of the Guide.

A must for regular users of public transport

Order here.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Bus arrival times

Land Transport Authority is spending money to improve the bus arrival time. There was no mention about the cost. It seems that the arrival time will only be displayed in about 50 bus stops, representing only 1% of all bus stops in Singapore.

I believe that the same budget can be better spent in a different technology. Each bus should transmit its number about 300 meters to the next bus stop.

The number of the approaching buses can be shown in a large electronic display. Elderly people with poor eyesight do not need to strain their eyes to see the number of the approaching buses.

There is no need to show the arrival time, because the buses run at schedules of 5 to 15 minutes. Hence, the maximum waiting time is 15 minutes. It is better for the bus to be punctual rather than to state the time of arrival.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Hassle for Travellers

I find it a big hassle to go through the hassle that the authorities in many countries impose on travellers, including people who make short trips to their countries.

Examples are:
a) Immigration forms asking for a lot of unnecessary details
b) Difficult to fill in the forms, due to bad spacing
c) Duplicate forms for immigration and custom control
d) Health declaration forms, in the wake of H1N1

It is clear that the authorities do not have any use for the information that is being asked. They hardly look at it. Even if the information is not entered correctly, they do not bother.

I do not know why they wish to impose the unnecessary hassle on the travellers, as they really want to encourage tourism into their country. It seems that one department is acting against another department.

Although Singapore has less hassle for travellers, I find that visitors are still required to fill up a form to collect tourism statistics. It should be possible to collect the statistics from other sources, rather than to complete a detailed form.

These hassles come on top of the security checks that are imposed on travellers. Perhaps the department in charge of tourism in the respective countries should coordinate with their immigration, custom and health departments, to see what is really necessary and useful.

Confusing Cab Fare Structure

Published in St Times Online

SINGAPORE'S transport system is among the best in the world, but its taxi fare structure is bewildering.

Not only is there a multiplicity of surcharges, but there is also no standard flagdown rate. The average passenger is happy to take a standard taxi but often has to pay a higher fare because the first taxi that comes along is a Mercedes or another model that charges a higher flagdown rate.

There should be a standard flagdown rate for all regular-size cabs.

Jairam Amrith

The Singapore Government believes in the free market. They believe that taxi companies should set their own fares and cannot collude to fix a standard fare. (Look at the action taken against the bus companies running services to Malaysia).

The Government's views is misguided. Public services, including taxi fares, must be regulated and standardised. At this least, this should apply to the "standard" taxi service. Taxi companies can operate "premium" services and fix their own fares. Give the choice to commuters to call for a standard taxi service. All taxi stands should operate on the standard fare.

I believe that this is a practical approach.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Too many advertisements

There are too many advertisements in our trains, buses and stations. These advertisements obstruct the information that is needed by commuters to find the right bus or train platform. It was clear that the operators were more interested to earn revenue than to provide a service to the commuters.
During the current recession, the advertisements have reduced, but they will retain when the economy recovers.
I hope that the transport operators and regulators realise that the primary purpose of public transport is to provide a service with comfort and convenience, and that making more money should not be the key driver.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Platform Number

As more train services are introduced in a station, it is important to go to the right platform. The train stations in most countries display the platform number in a large hanging sign at the platform. The traveller will hardly miss it

The platform number in MRT stations in Singapore is not well displayed. One has to search for the platform number. It is sometimes displayed in a small sign on the pillar, sometimes in a standing sign and sometimes above the door in underground stations.

On many occasions, I had to search for the sign, with some difficulty. After some effort, I usually find that it is a small sign and not well located. It seems that the planners are embarrrased to display the sign and try to hide it.

I hope that the MRT stations will show the platform number in a large sign that is elevated above the platform. Make it so obvious that most people will not miss it.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

New ez-Link cards

A few months ago, I read that the Government was spending several million dollars to change to a new ez-Link card. I suggested then that this money need not be spent. I saw little value in introducing a new card, considering the cost of changing all the readers in the train stations and buses and replacing the millions of ez-Link cards carried by commuters.

Several weeks ago, I received a letter enclosing a new ez-Link card and asking me to get the new card validated at a MRT station.

I made several attempts to get the new card validated. Many MRT stations do not have a ticket office that provide this service. The ticket office in the stations with this service are open during certain hours. I finally managed to validate the new card after at least 5 attempts.

I asked the ticket staff on the purpose of the new card. She said that can be used as a cash card. Currently, it is only recognised in NTUC Fairprice!

It seems that we are spending a lot of money and effort for so little benefit. What a waste of public funds.

Tan Kin Lian

High cost of car ownership

The insurance companies claimed that there are more accidents, due to more cars on the roads. This has caused more claims and increase in premium for motor insurance.

Motor insurance premiums increased by 27% last year. It is likely to increase by another 15% this year. The hefty increase of 40% over two years far outstripped the inflation rate. This increase in premium is excessive, considering that the economy is now in recession.

The public should think twice before buying a car. You do not enjoy the use of the car, due to congested roads, no parking space, ERP charges, high petrol prices and now, high insurance premiums.

It is better to use public transport, such as the MRT or buses. It is easy to learn how to use public transport. I recommend the Public Transport Guide, available at Popular Book Stores, for a price of about $7 (inclusive of GST).

If you need private transport for the special occasions, take a taxi. What you spend on the occasional taxi rides is much lower than the fixed cost of owning a car.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Taxi without drivers

About half of the cost of taxi fares goes to pay the taxi driver for his service. If an automated taxi, without a driver, becomes into operational, it may be possible to reduce the cost of taxi fare to half of the current level.

You get the convenience of private transport, at a much lower price. This may be possible soon, and can make a radical impovement to the transport system.

Automated Taxis

For several months, I have been promoting the concept of an automated taxi (i.e. without a driver) providing local transport within a town to bring residents to the town center or the train station. This vehicle is powered by electricity stored in a battery. An automated taxi, shared by many commuters, is a better concept that private cars operated on electricity.

Yesterday, I was surprised to learn about the European CityMobil project that aim to achieve the same goal, and had been ongoing for some time. I also learned about the CyCab developed by INRIA of France, that is almost ready to introduce a vehicle that works along the line that I envisioned (although they thought about it much earlier).

Read this brochure on the CyCab project and watch this animated video. It is exciting. I hope that the Land Transport Authority of Singapore will use its $20 million fund to try it out here.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

CyCab Urban Vehicle Concept

I received this report about a driverless cab. The concept is similar to what I have in mind.

Saturday, June 13, 2009
There have been a number of driverless urban vehicle concepts that aspire to make transport in the future easier, but the CyCab is the one nearest to production. Formulated by French company INRIA, the system uses real-time kinematic GPS to determine its exact location and move to the desired destination. The real-time kinematic GPS used by the cab allows for accuracy to within a centimeter and also happens to be used by cruise missiles.

This concept vehicle will be able to keep track of obstacles in its path and road markings, and each vehicle stays plugged to the internet to keep in contact with like vehicles, and use this information to avoid snarl-ups. CyCab is not quite ready for mass production, but it should see some uses in the near future. In November 2009, ULTras, the British version of the CyCab will appear to be used to transport passengers from Heathrow’s Terminal 5.

More information can be found here:

Friday, July 31, 2009

Expensive car park in Singapore

I attended a lunch at Four Seasons Hotel. The parking charge, for just over 2 hours, was $15. This is an expensive car park. I wonder if any other car park is more expensive in Singapore?

Car parking charges in Singapore are still lower than many other cities, according to this report.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Promote the use of car sharing

A car sharing scheme allows members to share the use of the cars owned by the club. The cars are parked near the homes of the members. Several member can share the use of a few cars parked in the neighbourhood.

The member pays for the cars at an hourly rate. The cars are booked in advance, on a first come first served basis. If a member is interested in the use of the car, it is better to book early, to gain priority.

The member has to return the car back to the original parking space. This allows the next member to take over the use of the car. The charge is based on the time used and the distance travelled, i.e. for the consumption of fuel.

If the fuel tank reaches the replenishment level, the member using the car has to top up the petrol. The cost of the petrol is charged to the club. Members have to observe the rules and play their part, so that the scheme works best for everyone.

The cost of using a shared car is about 10% to 25% of the cost of ownng a private car , depending on the usage. On average, the use of a car can be shared among 4 to 10 members and the cost is spread accordingly.

The first car sharing scheme in Singapore started about 15 years ago. It operated as a cooperative. Later, a few companies operate a similar scheme, quite successfully.

To reduce the congestion on the roads and in the car parks in Singapore, it is time to actively promote the use of car sharing.

Tan Kin Lian

Difficult to find a parking space during lunch in HDB estate

I went for lunch with a few friends in Hougang HDB estate. My friend dropped us at the restaurant and went to look for a parking space. He could not find any space nearby and had to go 500 meters to a multi-storey car park.

My friend said that many people bought cars, but found it expensive to drive to office, due to ERP and parking fees. They left their car at home, in the HDB estate.

This resulted in insufficient parking space in HDB estate. So HDB estates is also congested with cars! It is quite wasteful to spend $80,000 for a car, to be left at home, or to use only during the weekend.

It is better for these people to rent a car or take a taxi during the weekend or to join a car sharing scheme.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Work near your home

When I set up my office, I choose a place that is near my home. It takes me 5 minutes to drive to my office. I employ people who stay nearby, so that the travelling time is short.

I wish to encourage more people to work near their home or to move their home near their place of work. This will reduce travelling time and congestion on the road.

When looking for a job, give priority to work near your home (even if the salary is lower or the prospect is modest). When looking for workers, choose those that live near the place of work, even if the quality is just acceptable.

This will help to improve the quality of life for everyone, and reduce congestion on the road.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Unsightly flyover in the center of town

There is a flyover in the center of the CBD. It carries traffic from Marina South to Cross Street. It is unsightly. I wish that the road planners could have found another way to handle the traffic. If this was not possible, they should have restricted the traffic and parking in Marina South.

It is time to plan an internal bus service to serve the CBD. The number of cars using the CBD should be restricted. The cars should be parked outside of CBD and the drivers should use public transport within the CBD.

In many cities, there is a tram service to handle most of the internal transport.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

ULTra in London

ULTra is the abbreviated name for Urban Light Transport. This system is being implemented in Heathrow Airport in London. It is a good example of what the modern, authomated car will look like.


Implementation in London Heathrow

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Local transport

We have to develop the concept of local transport in a town. A town could be Ang Mo Kio, Toa Payoh, Bedok or Tampines.

The local transport can be a bus or taxi service. As it serves only a specific town, the licensing requirement should be simplified (as compared to a service that serves the whole country.

For example, we can allow unemployed people to use their cars to provide transport in a town. They can charge $2 per trip and take in a few passengers. They can also operate a small bus that can take more passengers. They have flexibility to pick up or bring passengers to their doorsteps, or nearby.

This will create jobs and provide a useful service for other people who are already employed.

Tan Kin Lian

Friday, July 3, 2009

Innovation fund of $20 million to promote electrical vehicle

Singapore has set aside an innovation fund of $20 million to promote the use of electric vehicles.

I suggest that some money in the fund be used for this project:

a. Establish a car sharing scheme using electric vehicles
b. To be operated for short distance transport within a town
c. Use GPS navigation to drive the vehicle automatically to the destination
d. Install safety devices to prevent collision
e. Operate within a maximum speed of 30 km.

I believe that the future of electric vehicles is for a new mode of operation, i.e. as a taxi without a driver. It will be fun to call an automated taxi to pick you from a stop near your home and take you to the nearby MRT station, bus terminus or shopping mall. There is no need to worry about parking the vehicle as it will be used by another customer shortly.

Many electric vehicles are now being sold in China for US$6,000 or SGD 10,000. It will be economical to use these vehicles in an automaticated local taxi service.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

MRT trains to come under single operator?

At present, SMRT operates the NS line, EW line and the Circle line. Comfort Delgro operate the NE line.

It is advantages for SMRT to operate all the lines. This will allow the services to be better integrated, remove wasteful competition, reduce operating cost, and (hopefully) reduce train fares.

The snag is, "how much should SMRT compensate Comfort Delgro to take over the NE line? "

This question is difficult for both parties to solve. I suggest that this matter should be decided by an Arbitrator, and that the Government should appoint this Arbirtrator to resolve this issue. It cannot be left to the two companies to sort out.

Signage in MRT trains

A few months ago, I suggested in a letter to the newspapers (which was published) the following signages for MRT trains:

a) To show the current station, previous station and next station
b) To show the side of the train where the doors will open at the next station.

At that time, the rply from SMRT was that (a) was possible, but (b) was not.

Recently, I saw that some new trains had the lighted signs that show both types of information.

Well done to SMRT for finding a solution. I hope that these signages will be implemented in the older trains as well.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

New Bus Pole Design

My feedback to Land Transport Authority.

Friday, June 5, 2009

The connected car

This is an intelligent car, that can drive by itself or sense what is happening around the place. It will soon become a reality. The technology is there. Read this article.

Seats removed from MRT trains

I went up the MRT train and observe that most of the seats were removed in one carriage. This allows more people to be packed into the carriage, as they have to stand.

I am somewhat sad to see this approach towards increasing the capacity of the train. The other approach is to run more trains, at shorter frequency. The train operator operated to increase its profit, at the expense of comfort of the commuters. The authority allowed them to adopt this approach. 

Who is looking after the interest of commuters?

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Priority seating for disabled and seniors

Printed in MyPaper, 3 June 2009 

I took the public bus in Vancouver, Canada. In several places in the bus, stickers were clearly seen, "Prioirty seating for disabled and seniors".

When a senior board the bus, the driver announces, "senior boarding". The seated passenger immediately stand to offer the seat to the senior. This is expected behaviour and is observed without any hassle. 

For Singapore to follow this courtesy campaign, we need the bus drivers to play this role. For MRT trains, perhaps a station officer can accompany the senior or disabled up the train and make an annuoncement. I hope that SMRT will create some employment for the station officers.

Monday, June 1, 2009

A pure electric vehicle

Will the pure electric vehicle have a place in the private car market? Warren Buffett think so. See the E6.

Traffic in Vancuover

The traffic in Vancouver move slowly, maybe at 30 km per hour or slower. It is not due to congestion. It is the pace of life.
The drivers are patient and will stop for people to cross the road. They are not in a hurry. 
I asked a local person if there is a low speed limit on the road. He replied yes, but was not really sure. 

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Neighbourhood Electric Vehicle

A Neighborhood Electric Vehicle (NEV) is a United States Department of Transportation classification for speed-limited battery electric vehicles. The NEV provides the driver with an alternative to expensive fossil fuels and an opportunity to take charge of their carbon emissions. The NEV operates on only a fraction of the fossil fuels as a standard vehicle by plugging into a standard outlet at home. By using solar or wind power to generate the electricity for these vehicles, they have to the potential to run using no fossil fuel.

NEV is a federally-approved street-legal vehicle classification which came into existence in 1998 under Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard 500 (FMVSS 500). The vehicle classification is referred to as "low-speed vehicle" within Federal regulations.

NEVs are defined as a four-wheeled motor vehicle that has a gross vehicle weight rating of less than 3,000 pounds (1,400 kg) and a top speed of between 20 mph (32 km/h) to 25 mph (40 km/h). Those states that authorize NEVs generally restrict their operation to streets with a maximum speed limit of 35 mph (56 km/h) or 45 mph (72 km/h). Because of federal law, car dealers cannot legally sell the vehicles to go faster than 25 mph (40 km/h), but the buyer can easily modify the car to go 35 mph (56 km/h). However, if modified to exceed 25mph, the vehicle then becomes subject to safety requirements of passenger cars. 

These speed restrictions, combined with a typical driving range of Template:Convert/30 per charge and a typical three-year battery durability, are required because of a lack of federally mandated safety equipment and features which NEVs can not accommodate because of their design. To satisfy federal safety requirements for manufacturers, NEVs must be equipped with three-point seat belts or a lap belt,windshield wipers are not required, running lights, headlights, brake lights, reflectors, rear view mirrors, and turn signals. In many cases, doors may be optional, crash protection from other vehicles is partially met compared to other non motorized transport such as bicycles because of the use of seat belts.

State regulations
Regulations for operating an NEV vary by state. However, the Federal Government preempts states and local governments from requiring safety equipment beyond Standard 571.500. Generally, they must be registered, and the driver must be licensed. Because airbags are not required the NEV cannot normally travel on highways or freeways. NEVs in many states are restricted to roads with a speed limit of 35 mph (56 km/h) or less.

US Army implements Neighbourhood Electric Vehicles

The U.S. Army has announced that it will lease 4,000 Neighborhood Electric Vehicles (NEVs) within three years. The Army plans to use NEVs at its bases for transporting people around the base, as well as for security patrols and maintenance and delivery services. The Army accepted its first six NEVs at Virginia's Fort Myer in March 2009 and will lease a total of 600 NEVs through the rest of the year, followed by the leasing of 1,600 NEVs for each of the following two years. With a full eight-hour recharge, the NEVs can travel 30 miles (48 km) at a top speed of 25 mph (40 km/h)[64] .