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.