ANALYSIS: Is Singapore system viable in Metro Manila?

Jose Galang - Your Business

Posted at Oct 27 2017 07:27 PM | Updated as of Oct 29 2017 01:21 AM

If Philippine officials expect to succeed in replicating Singapore’s strategy in managing traffic, they should learn how to move fast: the Singapore model changes constantly without waiting for problems to grow into crisis proportions.

Singapore has just announced plans to further tighten controls on the volume of vehicles plying the island-state’s roads. Singapore’s transport agency ruled that starting in February next year, it will only allow a “zero percent growth” in the number of permits for the acquisition of cars and motorcycles.

The Philippine government signed last August 31 an agreement with the state-run Singapore Cooperation Enterprise (SCE) for the development of a system that will guide the “efficient use of whatever road network capacity is available”.

SCE, which provides development-oriented training, consultancy and project management to foreign governments, is expected to work out with Philippine transport agencies a system to control traffic and monitor and manage congestions and traffic incidents.

The SCE expertise will initially be focused on the notorious Metro Manila traffic and transport systems, but will also expand to other cities in the Philippines that encounter serious traffic problems.

‘Intelligent system’

Transportation Secretary Arthur Tugade said after signing the agreement with SCE that an “intelligent transport system” will be developed to include such schemes as a payment system for the use of certain roads in the busiest areas of Metro Manila, stricter policies on illegal parking and on the use of bus lanes, as well as an integrated program to reduce traffic volume and speed up the flow of vehicles.

Earlier, Transportation Undersecretary for Roads Tim Orbos cited a plan to employ an automated toll collection system, along with a possible consolidation of public-transport operators into cooperatives to improve management.

Orbos has also noted Singapore’s success in slashing by nearly half the traffic volume in its central business district by imposing in 1998 an electronic fee system on vehicles using the roads there during peak hours. Traffic speed also improved by about 20 percent.

The Singapore system has been replicated in major cities of such countries as Canada, Britain, Sweden and United Arab Emirates. A similar system was used in Hong Kong in the early 1980s but it was discontinued after opposition from road users.

But the road usage fee is only one part of Singapore’s transport strategy. Limits are also imposed on the acquisition of motor vehicles (cars, trucks, vans and motorcycles). Before a resident can purchase and register a new vehicle, he has to secure a certificate of entitlement (COE) from the Land Transport Authority (LTA).

The COE is valid for 10 years, at the end of which the vehicle may be deregistered or revalidated for another 5 years but with an additional premium on the fee paid for it.

Singapore residents who want to own vehicles participate in an open bidding for COEs conducted every month by the LTA. At this month’s bidding, for example, there were 2,391 bids for 1,815 COEs for cars of up to 1600cc and 130bhp. Winning bids paid a premium of S$41,617 (equivalent to around P1.58 million) per COE. Winning bids for 478 motorcycle COEs, on the other hand, paid a premium of S$4,903 (or P186,335) each.

In its latest policy move on COEs, the LTA froze the growth rate on the entitlements in force at zero percent for cars and motorcycles starting in February next year. This is the first time for the LTA to halt such COE growth since the supply-control policy was introduced in 1990.

The growth rate for commercial vehicles COEs will still be at 0.25 percent per annum to provide businesses, according to the LTA, “more time to improve the efficiency of their logistics operations and reduce the number of commercial vehicles they require.”

Will it work here?

Will a policy like this work in the Philippines? The Land Transportation Office (LTO) registered in Metro Manila as of last year a total of 468,520 cars (of which 77,436 were newly acquired), out of a total 2.4 million vehicles including SUVs, trucks, buses and motorcycles in the metropolis.

In Singapore, there were 956,430 vehicles registered in 2016. Of these, 552,427 were cars and station wagons, 163,277 goods trucks and others vehicles, 18,804 buses, and 143,052 motorcycles and scooters. By January next year, around 93,100 cars are due for deregistration, indicating a further reduction in the number on the island-state’s roads.

Metro Manila, which has a land area about 100 square kilometers smaller than Singapore, has about 1,150 kms of paved roads, compared to 3,500 kms of Singapore. EDSA, the main artery in Metro Manila, has a capacity of 6,000 vehicles per hour one direction, but the actual flow is 6,800.

Compared to the gridlock-like traffic in most of Metro Manila’s major roads, the average speed during peak hours in Singapore’s central business district and arterial roads is estimated at around 29 kms per hour.

Singapore is able to implement strict controls on private motor vehicle ownership and still keep the population moving because of its modern public transport system. On top of the extensive bus network, Singapore has a mass rapid transit system extending over 178 kms, with a combined ridership for both systems at 7.2 million per day.

Metro Manila is served by three elevated train systems with slightly over 64 kms of tracks combined and accounting for a total of 1.1 million riders per day.

An interesting philosophy behind Singapore’s transport policy is the belief that car ownership cannot be a low-cost transport option for as long as incomes continue to rise. Can Metro Manila and the rest of urbanized cities of the Philippines take the same approach?