Singapore's pounds 9bn plan to to curb the car

STEPHEN VINES

Hong Kong

Singapore's ever-vigilant planners have decided that more than pounds 9bn should be spent on an ultra-modern public transport system aimed at virtually eliminating the car from the island state.

The use of cars, already a luxury in Singapore, will increasingly be discouraged by heavier taxes and electronic road-pricing systems. While other countries, including the United Kingdom, have shunned railway development because of the high cost of construction, the Singaporeans see no alternative to the reliability and speed of railways and their kindness to the environment.

The aim, outlined in a 72-page White Paper, is not only to create an expanded domestic transport network but to provide the basis for an electric rail link stretching through Malaysia to Thailand. The railway will be integrated with Singapore's new, but as yet relatively small, mass rapid transit underground system and the light rail system, used for shorter journeys.

The standard of buses will be upgraded to create what is described as a more customer-oriented service. Bus flow would be improved by satellite- assisted tracking systems to improve scheduling.

As for cars, the planners have found to their dismay that despite Singapore's small size - about the same as the Isle of Wight - the average mileage of Singaporean cars is among the highest in the world. They explain this by saying that car owners are more likely to use their vehicles, as they have had to pay such a high price to buy them.

Despite the war on car use, this week's White Paper reluctantly concedes that by 2010 one in seven Singaporeans will own a car, compared with the current ratio of one in ten.

One method of providing a form of private transport, while discouraging car use, will be to offer "car-like" taxi services, with taxis given guidance on the best routes by satellite.

The high price of the new transport infrastructure will be met by taxpayers financing the construction cost and the purchase of equipment such as trains, while the operating cost should be covered by fares. Car users will contribute heavily, both by having to bid for licences to buy cars and by the road tolls imposed through an electronic road-pricing system.

Londoners may be puzzled by Singapore's belief that their city's mass transit system should serve as a model. Presumably Singapore will not be aiming to replicate some of the planning chaos surrounding the London Underground, but, in its characteristically determined way, the government will ensure that property and transport development proceed hand in hand.

Although the expenditure for the new system is vast - over pounds 30,000 per head of the population - it embraces many developments which are already on the stocks and, over 20 years, should be easy enough to absorb.

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