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Driverless buses, talking cars in smart-transport master plan

SINGAPORE — A blueprint to develop an intelligent transport system over the next 15 years was jointly launched yesterday by the Land Transport Authority (LTA) and the Intelligent Transportation Society Singapore.

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SINGAPORE — A blueprint to develop an intelligent transport system over the next 15 years was jointly launched yesterday by the Land Transport Authority (LTA) and the Intelligent Transportation Society Singapore.

The 44-page document highlights ways in which high-quality information can be provided for diverse users, with interactive elements, to create a safer and better travel experience: For example, accurate information on crowd levels in buses and trains, warnings delivered to drivers via in-vehicle devices so some accidents can be avoided, and perhaps even driverless buses to ferry commuters within certain areas.

The Smart Mobility 2030 master plan would take urban mobility to a new level, in LTA chief executive Chew Hock Yong’s words. “In the past, Intelligent Transport Systems were often infrastructure-reliant. Today, greater emphasis is placed on data collection, analytics and the availability of relevant, useful information on the move.”

Information provided to users has to be simple, relevant and accurate, the master plan noted. While on-site signs, websites and radio broadcasts would continue to be the main channels to disseminate advisories, platforms for targeted and localised information — such as through smartphones, personal navigation devices and in-vehicle systems — will become more common.

In future, vehicles will be more connected with one another, and possibly with the authorities’ back-end operations for faster response to incidents. Alternative modes of transport can be deployed during a train breakdown, for instance, and motorists nearby can be alerted. But for vehicles to communicate with one another, open in-vehicle standards have to be adopted, with standard interfaces and connection protocols between smart devices required.

Experts noted the benefits — for example, congestion management — that can be reaped with new technologies such as the future satellite-based Electronic Road Pricing (ERP) system.

The Intelligent Transportation Society Singapore was formed in 2001 to provide a forum for academics, public and private organisations, among others, to exchange ideas and information on intelligent transportation systems.

National University of Singapore professor Lee Der Horng, who is a council member of the society, felt the next-generation ERP system would be a game-changer, enabling distance-based pricing of road usage. This, in turn, could allow the authorities to be “a bit more lenient with ownership control”, he said. Other benefits offered by satellite-based ERP lie in parking enforcement, and the potential to guide drivers on routes to take between places, Prof Lee added.

Dr Alexander Erath of the Future Cities Laboratory at the Singapore-ETH Centre for Global Environmental Sustainability said measures to improve public transport should be the priority. Data from travel smartcards is a “wonderful source to get insights” for researchers, and Dr Erath suggested other forms of data could also be collected and shared with commuters through smartphone applications.

Existing and new technologies could also be exploited to improve the experience of pedestrians and cyclists, and in ticketing — such as removing the need to swipe travel cards on buses and at gantries, he suggested.

The plans laid out are fairly ambitious, he said. Commuters “shouldn’t expect less-crowded trains or roads because of intelligent transport systems, but more abilities to know how to avoid (congestion)”, he added.

More extensive and reliable data can, nonetheless, allow the public to better utilise their time, said Prof Lee. Smartphones today can provide information on bus arrivals, but not how crowded they are, for instance. With the extra information, “if peak hour is not over and I’m flexible, I may choose to stay home to do other work before leaving to take public transport”, he said. “The same applies when driving.”

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