What Indian cities can learn from Singapore


Despite improvements in the road situation, Singapore needed more sophisticated traffic management measures by the turn of the 21st century to deal with a rising vehicle population and a larger and more complex road system. Existing initiatives remained manpower-intensive and inefficient—the Area Licensing Scheme (ALS) needed constant monitoring and strict enforcement to prevent motorists from entering the city centre multiple times with one ALS pass.

In line with the emergence of transportation technology from the 1980s to 1990s, Singapore’s Land Transport Authority (LTA) started drawing on technology to improve traffic efficiency and safety. Collectively called Intelligent Transport Systems (ITS), the measures aimed to automate processes and collect data not just to improve traffic coordination and control, but also provide real-time traffic information to help users plan smoother journeys.

One major development was the Electronic Road Pricing (ERP) system, which replaced the ALS in 1998. Instead of requiring officers to check for passes on windscreens, the ERP deducts a charge from each vehicle’s smart card device as it passes through a gantry. The fees are adjusted according to demand, with higher rates during peak hours. This system was expanded to high-traffic roads and expressways beyond the city centre. The Green Link Determining (GLIDE) system also improves traffic flow by adjusting the green time at traffic signals island-wide according to real-time vehicle and pedestrian volume. Wire sensors under the road surface detect vehicles, while push buttons on traffic signal poles inform the system of orphan. Other ITS contribute to safety. Started in 1998, the Expressway Monitoring & Advisory System (EMAS) features cameras along expressways to detect obstructions and monitor speed. The footage is sent to a central command at the ITS Centre. When operators detect an accident or vehicle breakdown, they activate a recovery crew and alert motorists of the situation via electronic signboards along expressways.

With ITS now spanning over 164 km of expressways and roads, Singapore has improved both traffic safety and efficiency. Complementing road safety campaigns and enforcement efforts, ITS such as the EMAS have contributed to a reduction in annual road accident fatalities, from around 210 in 2000 to 122 in 2017. Recovery crews start clearing vehicle breakdowns within 15 minutes thanks to the EMAS. The average 24 minutes saved per incident and shorter delays translate to annual cost savings of S$40 million.

With the ERP, traffic volume on expressways dropped as much as 15 per cent and average travel speed rose from 40 to 50 km/h. Smoother traffic reduces travel time for motorists as well as other road users on public buses. These commuters also benefit from traffic lights programmed to give priority to buses. Singapore topped the 2017 Global Smart City Performance Index by Juniper Research, which praised its integration of mobility technology with strong policy curtailing car ownership. The country also shares its traffic management expertise with neighbors such as the Philippines, with which it signed a memorandum of understanding to ease Manila’s gridlocked roads with ITS.

The city-state continues to upgrade its transport technology for greater equity and efficiency. Traffic lights were enhanced with a Green Man+ system from 2009 to offer the elderly and pedestrians with disabilities longer crossing times. An upcoming satellite ERP system will eliminate gantries and charge motorists based on distance traveled on congested roads, while trials on technology such as autonomous vehicles and shared on-demand transport services are underway. This forward-looking approach, together with strong transport policies and a citizen focus, enables Singapore to continue pushing boundaries in improving urban mobility.