Future in-vehicle unit will show ERP charges before you set off

3 groups bidding to build system that may see 'smarter' in-vehicle units

The precise whereabouts of your car will be tracked round the clock when the next-generation Electronic Road Pricing (ERP) is switched on in about four years' time.

A car's in-vehicle unit will be sophisticated enough to inform you of charges along a route, well before you are on your way.

And there will be many more enforcement cameras on the road when the new system - which can charge according to the distance a driver clocks on top of where he drives to - becomes operational.

These are some of the likely outcomes bidders vying to build the billion-dollar system are aiming for.

Three consortia have submitted their bids in a tender that closed earlier this month, and are making their technical presentations to the Land Transport Authority (LTA).

They are NCS & MHI Engine System Asia; ST Electronics (Info-Comm Systems); and Watchdata Technologies & Beijing Watchdata System Co.

ST Electronics has roped in computing giant IBM as a sub-contractor for its bid.

As early as August, the LTA will pick a winner, which will then have 42 months to deliver the system, according to tender documents.

This means the system - the first of its kind in the world - should be up and running by 2019, although the LTA has said it will be operational "around 2020".

The authority has been tight- lipped about the new system, which has the potential to be implemented islandwide quite quickly. But it is likely to start off implementing it on roads that currently incur charges and defer on charging for distance clocked.

And although the system is touted to be "gantry-less", there will be a lot more other street furniture such as beacons to boost satellite signals and cameras.

"There will be a lot more cameras around," said a senior executive with one of the bidding companies. "Fixed cameras as well as mobile cameras."

The most sophisticated piece of equipment, however, is likely to be the in-vehicle unit, which will have an in-built SIM card. Besides facilitating payment, it could have basic navigation functions and be able to tell the driver the ERP charges for the route he is taking.

"It will be like a smartphone in the car," the bidder said, adding that motorists will also be able to find out charges on "a personalised portal".

Through this portal, a motorist will be able to plan his journey according to the cheapest or fastest route to his destination.

"This on-board unit will be 'live' at all times, even when you have parked the car at home or in the office," he said, allowing the system to know a vehicle's location at all times.

Transport Minister Lui Tuck Yew has said that motorists' privacy will not be compromised as "we will anonymise and aggregate the data", referring to methods data collectors use to mask the identity of those tracked.

National University of Singapore transport researcher Lee Der Horng said the new system can still be intrusive as "every single movement of all motorised vehicles in Singapore can be tracked".

But he said the system is a sharper anti-congestion tool. "It is capable of performing distance- based charging, charging based on degree of congestion, dynamic pricing, mixture of distance and congestion charging, and so on," he said.

"Technically, driving speeds can also be monitored."

There is also the potential to charge for street parking.

Carpark operators using electronic parking systems, however, may have to change their systems when the new ERP kicks in, as The Straits Times understands that the two systems are incompatible.

The new system may also allow off-peak car owners to pay for using their vehicles for only short periods rather than the whole day.

christan@sph.com.sg