SINGAPORE - Singapore will switch to a satellite-based Electronic Road Pricing (ERP) system in the middle of 2023, but plans to charge motorists for the distances they clock will be on hold.
The Land Transport Authority said on Tuesday (Sept 8) that installation of a new onboard unit (OBU) to replace the current in-vehicle unit will start in the latter half of next year. The initial unit will be free of charge.
The authority had previously said installation of the OBU would start by end of this year. Because the Covid-19 pandemic had an impact on global supply chains, the exercise will commence in the second half of 2021, and take place over 18 months.
Following that, the new ERP system will switch on in mid-2023. But the LTA said the existing cordon-based congestion pricing framework will remain; and ERP charging locations will also be clearly indicated on "smaller and slimmer gantries".
In a Facebook post on Tuesday, Transport Minister Ong Ye Kung said: "How ERP works will not change. What will change is there is no need for big gantries anymore. Also, the in-vehicle unit will need to be replaced - FOC - with a new one, with a bigger screen that can display maps and traffic info and safety alerts."
In this year's Budget, Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat said the technology for distance-based charging "is still several years away".
The new ERP system will have more features than the current one.
Besides providing information on ERP charging locations and rates, the OBU will provide information such as real-time road traffic updates as well as locations of nearby School Zones and Silver Zones, the LTA said.
The new ERP system will replace the current 22-year-old system, which the authority said was "reaching the end of its operational life".
Classic and vintage car owners will be given the option to install the OBU. But those who choose not to will be subject to further usage restrictions as well as separate congestion fees, LTA said.
The new OBU will have two designs - a one-piece unit for motorcycles; and for other vehicles, a three-piece unit comprising an antenna, a touchscreen display to be mounted on the windscreen and a processing unit which can be mounted beneath the dashboard.
The new OBU is compatible with the current ERP systems and carparks. Motorists can continue to use Nets FlashPay and ez-link cards, or credit or debit cards, to make payment.
The LTA said the privacy of motorists will be safeguarded.
"LTA will only use anonymised or aggregated data for traffic management and transport planning purposes," it said. "Vehicle-specific data will be used only for payment, charges and enforcement, such as against non-payment of ERP charges."
It added that to prevent unauthorised access and improper use of the data, there will be robust security and strict safeguards in place, including penalties for infringement.
Plans for a satellite-based, gantry-less ERP system which can charge according to the distance covered by a vehicle and which can be islandwide started soon after the current system went "live" in 1998.
After years of studies, tests and trials, it was decided that such a system was feasible. In 2016, LTA awarded a $556 million contract to NCS and MHI Engine System to build the system.
Nanyang Business School adjunct associate professor Zafar Momin said that until distance-based charging is available, "it sounds like we will probably just have a slightly upgraded cordon-based charging ERP system with a few more bells and whistles".
IT specialist Larry Leong, who provided inputs for Jakarta's road pricing project, said the OBU for the Singapore system is "old-fashioned". "The intent is great, but the tech is too old," he said, adding that an app-based open platform would have been better and more cost-effective.
"It is time to move away from card-based payments," he noted. "Adopt modern payment methods for a modern ERP."
He added that installation of a three-piece OBU will require space and more wiring, and may be a challenge in newer cars.
West Coast GRC MP Ang Wei Neng reckoned the system will go through a transition phase. "It leverages GNSS (Global Navigation Satellite System), paving the way for us to do more things when the system is stabilised," he added.