Roll-out of satellite-based ERP system delayed by global chip shortage

The roll-out of the next-generation ERP system, last planned for end-2021, will now happen in the second half of 2023. PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - The transition to the next-generation Electronic Road Pricing (ERP) system is delayed yet again - this time by the global chip shortage.

The Land Transport Authority (LTA) said on Wednesday (Nov 17) that the roll-out - last planned for end-2021 - will now happen in the second half of 2023.

The authority said the chip shortage is expected to end only around end-2022 and early 2023.

The initial plan was to start replacing the current ERP in-vehicle units with new on-board units (OBUs) last year. This was eventually pushed to the end of this year because of the Covid-19 pandemic.

As installation of OBUs - involving almost one million vehicles - would take 18 months, the new ERP system is unlikely to be switched on until at least 2025.

The new satellite-based ERP system will replace the current 23-year-old system, which LTA previously said was reaching the end of its operational life.

It 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, LTA had said.

The killer application of the new system is its ability to charge for distance travelled. LTA, however, had indicated earlier that this function would not be rolled out initially.

But Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat announced last year that the distance-charging function was still "several years away".

In a joint press release with system contractors NCS and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, LTA explained that the pandemic had boosted global demand for microchips.

More people bought electronic devices to work or study from home. Lockdowns also led to the suspension of operations in major semiconductor foundries across multiple countries.

LTA said this "severely impacted the production of electronic devices across multiple sectors, from consumer electronics to industrial machines and automotive".

LTA chief executive Ng Lang said: "We would like to seek motorists' understanding as we work closely with our partners to resolve the production challenges brought on by Covid-19.

"Our priority is to ensure that the installation exercise proceeds smoothly. We will give ample notice to motorists and the motor vehicle industry ahead of the installation exercise."

But motorists are in no particular hurry to switch to the new system.

Business consultant Albert Lee, 62, said: "I am relieved, since I can't be sure that with the new system, other car-related taxes will be tweaked eventually in favour of distance-based charges.

"Logically, with distance-based pricing, other charges should be reduced. We should not be penalised for ownership, but for usage."

Freelance motoring writer Wong Kai Yi, 32, said: "It is a good thing that the system is delayed.

"Hopefully, the time extension means the authorities can rethink the design of the new on-board unit, which looks cumbersome."

The new on-board unit will have two designs - a one-piece unit for motorcycles and a three-piece unit for other vehicles. PHOTOS: LTA

In response, LTA said it is also studying whether information from the OBU can be transmitted and displayed on smartphones.

"We will be engaging the industry on the possible ways to implement this option," a spokesman added.

However, The Straits Times understands that the OBU will still have to be installed somewhere in the vehicle even if the smartphone option proves to be feasible.

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