Singapore will prioritise the use of drones and driverless buses in its future transport plans, Dr Janil Puthucheary, Senior Minister of State for Transport revealed to an audience of CEOs and senior industry representatives.

Speaking at the American Chamber of Commerce’s Balestier Lunch, Puthucheary spoke of how unmanned vehicles will transform transportation and land use in Singapore.

“I’m excited that if we can get autonomous vehicles out in a significant way – yes – it will change our public transport system, potentially it will change our private transport offerings, and how we manage the way we use land,” he said.

The country is prioritising driverless buses over “individual cars”, he added. Many nations are looking at driverless cars, while there is “not so much work done internationally” on autonomous buses and “we think there’s an opportunity to reshape our public transport system if we have autonomous buses.”

“That’s where we are focusing to develop that niche and have a competitive advantage,” he added.

The city state has 70km of public roads where autonomous vehicles can be tested “in live environments”, the Senior Minister of State told industry representatives, including BMW and Go-Jek. “You’ve got pedestrians, you’ve got cars, you’ve got cyclists, you’ve got cats and dogs,” he said. Companies can test their vehicles as long as they share the relevant data with the Singapore Land Transport Authority for evaluation of the trials.

Drones are also important to Singapore’s future vision, he said. “This has the potential to transform mobility and logistics in many environments around the world.”

He warned that Singapore’s “dense urban environment, one of the most crowded and busiest airspaces in the world, [where] international borders are a stone’s throw or a drone’s flight” has complicated the ability to use them at scale.

The city has designated chunks of the island to test drones where they won’t interfere with the airport or the central business district. Airbus and Wilhelmsen are among the companies conducting trials in Singapore to resupply ships that stay at sea.

Singapore is also using 200 driverless cranes to unload cargo, and driverless trailers to carry the goods, he said. The new port, being built on reclaimed land in the west of the country, will feature almost 1,000 of these cranes and driverless vehicles, he revealed.

Regulation is crucial for building this driverless future, the Minister said. Singapore has created ‘regulatory sandboxes’ where companies can conducts trials.

He also hinted at tighter regulations on vehicle services such as ride-hailing apps. “We are going to review licensing around our point to point sector,” he said. In particular, the government will look at “driver exclusivity” as a method of ensuring competition in the sector – enabling drivers to switch between working for Grab and Go-Jek without penalties, for example.

The Minister also called on transport apps to ensure that they cater for all parts of Singapore. English is a second language for a segment of Singapore’s elderly, he said, and “if your digital products are not in their language, they will not use it”.

“You have to design your app better,” he said.

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