Singapore has enough road to circle the moon close to three times, but space is always limited in a small city-state with a land area of 722 square kilometres.

The government has introduced a plan to discourage driving, in favour of public transport. For most residents, “private cars are not necessary at all,” says Lina Lim, Group Director for Policy and Planning at the Land Transport Authority. She revealed how, by 2040, the government hopes to decrease car use with on-demand buses, driverless vehicles, and public transport powered by data.

Giving more space back to people

The LTA wants to “give more space back to people” by reclaiming roads for walking, cycling, and electric scooters, Lim says. The city will create new cycle lanes and prioritise buses on the major highways.

LTA also wants to work with town planners to make sure that roads and space are used for people, rather than cars. Parks, cycle lanes and footpaths will get priority. This will create “a more liveable environment where people can carry out their daily activities”, she says.

The elderly must get special support, where the population is rapidly ageing. Designated “silver zones” will be peppered across the island, with lower speed limits, and a two-stage road crossing where senior citizens can take a rest while crossing the road.

Lim wants to explore other plans to support other members of the community, surveying over 7,000 residents for the latest 2040 Land Transport Master Plan.

Future of public transport

Rail transport remains the centrepiece of Singapore, says Lim – the MRT system crisscrosses the island and two new lines are already under construction. Future work will now focus on ‘first and last mile connectivity’ – or how people get to these stations.

In practice, this means using data to design better transport routes. The government envisages “dynamically routed bus services”, which change according to daily commuting patterns.

These “dynamically-routed buses,” Lim continues “will just come and pick them up and give them a direct route to where they need to go.” The LTA carried out a six-month trial for on-demand bus services last year, but discontinued it citing high technological costs. The authority is hopeful, however, that it will become more cost-effective in future with better algorithms and technology.

It is also looking at creating a more intuitive journey planner that includes road and human congestion information. The LTA is thinking of how data can be used to give commuters more alternatives in travelling. “Maybe there is congestion somewhere, [and] the commuter may want to think of another route of travel,” says Lim.

Autonomous vehicles form a large part of the vision. Autonomous shuttles are currently being trialled at Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University. The buses are equipped with a global navigation satellite system which is accurate up to one centimetre, and comes with numerous sensors and navigation controls to ensure safety. This year, the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore also revealed plans to trial air taxis in the Southern part of the city.

The LTA uses a huge body of data from public transport transactions and other government agencies to plan its vision. “People tap in tap out from buses, from trains, we do know where they go,” she says. These data are completely anonymised, however, and are used mainly to chart human and road traffic.

The current plan sees a “car-lite” society, with driverless vehicles still playing a role. But public transport is seen as a greater part of everyday life for the majority of Singaporeans. “It’s good to come to a stage where you say there’s actually no need to drive,” Lim says.

Image by Volocopter GmbH, Facebook page.