How can Singapore’s transport deal with disruptive tech?

What digital, on-demand public transport service could look like.

“Be courageous”, says Singapore’s public transport chief. In the face of new and disruptive transport services, such as ride-sharing apps and autonomous vehicles, the government must lead the change, says Jeremy Yap, Deputy Chief Executive, Public Transport Policy and Planning, Land Transport Authority. “It’s very important that public transport authorities know what is happening to the transport space,” he says. If “someone else leads the transition”, he adds, “then you may have a different outcome from what you prefer”. For instance, the country has been trialling driverless cars and plans to “exploit autonomous vehicles for the sake of public transport”, he says. “I’m talking about buses - autonomous buses”. It has worked with private sector companies to bring in autonomous tech, and also developed its own through universities. ‘Mobility as a service’ Commuters use multiple modes of transport, and they will increasingly want to access these services on-demand. “They are looking at something that can be bundled for them”, Yap says - what he calls “mobility as a service”. In the future, Singapore could deliver such services through a single platform that will integrate all these services. “It can be digital; it can be an information platform, or it can be something that we will work into organisational structuring”, he says. “But we are not there yet,” he adds. Eye of the storm Singapore’s public transport must keep itself relevant even as new services are created. First and last mile transport services, such as ride-sharing, walking and cycling, must be connected with this system, he says. Public transport must continue to be at “the centre of the urban mobility solution”. The government picks and integrates new services that complement public transport. “Complementarity is important in looking at making public transport still at the heart,” he says. For example, LTA and the Government Digital Services have created the Beeline scheme, which allows people to book seats for shared rides. The concept is similar to the car-sharing services offered now by Uber and Grab - but for minibuses. Connecting new services will also ensure that people continue taking buses and trains. “Public transport needs to increase its value proposition by integrating all the other modes, all the combined mobility options,” he says. Buses and trains “sometimes cannot compete with the convenience of cars in terms of door to door transport”, he added. Private sector should be allowed to propose new solutions because “they have the ability and nimbleness to price solutions”. “When we do that as authorities, we are progressive-minded”, he adds. The Singapore Government must be prepared to look change in the eye and lead the way. Image used under CC BY-ND 2.0