SINGAPORE: The Ministry of Transport will go big on big data and analytics to improve rail reliability, as it deploys condition monitoring tools on trains and equipment to collect data more extensively and in real time, said Second Minister for Transport Ng Chee Meng in Parliament on Wednesday (Mar 8).
For instance, Mr Ng said during his ministry’s Committee of Supply debates that all 66 new trains on the North-South and East-West Lines and the new power supply system will have monitoring sensors.
Similarly, a new-generation Automatic Track Inspection System for the Downtown Line will also be deployed, he said, with imaging sensors and lasers installed on revenue trains to scan the rail line for anomalies so engineers can arrest any faults early.
“We will adopt a more proactive, predictive approach to maintenance, and away from the current model of preventive maintenance,” the minister said. “To enable this transition, we will need to build an integrated asset management database, so that we can better monitor and predict the health of the entire rail network and all its components.”
Data analytics will also be used for bus services, and Mr Ng noted that public bus operators track the location of all their buses and apply analytics so they can instruct bus captains to slow down or speed up in real time to avoid bunching with other buses.
Going forward, the Land Transport Authority (LTA) is building an analytics system that will combine data from various sources such as fare cards, Wi-Fi and CCTV systems, and cellular data from the local telcos, he said. “This will enable LTA to better model commuter flows in our public transport network, and improve its overall planning capabilities.”
In time to come, the ministry will also be able to integrate private transport data via the in-vehicle units installed in the vehicles, which can be tracked by the Global Navigation Satellite System, he added.
The information can then be used to improve traffic flows, for instance, by providing motorists with access to real-time traffic data to decide on the fastest or least congested route, the minister explained. It will also enable the traffic light system to respond more intelligently and optimally to different real-time traffic conditions, he said.
MOBILE TECH ANOTHER KEY ENABLER
Besides data, mobile technology has also been earmarked to be a key enabler for the transport sector.
Mr Ng noted how the tech has disrupted the transport industry, particularly in the private hire car arena, with the Public Transport Council’s (PTC) recent survey suggesting that almost one in two point-to-point trips are now served by these cars.
“I am glad to see that commuters are using these mobile technologies and are satisfied with both taxi and private hire car services,” he said.
Taxi companies, too, are rising to the competition and some of them have recently proposed dynamic pricing as another option for booked trips, he said.
Reiterating the message he posted on Facebook on Monday, Mr Ng said the PTC is currently discussing the details with the taxi companies. “My view is that we should let the taxi industry innovate and adapt to new market conditions and competition. Our taxi drivers have to make a living, and we should not restrict their ability to compete effectively.
“On the other hand, I understand some commuters’ concerns about dynamic pricing … But importantly, before any journey begins, commuters will know exactly how much their fare would be. They can then choose to accept or decline the offer.”
He added that taxi companies intend to retain the traditional metered fare system even as they introduce dynamic pricing.
The ministry also intends to maintain some differentiation in privileges and regulations between taxis and private hire cars for now, “given their different roles”, he said.
For example, only taxis will serve the street-hail market and they will continue to enjoy COE concessions. “They pay the Category A Prevailing Quota Premium even though many taxis are larger Category B models,” Mr Ng said.
He also pointed out that further disruption can be expected, with the trend of ride-sharing among unrelated commuters. UberPool and GrabShare, for instance, offer commuters the option of sharing a private hire car trip if they are headed in the same direction, which is cheaper than taking a ride on their own, he said.
Local start-up SWAT also aims to provide on-demand bus services with a routing algorithm to pick up and drop off passengers on demand, while dynamically optimising the route that the bus takes on a real-time basis, the minister said.
Grab also recently launched a new fixed-route shuttle service - GrabShuttle - in collaboration with the Government Technology Agency of Singapore. It allows commuters to book seats on buses which will take them from selected neighbourhoods to locations such as the Central Business District.
“This could potentially transform how bus services are operated in the future, including public bus services in areas where there is lower ridership or maybe during low-demand hours,” Mr Ng said.