Singapore's transport vision: Analytics, new interfaces & autonomous vehicles

Image courtesy of CREATE Future Mobility Symposium 2015

At the CREATE Future Mobility Symposium 2015, the Ministry of Transport outlined future plans on improving Singapore’s transport system through the use of new technologies in urban mobility. Bringing together researchers from local and international universities, the symposium examined trends and challenges in urban mobility and transportation solutions, and presented flagship projects from research programs at CREATE (Campus for Research Excellence and Technological Enterprise).

Mr Pang Kin Keong, Permanent Secretary for Transport, said that many countries in the world, including Singapore, are rethinking urban mobility. With a population of 5.5 million people in just 700 square kilometres, Singapore is one of the most densely populated cities in the world, and a car-oriented transport system is simply not sustainable.

“The key for us therefore is to build and operate a public transport system that provides a high enough level of connectivity, speed and comfort, that Singaporeans will feel less of a desire to drive. Hence we have laid out concrete plans for the next 15 years to invest heavily in the public transport system, as well as active modes of mobility like walking and cycling. Many improvements to our train, bus and taxi services have been implemented or are underway, and we have plans to build several more new MRT lines,” said Pang.

The Ministry of Transport and the Singapore Land Transport Authority (LTA) are looking into three areas of technology with the potential to transform public transport services – data analytics, smarter interfaces for commuters and autonomous vehicles.

Data Analytics for Transport Design    

With millions of commuters on the move every day, detailed analytics on mobility patterns and behaviour can be used to develop more effective transport designs and policies. LTA has extensive data on the exact location of trains, buses and taxis in the transport network, as well as the travel patterns of commuters through fare card data.

“With all this data, LTA is looking to develop systems to simulate and predict commuter crowding, behaviour and movements across the entire public transport system. The aim is to enable LTA to further optimise the deployment of trains and buses under various operational and incident scenarios,” said Pang. “For example, to understand the impact on crowd levels at different stations if additional trains are injected or turned around at various locations; how to rationalise bus services to optimise resources and yet meet commuter needs; or to understand the build-up of the crowd should a train service disruption occur at various times of the day at various locations, and hence the best way of redeploying trains and buses to help move the affected commuters.”

LTA also has plans to install a new satellite-based electronic road pricing (ERP) system, replacing the current gantry-based system. Vehicles will be required to install GNSS-enabled sensors, which will provide real-time data on the location, speed and travel smoothness of vehicles, and an accurate picture of the traffic situation on every road in Singapore.

Smarter Transport Interfaces

The second area of technology which LTA is focusing on is the interface between commuters and transport service providers. Transport applications such as MyTransport.SG are empowering commuters to better plan their journeys with transport information, while the new Beeline app harnesses crowd-sourced data to provide a customised, demand-driven bus service.

“This concept of demand-driven shared transit has the potential to dramatically transform the way that public bus services are provided in the future. Imagine a suite of adaptive bus routes – where new routes are activated based on commuter demand and existing routes evolve dynamically with changing travel needs,” said Pang.

Commuters in Singapore can also look forward to a more convenient fare payment system. LTA is looking to develop a hands-free, contactless payment mode based on near-field communication technology. This allows commuters to simply work through the gantry without the need to tap a smartcard – the system will be able to register the commuter as long as a smart card is carried.

Autonomous Vehicles

The third area of technology with the potential to transform Singapore’s transport system is autonomous vehicles. Although driverless cars will eventually become a reality, it will not reduce the number of cars on Singapore’s roads. Instead, LTA is excited at the possibility of applying driverless technology to public transport.

“For us, the most exciting potential of autonomous vehicles is to apply the technology to public transport, or to shared transport, bringing new forms of mobility for the masses with the convenience of private transport. To achieve this vision, my ministry set up the Committee on Autonomous Road Transport for Singapore, or CARTS for short, in August last year. With the exception of our very first two MRT lines, all our other MRT lines already run on driverless technology. When we are able to apply autonomous vehicle technology to buses as well, we would solve one of our most pressing transport challenges today, which is to recruit enough bus drivers,” said Pang.

Trials for autonomous vehicles and mobility-on-demand buses will be conducted at the One-North district, slated as the first mixed-use test site for mobility concepts. The trails will allow LTA to study the interaction between autonomous vehicles, motorists, cyclists and pedestrians, as well as the infrastructural requirements needed for road safety. In freight transport, trails will be conducted for truck platooning, which comprises a lead truck that is steered by a driver, followed by a convoy of about three to four driverless trucks. This will increase productivity and help to ease the shortage of drivers in Singapore’s logistics sector.

Government and Research Partnership

Over the past years, various innovations were developed at CREATE to address issues on urban mobility, and researchers have partnered with LTA to test their mobility solutions in Singapore. SMART-FM ran trials of autonomous vehicles for public use, TUM CREATE designed and developed a fast-charging electric taxi, and SEC-FCL developed a multi-agent transport simulation model which simulates Singapore’s island-wide travel flows.

“Urban mobility challenges are certainly well beyond the ability of researchers to address in a laboratory. This symposium aims to increase the awareness of and visibility of these capabilities amongst all stakeholders. We are happy to note that there is an increased communication between policy makers and CREATE researchers. Already there is an increased engagement with local agencies to test mobility technologies and innovations here in Singapore, to experiment and explore options and to push the boundaries of what is possible for the future of mobility,” said Dr Lim Khiang Wee, Executive Director of CREATE.