Ministry of Transport Committee of Supply 2020 – Cuts by WP MPs and NCMPs

(Delivered on 5 March 2020)

Elderly Vocational Licence Holders – Muhamad Faisal Abdul Manap

I have been approached by a number of elderly residents who holds Taxi Driver’s Vocational Licence (TDVL), highlighting the following two matters and requested that these be brought to the ministry’s attention.

First, the issue on the mandatory medical examination or health check-ups. It is a requirement for Qualified Driving Licence (QDL) holders aged 65 year-old and above to go for a health check once every three years for them to be allowed to continue driving. I also understand that for TDVL holders of the same age group, they are required to have their health check on yearly basis. Based on these two requirements, an individual aged 65 year-old and above has to attend two medical examinations once every three years.

Sir, it is understandable for TDVL holders in this age group to find it inconvenient to go through two separate medical examinations within a year. First, they have to fork out additional amount of money for the health check. Second, it affects their income since they have to sacrifice their driving hours to attend these medical examinations. I do hope the Ministry will consider to allow elderly TDVL holders to undergo a single comprehensive medical examination instead of two separate sessions as mentioned earlier.

Second issue is on the statutory age limit for a vocational licence. Currently the statutory age limit for a vocational licence is 75 year-old. I would like to convey requests to have the statutory age limit increase for another few more years as long as the medical examination result permits. This extension will allow elderly TDVL holders who still needs to sustain themselves to continue driving for few more years and for those who just wants to earn some incomes or remain active, they can do a part-time or relief driving. Hope ministry will look into the matters raised.


Making Pedestrian Crossings Safer for All – Png Eng Huat

Sir, I have spoken about making signalized pedestrian crossing safer for all in 2013, 2015, and 2018.  In particular, I have called for discretionary right-turn junctions to be phased out.  If one were to google the term “discretionary right-turn”, a list of accidents will pop up on your screen.  There is even a petition asking LTA to ban such junctions altogether.

LTA was reported to have taken steps to address the safety concerns of pedestrians over the years.  I have noticed more traffic junctions are being reprogrammed.  I spoke on the same subject time and again because I strongly believe that those horrible accidents that happened at such junctions could be avoidable.

Fast forward to 2020, January the 6th to be precise, a student, with the right of way and hidden by a vehicle waiting at a discretionary right-turn junction, was sent flying through the air by another vehicle who did not see young man crossing the road.  That was the last straw for me.

The “discretionary turning on green” rule is a recipe for accident to happen because there are 2 green lights in operation at the same time; one for vehicles to turn right, and the other for pedestrians to cross.  How is that not dangerous to begin with?  Imagine pedestrians and drivers hesitating at a discretionary right-turn junction, second guessing whether it is safe to proceed even though the lights are both in their favour.

If a pedestrian could be assigned 15 per cent blame in an accident even though the lights were in his favour in the court of law, what is the proportion of blame for the ministry for giving pedestrians a false sense of security at discretionary right-turn junctions when the green man signal does not necessary mean it is safe to cross anymore?

We all know that policies, rules, regulations cannot cover every situation.  I am not asking the ministry to design a perfect traffic junction.  I am asking the ministry to take the guesswork out of crossing a simple junction.  Anything else, the pedestrians or motorists will have to take responsibility.

And if we are talking about cultivating patience on the road, wouldn’t a split-phase traffic junction be an ideal training ground for that?  You wait for your turn to proceed.

Sir, I strongly urge the ministry to do something about those discretionary right-turn junctions wherever possible because the safety of pedestrians must be at the forefront of everything in a car-lite, pedestrian-centric city.


Rethinking Pedestrian Overhead Bridges – Png Eng Huat

Sir, it was reported in the news that there are 553 pedestrian overhead bridges (POBs) here in 2017.  Last September, LTA announced that by 2022, 103 of them will be retrofitted with lifts.  That is about 19 per cent of all POBs will have lift access by next year.

Many Singaporeans welcome the idea of having lifts retrofitted to POBs, especially the elderly, people with mobility issues, couples with baby on pram, and anyone who finds climbing overhead bridges a challenge.  I have written on behalf of many residents to request for lifts for the overhead bridges in Hougang, in particular the one at Holy Innocents’ High School along Upper Serangoon Road.  LTA has patiently replied to these residents, sharing about the high cost of retrofitting lifts to POBs, and the priority being given to overhead bridges within 400 metres from polyclinics and hospitals.

Retrofitting lifts to POBs is a challenging process in itself.  Plots of land on both sides of the road would have to be acquired to make way for the lift shafts.  The construction along the narrow stretch of the footpaths is challenging and the whole process may quite a while to complete.  The lifts at the overhead bridge along Hougang Ave 2 have been under construction for almost 2 years and they are still not ready.

But having lift access for overhead bridges may not be an ideal solution for an ageing society like ours.   If the lifts were to break down or to undergo servicing, everything would be reverted to leg power again.

Sir, as we are transiting to a car lite city, I hope the ministry would shift the focus of our road and transport planning to be more pedestrian-centric.  The rationale of having POBs to serve a car-lite and ageing society may need a rethink.

I hope the ministry can study into the possibility of converting those heavily used POBs in the HDB heartland to signalized pedestrian crossings.  This would allow residents with mobility issues or special needs to cross the road, come what may, even if the traffic lights are out of order.  May be the ministry can share what is the cost of implementing and maintaining a signalized pedestrian crossing versus retrofitting an existing overhead bridge with lifts.

The issues of having too many signalized pedestrian crossings along a stretch of the road can be easily overcome with synchronized traffic light control.  And if we talking about a pedestrian-centric and car-lite city, getting drivers to exercise a little patient would fit the overall objective quite nicely.


Piracy in the Strait of Singapore – Dennis Tan Lip Fong

Last month, I filed a Parliamentary Question asking (a) whether any investigation has been carried out in respect of the piracy incidents in the Singapore Strait in and after December 2019; (b) has the Government identified the persons or groups responsible for the reported incidents and where they originated from; (c) what action has been taken by any of our government agencies to date; (d) what are the Government’s plans to prevent similar acts of piracy.

Minister Khaw Boon Wan replied that there were 12 incidents involving piracy and robbery in December 2019 and January 2020, and as none of those incidents happened in our territorial waters, no investigations were required of our agencies.

He said that, as the Singapore Strait does not only include Singapore territorial waters, the fight against piracy requires collaboration among all partners. According to him, the Republic of Singapore Navy (RSN) conducts joint coordinated patrols with Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand through the Malacca Straits Patrol (MSP) in the Strait of Singapore as well as the Strait of Malacca, that the MSP hold regular meetings to enhance coordination, review conduct of operations, share intelligence and information.

On the same sitting in February, two honourable members in this House also filed questions relating to the piracy incidents to the Minister for Defence. Minister Ng Eng Hen in his reply to one member talked about RSN’s co-operation with neighbouring counterparts under the MSP.

I had filed the PQ to the Minister for Transport instead of the Minister for Defence as MOT is the domain ministry for maritime transport and in my view, this goes beyond the issue of security or security arrangement with our neighbouring countries.

Minister Khaw’s answer confirms that no investigation was carried out by Singapore on the incidents reported and sadly, we are none the wiser about the cause of these piracy incidents, why there was a sudden spike in the number, or who  who were the culprits behind the incidents. Minister Ng’s answers also shed no light on the same.

The Port of Singapore is one of the busiest ports in the world. Many ships pass through the Strait of Singapore every day, of which a large number comes through to the Port of Singapore and its anchorages and even its Outside Port Limits (OPL) waters for a variety of commercial shipping, bunkering and ancillary activities.

It does not matter to shipowners and users that the Strait of Singapore is not entirely subsumed under our territorial waters. Many shipowners and users associate the Strait of Singapore with access and passage between Malacca Strait and the South China Sea and with access to the Port of Singapore and its OPL.

It is therefore in the interest of MOT, MPA and indeed all stakeholders in the Port of Singapore and our Maritime Hub that the Strait of Singapore and its adjacent waters are kept safe and free of piracy activities. In fact, in my view, it is in the greater interest of Singapore, as compared to our neighbours, that piracy activities are minimised or curbed.

We have seen from the piracy problems off the coasts of Somalia and Gulf of Aden not so long ago, and more recently off West Africa, how piracy resulted in increase in insurance and other operating costs for ship owners and operators and shipping costs for shippers. Many ships also avoided these waters.

While the piracy situation in the Strait of Singapore and the Strait of Malacca is thankfully far better than what we have seen in the waters off Somalia or West Africa, this is something we should not take for granted. In July last year, the Chinese government raised the security level on Chinese flagged ships transiting the Strait of Malacca.

I hope MOT and other Singapore government agencies involved will work actively with their counterparts in neighbouring countries to:

  1. Understand the causes of all piracy incidents, regardless of the locality of each incident;
  2. Help bring all culprits to justice or encourage all neighbouring authorities to work towards that end;

By doing the above, I hope all parties can work to minimise or curb piracy activities in the region.


Will extended cycling path network solve our problems with PMD, PAB and bicycles usage? – Dennis Tan Lip Fong

MOT announced in November 2019 that e-scooters will be banned from footpaths, but will be allowed on cycling paths and MOT will extend the network of cycling paths from 440 km to  1300km by 2030.

Last month, at the second reading of the Active Mobility (Amendment) Bill, I had some questions on the proposed extension of the cycling path network but SMS Janil said that MOT will only be touching on the extended cycling path network during this Committee of Supply Debate

I would like to ask again, whether, as part of the extended cycling path network, cycling paths will be directly linked to every HDB block, condominium, private landed house, shophouse, office building and industrial building so that there is direct access for e-scooters, other PMDs, e-bikes and bicycles from each of this type of buildings without the rider having to alight and push their devices on footpaths at all.

Direct access to the extended cycling lane network cannot be a half-hearted attempt e.g. having cycling paths circling a number of HDB blocks but with no direct link from each block or having cycling paths circling around clusters of private residential estates, expecting e-scooter users to alight and push en route to cycling paths.

Similarly, people going to work in office buildings or industrial estates must have direct access without having to travel on surfaces on which their mode of devices are barred.

In fact, going one step further towards utopia, if our cycling path network were to become sufficiently extensive such that PMD riders do not need to alight and push, it may in turn do away with the need for cyclists to share the use of footpaths, which is still currently allowed. This prospect may be welcomed by many footpath users who may not think that sharing footpaths with cyclists is a safe idea at all. It is not a safe idea because we still have a riding culture problem.

On the other hand, if the extensive linkage between cycling paths and our homes and offices seem too expensive, impractical or ambitious, then MOT may have to reconsider e-scooters, other PMDs and even e-bikes as a serious option for first and final mile connectivity.

If there is no direct link between the extended cycling network and the homes or work places of Singaporeans, e-scooter users will technically have to alight and push their e-scooters when on roads or footpaths and e-bike users must push their e-bikes when passing through footpaths.

How confident are we that all riders will comply accordingly? If it were that easy, the Government might not have resorted to the sudden footpath ban last November.

The new cycling lanes with a more extensive network alone will not solve all the problems we have seen with e-scooters before the footpath ban.

Most of these problems, I submit, had to do with a poor riding culture, inadequate public education and inadequate enforcement.

With the new mandatory competency certification for all users, I hope the public education situation with riders will improve considerably. However, for the non-riding public, I hope the Government will take steps and review how it can improve its public education. The Government must think of how to push such information to people who do not seek it, and such efforts should be carried out in all our four official languages.

On the issue of enforcement, people may take their chances and continue to use their devices illegally or in unlawful ways if they think that the chances of meeting enforcement officers are slim. Even now, I still see e-scooters being ridden on the roads or on footpaths. I still see illegal specs e-bikes being used and e-bikes on footpaths.

May I ask the minister, while we await the building of the extended cycling paths network, what efforts will be taken to enhance enforcement as well as public education beyond the current efforts?

I have in the past suggested that the Government should consider mandatory safe riding certification courses with disqualification rights. The competency certification process adopted last month is a big step forward. I believe that, with disqualification rights, people will take greater care to use their e-scooters safely and considerately, so I would again urge MOT to incorporate disqualification rights in our law.


Delivery Riders on PMDs and PABs – Dennis Tan Lip Fong

Last month, in response to my Parliamentary Question, Minister Khaw Boon Wan affirmed that under the Active Mobility (Amendment) and the Shared Mobility Enterprises (Control and Licensing) Acts, food delivery companies should be responsible for ensuring that their riders ride safely.

The new Acts do not provide details on this. Will the minister confirm that these regulations will be included in the subsidiary legislation?

Meanwhile, I would also like to suggest that such regulations must include imposition of penalties on the food delivery companies in the event of any failure on the part of their riders to comply with the law, for example, pertaining to the use of devices with correct specifications, use of devices on paths allowed for the relevant devices, riding safely, etc.

It is important to ensure that all food delivery companies will take ownership of the issue of their riders using lawful devices or riding lawfully and safely during their deliveries.

On the very day the Government banned e-scooters from footpaths, Deliveroo announced that they would stop working with e-scooter delivery riders on footpaths. However, I have seen Grabfood delivery riders using e-scooters on footpaths or roads even in the last 2 weeks.

I am shocked that Grabfood still allow their delivery riders to carry out delivery in an unlawful manner and I hope that MOT will take action.

Separately, in respect of the delivery companies’ obligations to ensure that their active mobility riders have third-party liability insurance, will MOT take steps to ensure that all third party liability insurers will not be able to exclude or repudiate policy liability for accidents which take place while the riders are in breach of the law eg PMDs being used on road, rider using an illegal specs e-scooter or PAB rider using footpaths? I am concerned that if allowed, claims by injured parties may be frustrated when accidents take place in such scenarios, which may defeat the purpose of requiring such insurance coverage, particularly when the rider is self-employed and own his own device.


Renewal Plans for LRTs – Dennis Tan Lip Fong

The Bukit Panjang LRT system, dogged by reliability issues, is now undergoing a $344m overhaul that is due to be completed in 2024. Yet, we should not forget that parts of the Sengkang-Punggol LRT system (SPLRT) are also reaching a critical point in their lifespan where concerns on reliability may begin to surface. Indeed, both LRT lines were upgraded to two-car operations in 2016 and load on the systems would surely have increased. SPLRT did see some preventive maintenance and asset renewal works between 2017 – 2018. However, if past experience with the MRT system is any indication, should we expect that more works ought to be done to maintain and improve on the reliability numbers of the LRT system? I would like to ask the Minister when can the residents in both Sengkang and Punggol expect such renewal and overhaul works to happen?