Almost four years ago, I wrote about how Singapore's Electronic Road Pricing (ERP), or what I prefer to call MMM (money-making machine), might be encouraging the local transport authority to stop thinking innovatively in applying technology to solve problems. Four years on, little has changed. Today, there are more ERP gantries than there were four years ago, ERP charges have gone up, and toll times have been extended even on weekday nights and Saturdays when traffic is comparatively less congested. To top it off, it now seems likely that public transport fares will go up, offering few alternatives that would encourage car owners to commute and free up the roads. Technology-wise, the ERP system is pure genius. It combines smartcard and RFID (radio frequency identification) technology to allow the Singapore government a fuss-free way to collect toll in a bid to better manage traffic conditions.
Yes, it's so much easier to up toll charges in a hope that the punch in their wallets would encourage drivers to avoid congested areas. But, 13 years after the implementation of ERP as well as multiple tax hikes, Singapore roads remain congested and public transport is increasingly packed. To its credit, the government is pouring in money to widen highways and introducing new road tunnels to ease traffic. But, with each new tunnel, there always seems to be another 16 new ERP gantries...MMM. What's lacking here is a business mantra industry advisors and watchers have long championed as necessary to any problem solving: the need to adopt a holistic approach. Enterprises cannot simply look at one or maybe two aspects and hope this will solve the problem. They also need to assess other external factors that may be exacerbating the problem, as well as the accompanying policies that are necessary to help push through the solution. Putting up more ERP gantries and increasing toll charges may help deter congestion in the affected areas for a while, but if nothing else is being done also to improve Singapore's transport infrastructure on the whole, congestion is bound to return and ERP charges will go up further--creating a vicious cycle. Technology cannot be treated as the only fallback.