S'pore transport regulator partners Google Maps

Country's Land Transport Authority hopes to make public transport "choice mode" by offering Google Maps as part of travel planning service.

update SINGAPORE--The Land Transport Authority (LTA) has inked a new partnership with Google Maps in hopes of making public transport the choice mode for locals and visitors.

Speaking at a press event held here Thursday at Dhoby Ghaut MRT station, the LTA Chief Executive Yam Ah Mee said the transport authority will provide key transit and traffic information to Google, which will then work with local company Quantum Inventions (QI) to integrate the data, bundling up-to-date traffic information service and Electronic Road Pricing charges, with Google maps.

The interactive service also offers directions for driving, public transport and walking, and QI will include information on traffic conditions such as road constructions and accidents. The service is available on both desktop computers and handheld devices, according to company executives.

"Everyone can use the service to help in their daily travel and they can access it anytime and anywhere," said Yam. "It will be as easy and seamless for tourists to plan their travelling ahead of time, even before they arrive in Singapore, by simulating traffic conditions."

According to Andrew McGlinchey, Google's Southeast Asia head of product management, Google Maps is able to predict traffic conditions using historical data information from the LTA and QI's data processing technology.

Jeremy Yap, the LTA's group director of vehicle and transit licensing, said the service might entice drivers to explore public transport as an option if they see that their driving route is experiencing congestion.

Ed Parsons, geospatial technologist at Google, also noted that most people refrain from taking public transport because they are not confident or clear about how to travel on this mode of transport.

"Making information accessible is very important because information can change people's behavior," Parsons said, adding that there are "anecdotal examples" of people switching to public transport after accessing such information.

He noted that half of the queries in Google search involve some sort of geographical location. The collaboration with the LTA will allow the search company to provide maps that are more useful for users, who will then more likely go to Google than its competitors, he added.

According to Yam, the collaboration with Google is non-exclusive. He noted that the LTA recently collaborated with local company gothere.sg, which provides similar services.

He added that providing access to integrated information will benefit all commuters, and the LTA is expecting to establish more partnerships in this aspect.

Gothere.sg welcomes Google's entry because it will help the company reach a wider audience, said Toh Kian Khai, director of business development at gothere.sg, who believes localization will be a key differentiator.

"Gothere.sg is, and will remain a local Web site. We have customized gothere.sg in a way to meet the needs of our users in Singapore," Toh said in an e-mail interview. He added that some "unique features" the site offers include carpark entrances and charges, minimizing the ERP cost for a journey, bus and train fares, as well as taxi fares.

"Furthermore, we are constantly upgrading the Web site with new features. For instance, we've recently included directions to carpark entrances on sneak.gothere.sg, which will be out of beta shortly," said Toh, noting that the site serves over 100,000 directions a day, with 35 percent from new users.

On a side note, McGlinchey revealed that Google Street View Singapore is "coming soon", but said the exact date has yet to be confirmed. He added that the company is currently running an online poll for the local Google Trike team to decide which locations, not accessible to cars, that the tricycles will visit to collect images.

Asked if the company has plans to churn revenue from the service, Parsons said Google will not monetize transport information and will make the service available for free to users.