GOV­ERN­MENT’S ERP REV­ENUE – WHY THE MYS­TERY?

As ERP 2.0 ap­proaches, com­mu­ni­ca­tion must im­prove sig­nif­i­cantly for a bet­ter pub­lic buy-in.

Torque (Singapore) - - CONTENTS -

SSINGAPOREANS

have lived with the Elec­tronic Road Pric­ing (ERP) sys­tem for 20 years now. Whether we like it or not, be­lieve it or not, the sys­tem has helped to keep traf­fic con­ges­tion in check. How do we know this? Well, one clear sign would be how smooth traf­fic is when ERP charges are high. Try it the next time – drive through a road when the ERP rate is $4 or $6 – and you will have a swift jour­ney. Con­versely, when ERP charges are low at, say, $1, you will see quite a dif­fer­ent sit­u­a­tion on the same road.

So, you can imag­ine if there was no ERP at all. You may say that ERP merely de­cants traf­fic to other ar­eas (roads with­out ERP), and that it makes lit­tle dif­fer­ence to the

POL­I­CY­MAK­ERS CAN BE MORE TRANS­PAR­ENT WITH THE REV­ENUE EARNED FROM ERP.

whole road net­work. Per­haps. But spread­ing out de­mand over a wider lo­ca­tion – and in­deed, over a span of time – is a way of op­ti­mis­ing ca­pac­ity. Would road users be able to de­cide how they should “spread out” with­out ERP? Pos­si­bly, with ad­vanced wayfind­ing tech­nolo­gies such as Waze and Iniz pro­vid­ing real-time traf­fic inputs, driv­ers will be able to avoid more con­gested roads. Th­ese apps are also able to al­low users to avoid ERP.

But of course, ERP is not just about nudg­ing you to al­ter your driv­ing habits. It would be naive to ig­nore the sys­tem’s rev­enueearn­ing po­ten­tial. There is noth­ing wrong with that. Ev­ery coun­try runs on tax rev­enue. Noth­ing is free. Those who feel they should not con­trib­ute to taxes should go live on a desert is­land, away from civil­i­sa­tion.

For roads, it is only right that the user-pays prin­ci­ple also ap­plies. But we al­ready pay road tax, you protest. Well, yes. Road tax al­lows you to be on the road. ERP charges are for the amount of con­ges­tion you con­trib­ute. Road tax is pro­gres­sive – the big­ger and bad­der your car is, the more you pay. ERP does not do that.

Of course, in Sin­ga­pore, where there are dozens of ve­hic­u­lar taxes and levies, it is dif­fi­cult to have pub­lic buy-in on each and ev­ery one of them. Peo­ple tend to lump them al­to­gether and think the Gov­ern­ment is just fleec­ing them. It is nat­u­ral.

To have bet­ter buyin, which is an im­por­tant po­lit­i­cal con­sid­er­a­tion (and not just around elec­tion time), the Gov­ern­ment should re­ally stream­line th­ese taxes and levies.

If there is some am­bi­gu­ity or over­lap, stream­line – even if it means los­ing rev­enue tem­po­rar­ily. And if it can­not stream­line, then it should spend more ef­fort in com­mu­ni­cat­ing and ed­u­cat­ing. Not do­ing ei­ther is just not ten­able. Not in to­day’s world. On this, the Gov­ern­ment needs to ex­plain ERP rev­enue fig­ures bet­ter. Be­cause they do not seem to add up.

Ac­cord­ing to The Straits Times news archives, ERP rev­enue in 2003 av­er­aged $320,000 a day – or around $80 mil­lion a year (ex­clud­ing week­ends and pub­lic hol­i­days). There were around 40 gantries back then, and peak charge for cars was $2.50.

With evening ERP, higher peak-pe­riod tar­iffs and about 80 gantries, Elec­tronic Road Pric­ing rev­enue should be close to $1 mil­lion a day.

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