The secret to Singapore's success

The secret to Singapore's infrastructure success 

Few cities are as revered by urban planners as Singapore. And for good reason: while the city-state has the highest population density in Asia, it also boasts the world's third highest GDP per capita and an unemployment rate below 2 percent. With more than 5 million people inhabiting less than 700 square kilometers (less than half the size of Greater London), all Singaporeans now live in urban areas.

Singapore's government places a high emphasis on developing sustainable transportation solutions for the country's population. And they have been highly successful: only around 16 percent of Singaporeans own cars, with the rest relying on the highly efficient Mass Rapid Transit system (which saw daily ridership of almost 2 million in 2009) and the extensive bus service (providing more than 3 million daily trips).

Investing in growth

"Singapore is a small city with a fast growing population and economy" noted Mr. Chew Hock Yong, CEO of Singapore's Land Transport Authority (LTA). "The demand on public transportation infrastructure has been increasing, so we are executing an aggressive plan to enhance our transport infrastructure over the next ten years.

For example, the LTA is in the midst of a USD49 billion expansion of the Mass Rapid Transit system to add more than four new lines and double the current rail system within the next ten years. The first phase, the Circle Line, is expected to open with 28 new stations in October 2011 with two other stations to follow next year. The Singapore government is funding the capital costs directly and, once built, the LTA will engage private operators to provide the service.

The power of policy

But the Singapore government does not just rely on funding to solve their transportation infrastructure challenges. Car ownership and road congestion are kept in check through policy that provides for a system of tolls and registrations that work together to reduce the number of cars on the road. For example, the government requires all perspective car owners to first obtain a Certificate of Entitlement through public auction. This has allowed the Land Transportation Authority to limit the number of cars on the road to around 800,000. Drivers are also subject to time of day and usage tolls that further reduce the use of cars in the country.

"By combining ownership and usage measures, we have been able to ensure that our roads are as free-flowing as possible," added Mr. Chew. "And by limiting the growth of COEs to just 1.5 percent per annum, we can reliably plan our road infrastructure needs into the future."

Taking a holistic and long-term view

Mr. Chew cites the government's focus on long-term planning as a critical factor in the city's transportation infrastructure success. "When we look at planning in the long-term perspective, we often become more conscious about how our short-term plans fit into that long-term vision and what the implications are for the entire city.

In this, Mr. Chew credits the city's 'whole of government' approach to development which involves planning across all of the different aspects of government to develop a single, coordinated concept plan under the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA). "The concept plan looks fifty years into the future and takes into account all aspects of growth such as housing, recreation, water and transport," adds Mr. Chew. "This means that we have a single vision of where we need to advance to and how we can get there to meet the growing demands of our population."

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