Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Another day, another letter

I... I need to go lie down for a while.

Here's another letter to the press that ignores a lot of basic facts, though to be honest, the ideas aren't as ridiculous as those expressed by a certain other person.

Tired of jammed roads? Go to work by sea instead (mirror)

ON SATURDAY, it was reported that there were 4.779 million train and rides a day in the first quarter, up 7 per cent over last year ('Buses, MRT see jump in ridership'). While the growth in public transport ridership is significant, it is not known if the rise has been at any real expense to car trips.

With more than 800,000 cars on the roads currently, the intention to increase the population to 6.5 million could well put another 250,000 or more vehicles on already congested roads.

The Land Transport Authority has taken action to manage traffic congestion in the city during peak hours by ensuring vehicular growth is met by a corresponding increase in the number of expressways, tunnels, MRT lines, electronic road pricing (ERP) gantries and charges.

After many years in service, I wonder if ERP is effective in alleviating traffic congestion or is it just 'rearranging furniture'.

In land-scarce Singapore, do we fully harness all resources available to meet public transport challenges? I think not. So far, we have looked only landwards. We need to take a more holistic, innovative approach - by looking to the sea.

Singapore is, after all, an island. Why not explore the idea of ferrying thousands to and from work daily via a Park 'n' Cruise scheme, to supplement the existing rail and road transport system?

This refreshing mode of transport will be guaranteed not to encounter traffic jams, be squeezed out of bus lanes or cause the motorist to be fined for not having a valid CashCard as he passes the ERP gantry.

With the Government providing the infrastructure - carparks and ferry terminals - the bus shuttle service and plying the route can be left to private enterprise.

I can already envisage Clifford Pier and the soon-to-be- made-over Singapore Cruise Centre at HarbourFront as two hubs of this ferry service, with terminals stretching from Woodlands to Punggol, Pasir Ris, Tampines, Bedok, Siglap, Marine Parade and West Coast, for a start.

I hope any feasibility study of this suggestion will be favourable, enabling at least part of our transport system to be left perpetually in 'cruise control'. This will also contribute to the Government's expectation that, by 2020, 70 per cent of trips in the morning peak period is by public transport.

Clinton Lim Eng Hiong

I guess he means well, even if he isn't quite aware of some of the basic facts.

Ria did another post on the wildfilms blog highlighting the problems that affect the feasibility of implementing a ferry transport system in Singapore.

I've sent in a reply:
Public transport by sea? A Ferry-tale for Singapore

I refer to Clinton Lim Eng Hiong's letter on Wednesday, "Tired of jammed roads? Go to work by sea instead" (Straits Times, 23 April 2008). While ferries have proven to be effective means of transport in many coastal cities, there are many complex challenges in Singapore's context which would make it difficult to effectively implement a similar system here.

Ferry transport works best when the distance between two points is shorter over water than if a detour has to be made over land. This is best seen in cities surrounding large bays like in the San Francisco Bay Area, or where cities are spread out over a cluster of islands, such as in Hong Kong.

Anybody with a map of Singapore can tell that the island is roughly shaped like a lozenge. At the north, the causeway linking Singapore to Johor Bahru prevents sea transport via the Straits of Johor. Taking this into account, the distance covered over land is usually shorter than by sea. As an example, people intending to take a ferry from Punggol to Jurong would have to skirt the entire eastern and southern coastline of Singapore.

Although the seas might not appear to be as congested as our roads, there are laws and regulations for our busy port and shipping lanes which will affect the speed and routes taken by any ferry services, which means that taking the shortest direct route over water will not always be possible.

Sea-going vessels are usually unable to match land vehicles in terms of speed. Faster boats are available, but the wake produced by these boats can be large, which not only disrupts other boats nearby, but also accelerates coastal erosion. For this reason, it can be expected that such ferries will not be allowed to achieve top speed until they are some distance from other boats and shores that might be impacted. This adds further to the distance to be travelled, and time taken, since they will have to cruise along at low-wake speeds for portions of the route.

The large size of high-speed ferries necessitates deep water and proper jetties for safe transfer of passengers. Creation and maintenance of such areas requires regular dredging which will affect water quality and thus the coastal environment.

Clinton Lim might not be aware that Clifford Pier has been closed since 2006, due to construction of the Marina Barrage. And in the West Coast area, which is heavily congested, it is unlikely that deepwater access with good land links can be freed up easily.

The effects of bad weather are more obvious on maritime traffic than on land; storms can have a serious impact on the speed of boats, and it does not require very strong winds to create choppy waters that can make a ferry ride a very unpleasant affair for passengers. Small craft, such as the bumboats that ply the waters between Changi and Pulau Ubin, can be unstable, and I have seen how even that short 10-minute journey can be too much for some people to stomach.

Looking into all these factors, it appears that a system of ferry services will neither be very efficient nor cost-effective, when compared to travelling overland. At present, the only place where ferry services might be feasible is in the Singapore River and Kallang Basin, although the extensive road network and numerous bridges would render such a service redundant and practical only in certain areas. Any ferry service would probably be seen more as a slower, scenic pleasure cruise rather than as an effective complement to our existing road and rail infrastructure.

While I wholeheartedly support the need to tackle congestion on the roads, any proposed solution will need to take into account Singapore's geography, and the various issues involved that will affect the practicality and feasibility of such proposals.

Kwan Wei Ming Ivan

Seriously, I wish more people would stop and think more about the feasibility of their ideas, and do a bit more research, before sending in their letters to the press.