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Saturday, February 17, 2007

RH: London and other DoughNuts in the making

From: Robert Ho (ho3@pacific.net.sg)
Subject: RH: London and other doughnuts in the making
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Newsgroups: soc.culture.singapore
Date: 2004-02-25 08:14:16 PST

From: Robert Ho (ho3@pacific.net.sg)
Subject: Re: Singapore's ERP system lauded, imitated worldwide
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Newsgroups: soc.culture.singapore
Date: 2004-02-21 10:14:34 PST

globalise wrote in message news:...
> Hmmm, odd. Why didn't the Londoners use our system to their
> traffic situation ?

RH: I can explain:

1. Singapore's planners probably did not think up the idea by
themselves. In the trade, among the city traffic planners and depts,
so to speak, charging a fee for entry to a place is a very, very old
idea and probably predates LKY's reign. For example, toll roads and
toll booths are very, very old ideas. Like paying to get into a
fenced-off car parking lot. Cars were common in other countries like
America and Europe, long before they appeared in Singapore. Thus, car
congestion in certain localities were also present in other countries
long before Singapore even had cars! Thus, tolls and toll booths were
present in other countries long before Singapore had cars.

2. Singapore's so-called Electronic Road Pricing system is not road
pricing at all. It evolved first, from the very old toll idea. At
first, the Singapore toll system was simply policewomen standing at
the entry roads into the city, easy in Singapore because Singapore is
so tiny and has so few roads into the city! Remember we all had to buy a coupon and paste that coupon onto the centre of our front windscreen for these human toll machine policewomen to spot? That was the old toll booth idea using policewomen and defined toll entry roads.

3. Then, they found that having policewomen standing by the side of
the road was inconvenient, so they replaced the policewomen and coupon system with an electronic toll booth system that deducted the toll charge electronically. That is all. Thus, this is NOT true Electronic Road Pricing. It is more accurate to say that this is an Electronic Toll Booth system, with the toll paid electronically.

Why is it not true ERP? Simple, because when you are driving towards
the city, the road is 'free' until you hit one of the ugly gantries.
Then the money is deducted from your car's in-car smartcard reader
that sends the payment signal to the ugly gantry. Now, this is easy to manage in tiny Singapore with few cars and small city. Most critical of all, there are few foreign cars entering into Singapore city. Imagine how inconvenient if there are tens of thousands of foreign cars coming into the city every day and each had to be loaned a in-car smartcard reader to pay the toll.

London has millions of car trips per day, I believe and about 28
million cars in UK alone. To force 28 milion cars in Britain, plus all foreign cars from France, Continental Europe, etc, would be a
logistics nightmare. Thus, the Singapore solution, if it is such,
works only for an island without too many foreign cars and a small
overall car population. Foreign cars can only come in a tiny trickle
at the Changi Ferry Terminal aboard ferries [very few cars do] and
somewhat more through the Causeway with Malaysia and the Second Link
at Tuas, that's all.

All these 3 entry points are very finite and easy to control. Imagine
if you would force the entire Britain's car population of 28 million
to install in-car smartcard readers! I would love to have that
contract! It would be an unending process, with millions of new cars
registered every year! I would also love to hold up the entire
trainloads and ferryloads of foreign cars and force them to pay to
loan in-car units! Also, unending work and costs!

Thus, London could NOT use Singapore's solution. It was too simplistic and too based on the road toll booth idea. Thus, London had to have a system WITHOUT an in-car unit. And so it chose a camera surveillance system, with cameras at all entry points into the Zone. Plus a variety of means of payment. I pay with my mobile phone each day I drive in, texting my 5 pounds of payment by pre-arranged text message and receiving a confirmation text reply.

WITHOUT Singapore's in-car method, thus London could merely fine
faraway drivers of the many trucks and cars who may drive from all
over this big country if they did not pay the charge after entering
the Zone. This idea of using cameras to capture licence plate numbers
is thus forced on London because Singapore's in-car unit system cannot be used for a large city with a huge local car population and many foreign cars each day. I would love to know how foreign cars are
recognised and whether they are being forced to pay before they leave
the country. Are they being let off scot free because it is too
complicated to trace them for payment?

However, both Singapore's and London's systems are still too
complicated and inefficient and above all, crude. Both are still
developed from the toll booth system basically. Only the tracking
enforcement and payment method are different. These crude methods also lack the elegance of solution plus a wide variety of other advantages that can accrue from a solution less based on the age old toll booth system. As I said, toll booths have existed almost as long as the motor car. The Holy Grail of congestion charging exists but govts are too stupid to ask for it. There is an elegant solution that solves many other problems other than just congestion. One inefficienty: the crude solutions of both London and Singapore result in the defined zones being relatively less congested but just outside the zone, it is mayhem and havoc as usual, leading to future expansion of the zone being foreordained. There is also the inequality to businesses and travel just inside the zone and just outside the zone. For political reasons, these will be ignored and glossed over but are real problems and drawbacks.

Ultimately, it will be political will that will determine future
congestion charging zones in Britain and other countries. Singapore's
solution, as we have seen, cannot work in bigger car population
cities. London's solution, though crude, and solving only one problem
of congestion while creating others [The Law of Unintended
Consequences] has the advantage that at present, anyway, it has
demonstrated that it is possible to do it and many other cities of
comparable size and attributes can copy it. Until we know of drawbacks in the London system that may currently be glossed over, it will suffice. For example, it has been suggested that part of the reduction in congestion in London's zone is actually due to a strict clampdown on road works within the zone and that this helps to account for the apparent success. In Singapore, such knowledge is impossible because when the Singapore govt wants a success, nobody dares to collect facts and figures to deny it, least of all the media which, ever ready to trumpet a 'success' [behaving exactly like Xiao Mei in this newsgroup] will hush up any facts and figures unfavourable to such a 'success'. And on that note, I leave you all. Singapore's so-called solution, is possible only for Singapore and impossible for any other city. Hence, I have answered the question of the above poster who asked why London [or any other city] did not copy Singapore.

RH: 25 Feb 04 started UK 1540 Singapore 2340

1. Few ideas can escape the Law of Unintended Consequences. In the
above, I have touched lightly on some. Today, I would like to look at
the London experience and play crystal ball seer. London has just had
1 year of Congestion Charging. Whether it is a success that other
cities in the UK and around the world can emulate is another matter. I would like to warn of the Doughnut Effect.

2. What is the Doughnut Effect?

3. Well, we all know, or should know, that a doughnut is thick at the circle perimeter and hollow in the centre. Well, London -- possibly, and practically all other cities in the UK implementing Congestion Charging will suffer it. Other cities in the world may also suffer the Doughnut Effect depending on whether they are closer to the London model or say, the Birmingham or Manchester or other UK City model.

4. Why7

5. If you look at the brave experiment that is London Congestion
Charging, London has a very good Underground system that
comprehensively covers most points commuters want to go. The Bus
System is also good, in that you can get from A to B without too much
trouble, although you may wait a long time. Thus, cities closer to the London model can safely copy London's Congestion Charging.

6. However, even in London, as the years go by, and even sooner for
other UK or foreign cities without London's good public transport,
Congestion Charging will hollow out the Zone until it resembles a
doughnut, that is, thick at the perimeter and hollow or empty in the
centre, that is the central Zone within Congestion Charging.

7. There is no need to explain it too much because it is obvious and
has happened to Singapore already although, of course, no facts or
figures are published or even studied. The best way to censor
something is to not even study it so that nobody, truly, nobody, can
get their hands on stubborn facts and figures.

8. Principally, what happens is this: London's defined Zone charges 5 pounds for unlimited entry. Traffic within the Zone drops. Businesses like department stores and eateries and even other trades start to notice a corresponding drop in customers. Soon, over time, the reduction in customers become very apparent. So, these affected
businesses, when opportunity arises, move out to somewhere just
outside the Zone, where cars do not need to pay. As more businesses
move out, the centre hollows out because when convenient stores and
businesses and shops and eateries move out, offices also move out to
better served areas -- just outside the Zone. Thus, the centre becomes hollow like the centre of a doughnut while the perimeter thickens, again, like a doughnut. Over time, faster for a Zone poorly served by public transport and slower for a Zone like London which is well served, this becomes inevitable.

9. Meanwhile, as the centre hollows over the years, the perimeter of
the Zone becomes thicker with businesses, resulting in more and more
cars. So, the inevitable happens. The Zone expands to take in this
greater congested area. The Zone thus expands inexorably, over years
no doubt, but inexorably. Thus, Congestion Charging causes a hollowing out of the centre and a thickening of traffic at the fringes which result in pressure to expand the Zone yet further to take in the fringes and the whole thing keeps repeating all over again.

10. The speed at which this vicious circle [pun intended] grows
depends on how stiff is the congestion charge. If the fee is set low,
the Zone remains congested but the doughnut will either not form or
take much longer to form. If the fee is set high, the Zone will be
free flowing in traffic but the very success of congestion charging
will speed up the hollowing and thickening of the doughbut. The Law of Unintended Consequences bite again.

11. Other cities around the world are looking at London. But it is too early to tell if the Doughnut Effect is happening. The jury is still out. If those cities are as well served as London by public transport, there may be enough customers to keep businesses from migrating. If not, the Doughnut Effect will happen.

12. There is also the inequality of a strictly defined Zone. Why
should a business just inside the Zone suffer from reduced custom
while a competitor just outside the Zone, maybe in the next street,
continue business as usual, indeed, maybe even better business than
usual because of the increased custom from motorists who don't have to pay the 5 pounds?

13. There is also the effect on property values and prices. Properties just inside the Zone will, because of the Doughnut Effect hollowing out, drop in value and prices while properties just outside the Zone will increase in value and prices. Thus, inequalities are another consideration to the London experiment. He who draws the line plays God. He who defines the Zone creates business movements and migration pressures.

14. Is there no way out?

15. There is, of course. But it takes a very fine balance to very
carefully adjust congestion fee prices up and down when necessary to
try to influence trends. Not easy. With careful monitoring and
constant gathering of statistics and continuous adjustments to the
congestion fee charged, assuming demand is elastic and can be
influenced by fee revisions, it may be possible to strike a balance.
But I am not hopeful. There are simply too many fluidities. Too many
factors at play here that are beyond the Ken [pun intended] of
authorities. Where should the authorities start their studies? Would
it cost too much and take too much time and trouble? Would it even be
possible? Would studies lead to easy solutions? Would even a
mathematical model be built that can help in decisions? With computer
simulations and models? Everything is possible and impossible.

With that, I leave it to better minds to take a crack at it.

Robert Ho
25 Feb 04
UK 1614 Singapore 0014