Reimagine, Re-plan, Re-create Singapore’s future greener transport

Reimagine Replan Recreate Singapore's greener transport

This was first published in The Business Times on 18 May 2021


By Satya Ramamurthy, Partner and Global Co-Head of Public Transport, KPMG in Singapore

Singapore’s Budget 2021 and Green Plan 2030 have thrown the spotlight on climate change and technology adoption, providing urgent impetus for the country’s transport decarbonisation efforts.

Singapore’s long-term vision of achieving net-zero emissions “as soon as viable” involves reining in pollution from transport, which accounts for up to 15 per cent of the country’s total carbon emissions. Road transport takes almost 97 per cent of the sector’s overall carbon footprint, while vehicular exhaust emissions make up about 50 per cent of ambient PM2.5 level in the environment.

As the country gears up to decarbonise transport further, KPMG in Singapore proposes a 3R framework for Singapore to (1) Reimagine a greener transport landscape; (2) Re-plan to grow talent for a green economy; and (3) Recreate the transport ecosystem through technology and innovation.

Reimagining a greener transport landscape

Frequently discussed, in the context of reimagining transportation, is the transition to electric vehicles (EVs) from internal combustion engine (ICE) ones. Singapore has, in recent years, stepped up efforts to build more EV charging points, shorten battery charging times and find ways to make electric alternatives more affordable.

However, EV adoption remains low, underscoring the implementation hurdles Singapore faces in phasing out ICE vehicles by 2040. Singapore had 1,125 electric cars in early 2020, accounting for only 0.18 per cent of total vehicles. In comparison, the EV market share in China stood at 4.9 per cent and Europe at 3.5 per cent in 2019, higher than the global average of 2.5 per cent.

Needless to say, an efficient EV ecosystem with adequate charging infrastructure and attractive pricing is necessary to jump-start adoption. Continuous innovations in EV battery life, vehicle safety, ease of drive and speed of charging are also key.

Furthermore, reimagining a green transport landscape requires participation. For that, plans need to be shared in some detail for the public to want to help drive implementation. One case in point is Singapore’s intention to phase out ICE vehicles by 2040. In aiming for lower emissions, it is important to ask if Singapore will emulate the UK in banning hybrid cars alongside petrol and diesel vehicles and how this will impact consumers with hybrid vehicles.

Other environmental concerns also need to be considered. While EVs are significantly less polluting than ICE vehicles, waste management and recycling solutions will need to be readily available and affordable, with relevant laws and initiatives in place to encourage green disposal of these items.

Finally, the country’s reimagination process in decarbonising transport should be multi-pronged. Singapore has taken steps in this direction, deploying electric, solar-powered and hybrid buses while phasing out diesel vehicles. Other strategies include increasing the reach of public transport, encouraging remote working, and making it easier to walk and cycle in Singapore.

Re-plan to grow talent for a green economy

As more green plans emerge, there will be a need to upskill and reskill the workforce across the transportation value chain.

For instance, the shift to EVs is expected to reduce demand for mechanical jobs, since electric engines have fewer moving parts than ICEs.

At the same time, demand for jobs in areas like electromobility and related industries is likely to be ramped up. Manufacturing capabilities relating to green transport such as for EV batteries and assembling EVs are also expected to deepen as the country goes full throttle into decarbonising transport.

Furthermore, companies in the sector will need to develop in-house expertise in carbon measurement and sustainability reporting, to keep financing and growth opportunities flowing.

All these point to talent development needs that require some re-planning and facilitation. It is not just the mission of the transport sector; the country needs to look across sectors to grow this talent pipeline strategically from the young in school to the mid-careers.

Recreate the transport ecosystem through technology and innovation

Digitalisation forms another critical piece in Singapore’s greening of transport. The pandemic has catalysed digitalisation in transport, especially in terms of making payments contactless. Switching ticketing and payments to automated fare collection (AFC), for instance, not only has a positive carbon impact, but also helps trim transaction costs, better implement fare policies, and create more visibility for consumers.

There are synergies between Singapore’s Smart City ambition and the creation of innovative and sustainable transportation ecosystems.

Technology forms the backbone of many Smart City innovations that need to be rolled out. For example, autonomous vehicles require a 5G network for safer driving.

The use of Internet-of-Things (IoT) to drive connectivity can also spin off new technologies that enable green transport, from demand sensing for transport to better insights for more strategic infrastructure development.

To that end, regulators play an integral role in paving the way for technological innovations. Technologies, such as the use of drones in food delivery, can help us reduce carbon footprint. But if there are too many regulatory hurdles, it may never take wing.

The time is now for Singapore to reimagine, re-plan and re-create a future of a greener transport landscape.

Singapore is well poised to establish itself as the global Asia node for sustainability. It is the most prepared country for the adoption of self-driving vehicles out of 30 leading economies, according to KPMG’s Autonomous Vehicles Readiness Index (AVRI). It has topped global Smart City rankings for two years running. It is also well known for a relatively stable political and business environment.

Going green is a collective effort. It requires everyone in the transport ecosystem from automakers to lawmakers to be single-minded – investing funds to research and develop as well as putting in resources to trial new initiatives and change mindsets.

Collective will is the precursor to higher quality outcomes – this will be needed as policies shift and consumers are persuaded to take on greener options.

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