Transit Innovation: Singapore Manages the Road - Metropolitan Planning Council

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Transit Innovation: Singapore Manages the Road

Every two weeks, MPC uncovers best practices from around the world and delivers them right to your inbox in Talking Transit. This week, MPC explores how Singapore has been able to decrease its traffic congestion by 60 percent.

Photo courtesy of Michelle Lee

In 1975, Singapore identified its increasingly problematic traffic conditions and worked to develop a system to help alleviate congestion downtown. The city began charging drivers a flat fee for unlimited entries into Singapore’s central business district using paper vouchers and tickets, and almost immediately reduced traffic by 45 percent. While average vehicle speeds increased from 11 mph to 21 mph, the city also saw a 25 percent reduction in crashes. By 1988, Singapore outgrew its system of paper tickets and upgraded to the Electronic Road Pricing (ERP) system in place today. 

Today’s ERP system has more than 25 overhead tolling gantries that recognize refillable debit CashCards inserted in a custom transponder installed in every vehicle. The gantry automatically deducts the price of the toll from the driver’s card and displays the remaining balance on the transponder’s display screen. The installation of the ERP system decreased traffic another 15 percent, while allowing for Singapore’s drivers to maintain travel speeds of 30 to 40 mph. Drivers pay anywhere from 30 cents to $1.90 USD to enter the zone, depending on the level of traffic throughout the day. Every year, it costs about $10 million to operate the ERP system, but revenues average approximately $50 million. With an initial investment of close to $125 million, ERP already has paid for itself. 

Cities struggling to address gridlock and its effects – including poor air quality, lost time, and wasted money – can learn by studying the evolution of Singapore’s congestion relief program. Initially, Singapore's program missed a key component: nearly 12 years after introducing congestion fees to drive downtown, the city established its first public mass transit system. Until then, private bus operators provided limited access to transit, forcing many to walk or bike very long distances to downtown. Travelers who could not afford to pay daily fees to drive downtown had no good alternatives. Today, approximately 65 percent of Singapore’s commuters use the city’s integrated bus and rail network, which extends beyond the downtown tolling gantries. Both Singapore and worldwide transportation experts have learned that adding transit capacity and services is essential to any congestion reduction program, and should be coordinated with the implementation of congestion fees. 

This article was featured in Talking Transit, MPC's bi-weekly e-newsletter. To receive the newsletter, visit

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