When there will be no drivers in Singapore…

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Future scenarios on the transport system were sketched out during a dialogue with the Transport Minister.

The emergence of autonomous, or self-driving cars, could result in a sea change in the transport system, said Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan.

Speaking at a dialogue organised by the PAP Policy Forum (PPF) on a car-lite Singapore on May 14 at the Party headquarters, he pointed out that the role of drivers - whether it is the taxi driver, Uber driver or crane driver - will see their jobs progressively phased out as self-driving cars take over.

"Of course, it won't happen tomorrow. But if you ask whether it will happen 20 years from now, for me it's definitely. Fifteen years from now - may be. This is frightening but we have gone through life like this on many occasions."

He cited how the advent of word processors and computers "evaporated" the jobs of typists and stenographers to prepare documents.

Mr Khaw, who is also Coordinating Minister for Infrastructure, said that the duty of the government should not be to prevent new technology, whether it is Uber, third-party apps - or introduction of computers. "We cannot be cut off from technology but while the technology is shaping and developing, the government can tell Singaporeans that this is 'akan datang' so that they know that change is imminent and the government can train them for another job."

"No escaping" emerging technology

With emerging technology, the way we move is in a state of flux, and there will be no escaping this, he added.

"Transform it will," he predicted, attributing this to two driving forces.

The first is the technology of driver-less cars, which he likened to robots. He said: "They are getting better. You ain't seen nothing yet."

The second factor is the emergence of a sharing economy, and innovations such as Airbnb and Uber, which entails the maximisation of assets such as homes and vehicles.

The car-lite dialogue was the second of four on "Our Way Forward SG100" on topics shaping Singapore's future policies. It was attended by about 140 PAP members.

Ahead of Mr Khaw's talk, participants broke up into six groups to brainstorm related issues. These included utilising info-com and technology to achieve the goal of a car-lite society, preparing the infrastructure to promote greater use of public transport and more walking and cycling, and policy and legislative changes to help in this transition.

Suggestions presented by the groups included:
- change mindsets towards cars as status symbols
- stagger work schedules to ease peak-hour congestion
- utilise predictive modelling to improve efficiency of public transport
- buy-back of Certificates of Entitlement for cars, and
- encourage employers to install showers and bicycle racks.

Mr David Seah, a 64-year-old retiree and a member of the Tampines West Branch, said: "Transportation is a big issue because Singapore is small. I found the dialogue extremely enlightening and insightful as there were many views and suggestions."

This article was first published in the May 2016 issue of Petir Magazine.

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