On the Go

How we're using data to create a smarter, greener and more inclusive land transport system.
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When I first joined the Land Transport Authority (LTA), the engineer in me saw the potential to transform our land transport system by using technology, sensors and data. That’s why I identify with the Ministry of Transport’s theme for the Committee of Supply debates this year, which is to create “a smarter, greener and more inclusive transport system for a better quality of life.” I see my work as contributing towards making a difference to Singapore, a key reason I joined the Public Service.

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I chose to study Mechanical Engineering at the University of Tokyo because I wanted to carry on a family tradition, as my father had also been a mechanical engineer.

After I graduated, I joined the Public Service in 1999 to do policy work. But I yearned to apply my engineering skills and so I joined DSO National Laboratories to pursue my interest in computer security research.

My time with DSO was a formative part of my engineering career. That was when I discovered a new freedom to experiment, take things apart and put them together.

We engineers don’t take things as they are. We study problems; dissect them; see patterns and come up with models; do the math and connect the dots; and make recommendations based on well-reasoned, logical (and sometimes unpopular) truths.

That, to me, is what defines an engineer.

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Let’s take a minute to think about the data that LTA is currently collecting, and how we’re using it.

To put things (or rather, sensors) into perspective, Singapore has over 5,400 public buses, 28,000 taxis, 114,000 street lamp-posts and 2,200 sets of adaptive traffic signals. That translates to collecting roughly 15 million fare-card data sets, 50 million bus data sets and 80 million taxi data sets each day.

That’s a lot of data!

To add to the complexity, we also collect different volumes and varieties of data, at varying frequencies (velocity), with varying noise levels (veracity).

This is where data engineers and data scientists play a critical role – by making sense of all that data. While our data engineers work hard to pull data from sensors and come up with technological solutions and sufficient computing power to process them, our data scientists (who are also engineers in their own right) design models and develop machine-learning algorithms to analyse the data, in order to get deeper insights.

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It’s an exciting time to work in LTA, as we focus on how we can leverage technology to engineer smart improvements to our land transport system. Here are some of the projects we’ve been working on:

Bus buzz: In 2013, LTA conceptualised Project Land Transport Real-time Info@SG (POLARis) which leverages the use of cost-efficient, commoditised sensors installed on every public bus. These sensors track and predict bus arrival times; compute loading levels in real-time; and provide bus operators with situational awareness. Bus drivers can also access maps and traffic incidents reported along bus service routes on dual-language consoles.

Through POLARis, LTA also provides commuters with real-time data on bus arrival times and loading. In fact, SG NextBusCitymapper and Google Maps use bus arrival times and loading information provided by LTA!

Better traffic data and value-added services for motorists: Our next-generation Electronic Road Pricing (ERP) system will adopt the use of Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS) technology, which provides autonomous, precise location positioning through the use of orbiting satellites.

This helps traffic management in several ways. First, it can allow for distance-based ERP pricing along congested roads, which is more equitable as motorists will be charged according to the distance they travel.

With island-wide coverage, the next-generation ERP will allow the  timely dissemination of high-quality traffic information and value-added services to motorists through the new On-Board Unit (OBU), which replaces the current In-vehicle Unit. This new OBU will help motorists plan their journeys in advance or consider alternative modes of transport to reach their destinations faster. 

They can also access electronic payment for usage of off-peak cars, checkpoint tolls, and parking. Motorists will also have the option of paying these fees automatically through backend channels in addition to using a CEPAS-compliant card.

The new OBU will also let us trial and augment vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-infrastructure communication of self-driving vehicles, which will improve their safety and management.

Smarter traffic lights: GNSS can also be used to improve our island-wide traffic light management system. With a more accurate picture of real-time traffic situations, we can intervene where necessary, such as by adjusting traffic light timings and giving priority to buses and emergency vehicles. Coupled with our existing bus priority measures, this could further reduce travel time for bus commuters.

Self-driving vehicles: Self-driving vehicle technology has the potential to transform our land transport system, by enabling the introduction of new mobility concepts that can enhance commuter mobility and the overall transport experience, especially for first-and-last mile journeys.

To realise this vision, we’re currently conducting trials for fixed and scheduled self-driving bus services for intra and inter-town travel. Trials are also underway for point-to-point, shared autonomous mobility-on-demand services for first and last-mile connectivity; freight movements; and utility operations. Ultimately, the vision for self-driving vehicle deployment is to help reduce manpower, raise productivity, ease traffic flow and free up road space during peak hours.

In the future, commuters can book shared self-driving shuttles or pods to bring them to a nearby train station or other neighbourhood amenities as part of their intra-town travel. For longer journeys, self-driving buses will operate on fixed routes and scheduled timings during peak hours, with the flexibility to be deployed dynamically during off-peak hours based on commuter demand.

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At the inaugural Public Service Engineering Conference on 2 June 2016, Deputy Prime Minister (DPM) Teo Chee Hean, Minister in charge of the Civil Service, said:

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As public sector engineers, you have an important role to play, to leverage on technology in a strategic way. Our engineers are expected to not just design and implement solutions for issues specific to a particular service or domain, but to draw together information and technologies from different agencies and sectors, and to build the enabling technological infrastructure for our nation, so that we can develop comprehensive and integrated solutions for Singapore.
As an engineer in the Public Service, I was particularly inspired by DPM Teo’s call for engineers to reach out to one another and find new ways to contribute to one another’s work. As One Public Service, we can all play a part to engineer a more exciting, meaningful and rewarding future.

Let’s create a Smart Singapore together! 
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As Director (Innovation & Smart Mobility Office), LTA, Mr Huang Shao Fei leads a multidisciplinary team of data scientists and engineers at LTA that seeks to deliver land transport data insights and technology innovations to create a smarter, greener and more inclusive transport system for Singapore.
  • POSTED ON
    Apr 11, 2017
  • TEXT BY
    Huang Shao Fei
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