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Exclusive: UK and Singapore – Transforming Transportation Collaboratively Part 1


This is the first part of a two-part article that covers the growing relationship between the UK and Singapore in the transportation sector.

Part 1 of the article looks at the various ways in which the UK and Singapore have collaborated for improving their transportation sectors and of the UK’s innovation efforts for autonomous vehicles.

Where man once baffled at the mere possibility of flying, we have now reached a point where self-manoeuvering vehicles are increasingly commonplace.

Transportation has vastly changed over the years and game-changing developments in autonomous vehicles and future mobility have put the UK at the forefront of many of these transformations.

This is not surprising considering its reputation as a global hub for future-focused creativity and opportunity. The KPMG 2019 report ranks the UK as third globally for innovation, disruption, and technology. Intelligent transport is one of the spaces where their strength is evident.

Professor Phil Blythe
Professor Phil Blythe, Chief Scientific Adviser, Department of Transport and Professor of Intelligent Transport Systems, Newcastle University

OpenGov had the opportunity to speak with Professor Phil Blythe, Chief Scientific Adviser (CSA) for the Department of Transport (DfT) and Professor of Intelligent Transport Systems (ITS) at Newcastle University, UK.

He was recently appointed Vice President of the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET), UK.

Professor Blythe was in Singapore last week as he led a delegation of UK transport experts at the ITS World Congress.

Blythe has built his expertise in ITS since the late 1980s and is widely regarded as a pioneer in the fields of road pricing and electronic tolling technology.

As the CSA to the DfT, he helps bring the science and engineering evidence that underpins UK transport policies and the delivery of transport initiatives across the country.

Much of this relies on significant cross-government cooperation in science, engineering, technology and policy issues in strategic areas such as intelligent transport, connected and autonomous vehicles, electro-mobility and smart cities/big data/IoT agendas.

Strength of Singapore-UK Transport Collaborations

Singapore and the UK have had collaborated to address shared challenges in transport.

Blythe himself was involved in the original ERP scheme in Singapore, at a time when he was leading Europe’s efforts in developing similar projects. These included the demonstration of free-flow tolling in 1992 in Sweden and Greece, and a congestion charging project in Cambridge, UK in 1993.

Blythe shared that both Singapore and the UK have similar approaches to addressing current and future transport challenges. The two countries are collaborating on several fronts – from expertise and experience sharing to the joint development and testing of innovative solutions.

Opportunities to exploit big data from city transport and smart city systems are an ongoing priority for both Singapore and the UK and initiatives, from university research collaborations to industry-led innovation deployment, are already in progress.

In addition, several of Singapore’s senior Land Transport Authority engineers have trained in the UK. British consultants and academics are also routinely involved in partnership projects with Singapore.

Future transport is an important part of the UK government’s digitalisation efforts. Blythe drew reference to the UK’s Minister of State for Future of Transport as a role that illustrates the emphasis on future technology and the ambition to leverage opportunities arising from these.

This aligns with the UK’s forward-leaning Industrial Strategy of what it calls “Grand Challenges”. These take a whole-of-society approach to challenges and opportunities in:

  • AI and data
  • Clean growth
  • Ageing society
  • Future of mobility

There is a clear ambition to make the UK a flexible testing and demonstration ground for automated vehicle technology, electrical mobility and decarbonisation.

It aims to provide an exciting ecosystem where SMEs can create new business models for transport connectivity, based on reliable digital systems and data generated.

In support of this, a strategy for making data available from all transport stakeholders is being led by the DfT. Supporting this are clear pathways to source expertise, locally and from a global talent pool, a fact that Blythe pointed out is of a similar case in Singapore.

“There is a lot of synergy between what we do in the UK and Singapore,” he said. “Singapore is a real leader in thinking about transportation,” he added.

Singapore’s traffic and congestion-management solutions included the requirement of a permit to purchase a car and the Area Licensing Scheme (ALS) of the 70s and 80s where drivers needed a daily paper licence to enter the central business district by car. This eventually became the Electronic-Road-Pricing (ERP) scheme, which was introduced in 1998.

Other solutions include the deployment of an advanced traffic management system that monitored the journey times of government vehicles to estimate congestion along selected routes.

These solutions are still cited as one of the best practices in the field and have been adopted/implemented in similar fashions around the world.

In acknowledgement of these many shared ambitions, but not restricted to only transport solutions, the two countries launched the SG-UK Partnership for the Future earlier this year. This symbolises the Bicentennial of the founding of modern Singapore and the beginning of a new era for the UK where there is an even greater appetite to collaborate with international and like-minded partners such as Singapore.

The partnership focuses on the areas of:

  • Digital economy
  • Sustainable business and innovation
  • Security and defence
  • Education, culture and youth

Blythe reiterated that collaborations in areas such as digital economy and cybersecurity lie at the heart of a wider mobility ecosystem capable of delivering future transport solutions in a safe, secure and encompassing way.

The UK as a Testbed for Autonomous Vehicles and Connected and Autonomous Vehicles

Besides offering a high-end transport solution, automated and connected vehicles also represent the advancement in technology and how we think about travel. Blythe drew reference to the many research projects and trails being conducted to understand the safety elements of autonomous vehicles when operating in highly urbanised cities such as London and Singapore.

Towards this, the UK has funded several large trials, not just in testing and proving the technology but also looking at the needs of the insurance industry and end-user safety protocols.

Trials are ongoing with cars, urban pods, taxis, buses and next year’s platooning of HGVs which is funded by the Centre of Connected and Autonomous Vehicles and Innovate UK, with matched funding by industry.

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