Yishun (Part 3)

STREETLIFE - Nigel Paul Villarete - The Freeman

The direct and intimate inter-relationship between the land use regime and the transport infrastructure development of an urban area has long been established and aspired for by practitioners of both disciplines.  As we have laid out in scenarios and examples in previous write-ups, land use defines transport, and vice versa, in a chicken-and-egg situation.  In the case of Singapore, they apparently found the correct formula as exemplified by Yishun.  In the case of the Philippines, it’s still the light at the end of the tunnel, though we still don’t know how long the tunnel is.

Yishun is a residential area.  It’s a suburban town, more like a city than a town by our standards, but planned and built for people to live.  It’s what is traditionally known in planning circles as a “bedroom town,” but this term is seldom publicly used because most cities, especially in the Philippines, don’t want to be called as such.  Many areas in our country are actually bedroom cities and towns, seldom acknowledged as such, but they are just the same.  The difference in Singapore is that their residential areas are self-contained.

The Housing Development Board (HDB) builds these housing blocks, comprising of a hundred family dwelling units or more, and clustered into neighborhoods.  There are usually enough commercial stores and dining facilities to serve a cluster or an entire neighborhood.  As we wrote last Sunday, Yishun also have medical facilities, community centers, parks, recreational facilities, and educational facilities to serve their needs.  Buses serve the entire area, which feeds into an MRT station or two, to connect to the rest of Singapore.

The key to making the daily transport of people more efficient is to recognize that the bulk of the demand is home-to-work trips (includes home-to-school, too), and to promote the modal shift public transport, (train-based or bus-based).  Coupled with that, naturally, is to depress the propensity to use cars for home-to-work trips.  Singapore does that in two ways – first, by placing a premium on car ownership, and second, discouraging car use.  Through policy, not everybody can buy cars in Singapore.  Every year, the government sets the number of cars to be sold, then issues Certificate of Eligibilities (COEs) at a price, dictated by competitive means.  For many years now, the COE costs more than the cost of the car you’re buying!  Car ownership - the number of cars at any given time, is always regulated.

Then, the use of your overpriced car is curtailed by the famous ERP, or electronic road pricing.  There is a price for using certain roads on certain times of the day, in a form of a toll, but which is paid electronically.  Logically, the central business district (CBD), and the main highways and expressways cost more, and much more so during the peak hours in the morning and afternoon/evening.  In brief, it means you are discouraged to use your cars in going to work each day.  The very efficient public transport is always there.

All in all, both land use and transport are built together, simultaneously, and integrally, in one seamless long term plan.  Public transport is prioritized over private trips, car ownership and car use is regulated, and person-trips are flattened over the day instead of being allowed to peak.  Even schoolchildren’s schedules are arranged “off-peak,” such that they won’t compete with the throng of daily 8-to-5 workers and add to the hourly demand.  Oh yes, you can still use your car, but mostly for non-home-to-work trips and preferably on off-peak hours.

Which makes life in Yishun something to envy.  You can make it to work on time, even if work is kilometers away, and return home with more time for family.  There’s no traffic jam to speak of, almost everything is available within the city – school, hospital, parks, and shopping.  In fact, I saw a few items cheaper there compared to downtown.  It’s a town or city one can truly say as livable, peaceful and serene, where one can live a full life and raise a family.

How did they do these?  I think the correct policies and the right government institutions are a few of the keys. (To be continued…)










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