My Newsradio Scripts

These are my old radio news scripts on Singapore's current affairs when I worked as a broadcast journalist.

Saturday, April 01, 2006

OTGV #53 - Green Cabs

Broadcast Date : 22/03/04

How clean is the air we breathe?

You'll be surprised to find out that even on a clear day, there are contaminants infiltrating our bodies.

These contaminants are the latest target for eradication by the Environment Ministry.

Hi, Welcome to On the Grapevine with me Chong Ching Liang.

The European Union has set limits for diesel engines' emissions through a series of directives known as Euro I to IV.

Diesel engines in Singapore now conforms to Euro II but will leap frogged to Euro 4 standards come October 2006, as announced by Environment Minister Lim Swee Say in Parliament.

Environment Ministry's top civil servant Tan Yong Soon explains Mr Lim's objectives.

"He mentioned that we will do two things. First we are giving this two and a half year lead time for the industry to plan to prepare itself for the new standard. And secondly, we will try and kick start the CNG, compressed natural gas vehicle so that by 2006 October, there is this viable option."

Head of Planning and Development at the National Environment Agency Joseph Hui on how to get people to switch to CNG and Euro-4 vehicles even before implementation date.

"In order to encourage them to bring it earlier you must provide the incentives to make it worth their while. From first of January 06 to 30th of September 06, they will continue to enjoy the 80% rebate of OMV. In the case of CNG and Euro IV buses and commercial vehicles, they will continue to be ARF exempt all the way up till 30-09-06."

Early adoption will be better for public health says Mr Hui as he explains the invisible threat of the older diesel engine emissions.

"This pollutant is matter that is less than 2.5 micron in size and this is what we called PM 2.5. And it is so small that one particle is less than one twentieth the diameter of a human hair. You can't see it with the naked eye. And because of its fineness, it is able to get into our lungs and reach places that bigger particles cannot reach. As a result, it has a more significant impact on health. It increases the risk of bronchitis; particularly those people who are asthmatic are more vulnerable."

This threat becomes even more significant when taking into account the Singapore Asthma Association's estimate that the illness hits one in five children and one in twenty adults here.

NEA's Director General, Loh Ah Tuan on the damage done by the current and older diesel engines.

"If we took a total amount of PM2.5 in Singapore, about 50% comes from diesel engines. So therefore we have to address this."

But the new Euro-4 engine that's required of all diesel vehicles after October 2006 isn't the cleanest option, CNG engines may be cleaner.

However, Mr Tan Yong Soon, says the government has no preference between the two.

"CNG hardly emit PM2.5 so in that aspect it is a better option but we are not prescribing an option. We are quite comfortable if a company want to adopt Euro-IV. What we particularly want now is to create CNG as a feasible option. Otherwise, if we don't introduce this policy, CNG is non-feasible. Over the last two years, there were hardly more than twenty thirty vehicles."

While the 2006 Euro-4 regulations target all diesel vehicles, Mr Hui explains why taxis are a natural target.

"Taxis are very heavily used, they are on the roads virtually 24 hours a day so in terms of emissions, it is significant compared to any other types of vehicles."

The environment stands to gain the most if all taxi cabs and buses adopt CNG vehicles.

But while CNG engines are much cheaper than the prohibitively expensive hydrogen fuel cells, they are still more expensive than diesel ones.

Comfort-Delgro that operates the two taxi giants Comfort and CityCabs told me that "even with the incentives, operating costs will be significantly higher than under current conditions".

In short, it doesn't think buying CNG taxis is a good business move.

This is in spite of CNG taxis being given more perks such as the waiving of the annual $5000 special tax and additional 20% rebate of the over the next 2 years.

But cost isn't the only issue.

Right now there's only one CNG refueling station and it’s in the middle of restricted access Jurong Island.

Comfort-Delgro's spokesperson Tammy Tan says refueling will be a great inconvenience because CNG tanks have smaller capacity and cabbies will have to top up twice daily.

A local CNG supplier, Gas Supply Private Limited is willing to open alternative refueling points but with a caveat.

It's spokesperson Leong Chee Wei.

"If we can get taxi companies to commit to a long-term ramp-up rate to convert their taxi fleet to CNG taxis, taking the total figures to say about 3 to 4 thousand taxis within the next two years, we are quite comfortable to kick start the CNG project."

A classic chicken and egg situation.

Shouldn't the government incentives the supply side further by providing incentives to gas companies as well?

Mr Tan Yong Soon

"What we are trying to incentivise here is to create the market, the demand the gas companies need not ask for any incentives. They will go and supply. That's why we have this package to induce the taxi companies to calculate and say 'yes, its worth bringing in CNG vehicles' over the next two years. When they make that decision, that is the best incentives the companies are looking for."

But will the market bite?

No public transport companies or fuel providers seem willing to think out of the cash box and see the wider picture of social responsibility.

It may well be when 2006 rolls around, Singapore still won't see any significant increases in CNG vehicles.

This is Chong Ching Liang for Newsradio 938.


Related Links:

Newsradio 938 (now 938Live) Image hosted by

Ministry of Environment and Water Resources Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting

National Environment Agency Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting


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