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Use convenience to spark behavioural change for sustainability

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Becoming a Smart Nation with a sustainable lifestyle starts with behavioural change.

But, as experts and attendees at a conference yesterday noted, change is one of the hardest things to bring about.

How do governments convince citizens to take public transport and go car-lite?

The question from a conference attendee drew spirited responses from panellists discussing Singapore's Smart Nation journey at the East-West Centre's International Media Conference.

Dr Limin Hee, director of the Ministry of National Development's centre for liveable cities, said that although technology provided citizens with more choices, they would choose the more convenient option.

"It is not because they want to be more sustainable or save the planet," she said, urging technologists to focus on user convenience.

Associate professor of transportation and urban planning at Boston's Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Christopher Zegras agreed.

He said data such as the availability of buses, shared bikes or autonomous vehicles via smartphone apps is what gives citizens a better sense of mobility options. This might in turn give them more confidence in the public transport system and prompt changes.

He is upbeat that Singapore could inspire the necessary behavioural change, citing its support for projects such as autonomous vehicle trials.

And people might raise children not to expect to get their driving licence once shared autonomous vehicle services become available "because that (would) seem so passe", said Prof Zegras, the lead principal investigator for future mobility at the Singapore-MIT Alliance for Research & Technology (Smart).

ERP 2.0

He said data that allows dynamic pricing of road tolls and train and bus rides - similar to Grab's demand-based pricing - is what will truly transform people's behaviour.

"ERP 2.0 will be the real thing where resources are priced according to scarcity," he said.

The second version of Electronic Road Pricing will rely on satellite navigation technology to keep track of vehicles and their road usage to determine the road tolls motorists need to pay.

The system is expected to be in force from 2020.