Area Licensing Scheme

Singapore Infopedia

by Lim, Tin Seng


The Area Licensing Scheme (ALS) was launched on 2 June 1975.1 Designed to reduce traffic congestion in the Central Business District (CBD), the key concept underlying the ALS was that a special supplementary licence had to be obtained at a cost if a motorist wanted to enter the CBD’s restricted zone (RZ).2 The ALS was the world’s first area licensing scheme when it was launched in Singapore.3 It was one of a series of stringent measures undertaken by the Singapore government to ease traffic congestion in the city area. Other traffic management measures introduced at that time included the Park-and-Ride scheme and car pooling.4

Traffic congestion in the CBD
In the early 1970s, traffic congestion was rapidly becoming a problem in Singapore, particularly in the CBD. During the morning and evening peak hours, traffic in the CBD would be moving at a slow speed.5 The escalating traffic congestion was to a large extent caused by the growth of car ownership in Singapore. Indeed, the number of privately owned cars in Singapore grew at an average annual rate of 8.8 percent between 1962 and 1973. By the end of 1975, there were a total of 143,155 privately owned cars on the roads or about 60 percent of the total number of registered motor vehicles in Singapore. As personal income in Singapore continued to increase, it was predicted that the number of privately owned cars would continue to grow. This trend was expected to further worsen traffic conditions in the CBD during peak hours.6

Then Minister for Communications Yong Nyuk Lin warned that traffic congestion was a “frustrating and wasteful problem” that was “slowly eroding the economic well-being of Singapore”.7 For instance, business activities in the CBD were affected by the stalled traffic, while the long hours spent in traffic congestion meant more fuel costs for motorists.8

Addressing the congestion problem
The Road Transport Action Committee (RTAC), a high-level committee comprising officials from the ministries of National Development, Communications, Home Affairs and Finance, was set up in January 1974 to address the traffic congestion problem.9 The RTAC eventually drew up the Area Licensing Scheme (ALS), which was revealed to the public in May 1974.10 The goal of the scheme was to reduce peak-hour traffic in the city by 25 to 30 percent so that smoother traffic conditions could be restored. In addition, efficient and reliable alternative modes of transportation would be made available to motorists who were discouraged from driving into the city by the scheme.11

Concept underlying the ALS
Under the ALS, the CBD was demarcated as a RZ during morning peak hours and toll charges were imposed on vehicles entering the zone during this period.12 The restricted hours were initially set between 7.30 am and 9.30 am daily, excluding Sundays and public holidays.13 The toll charge was in the form of a special area licence costing S$3 per day or S$60 per month.14 All vehicles were required to purchase and display the special licence in order to enter the RZ. Exceptions were provided for buses, taxis, motorcycles, commercial vehicles, police and military vehicles, ambulances, fire engines and motorcars carrying at least four passengers when entering the RZ.15 Vehicles caught entering the RZ without a licence faced a fine of S$50.16 Even vehicles driven by foreign diplomats were required to apply for an area licence when driving into the RZ during the morning peak hours.17 To help motorists adapt to the new scheme, signs and bypass routes were provided along the way to the RZ.18

The Park-and-Ride scheme was introduced as one alternative that motorists could choose to avoid paying the ALS licensing fees. Under this scheme, motorists could park their vehicles at designated parking lots located within the city fringe for a fee of S$10 monthly before shuttling into the CBD on special buses at S$0.50 per trip or S$20 per month. In addition, car pooling in a vehicle with four or more persons would exempt the particular vehicle from the ALS charges.19 The government also introduced other measures to support the ALS. These included increasing taxes on the importation, purchase and registration of cars, raising CBD parking charges and building new roads to allow motorists to bypass the RZ.20

Launch of the ALS
The ALS was launched on 2 June 1975 with 27 gantries to mark out the RZ in the CBD.21 Prior to that, the government had taken extra efforts to educate the public on the ALS through a series of publicity campaigns. These included publishing and expressing the reasons and objectives of the scheme in newspapers and official speeches.22 At the same time, the government also began the sale of the area licences on 15 May 1975, about a month before the launch of ALS, at the Registry of Vehicles and 16 selected post offices.23 In addition, the government formed a Car Pooling Management Unit on 20 January 1975 to help members of the public form car pools24 and started the Park-and-Ride scheme on 16 May 1975.25

Success of the ALS
The ALS was declared a success when measured against its stated objectives.26 Cumulative restraint on car use in the RZ was achieved. The ALS was successful in reducing the traffic volume entering the city during morning peak hours after it was implemented. The number of cars entering the CBD during the restricted hours was significantly reduced from 42,790 in March 1975 to an average of 11,363 in September and October. The average speed of cars in the CBD was also faster at 33 kph during restricted hours compared to 27 kph during the evening peak period.27 There was an overall increase of 35 percent in car pools as well as heavier usage of buses into the city during peak hours shortly after the ALS was implemented. Such figures reflected a shift in travel behaviour from private car usage to alternatives such as buses and car pools.28 Other than travel behaviour, the ALS also helped improve the air quality in the CDB as air pollution was reduced in the area when the ALS was in operation.29 More importantly, the ALS was instrumental in saving the government a minimum of US$500 million – the cost for road improvements and infrastructure needed to tackle the increasingly congested city on a daily basis.30

Shortcomings of the ALS
Although the ALS was successful in reducing morning peak-hour traffic in the CDB, it had some shortcomings. One such shortcoming was that traffic congestion returned to the CBD outside the restriction hours. Some motorists even waited at the gantries for the end of the restriction hours before entering the CBD. Besides, the ALS did little to control the evening peak traffic between 3 pm and 6 pm as those who entered the CBD in the morning would return home using taxis or cars driven by their spouses. It was also common for the sale of ALS licences to run out during rainy days and all a driver could get was a standard government receipt to show at the gantries. In addition, nearly 200 motorists were caught daily breaking the rules during the early stages of the scheme. Their offences ranged from driving into the RZ without the special area licence to employing various creative methods to avoid paying fees. One such method involved bypassing the ALS gantries by driving the wrong way through one-way side roads and then reversing into the roads within the RZ.31

To address these shortcomings, the ALS was fine-tuned several times after its implementation. For instance, the restricted time was extended from 9.30 am to 10.15 am in August 1975 to prevent the build-up of traffic at the gantries after morning peak hours. This was followed by the inclusion of evening peak hours in 1989 to control evening peak-hour traffic. In 1994, the operating hours of the ALS were extended to cover the entire working day.32

In November 1993, the government announced that the number of outlets selling ALS licenses would be increased to 252 by the following year in order to meet the expected surge in demand for ALS licenses following the extension of the scheme’s operating hours. Premises selling the licenses were also expanded from post offices to places such as petrol stations and convenient stores.33 Besides extending the operating hours of the ALS, daily license fees for private cars were raised to S$4 in January 1976 and subsequently S$5 in March 1980. Exemptions for taxis, motorcycles and car pools were also lifted by the end of 1989. These measures were aimed at increasing the efficiency of the ALS in deterring traffic into the CBD.34

Replacement of the ALS
The ALS was in operation for 23 years before it was replaced by the Electronic Road Pricing (ERP) system on 1 April 1998.35 By then, the RZ under the ALS had increased from the 670 ha (6.7 sq km) in 1975 to 720 ha (7.2 sq km).36 The underlying concept of the new ERP system was similar to the ALS, which was to manage traffic volume in the city area during peak hours. One of the key differences between the two schemes was that toll payment and collection became automated under the ERP system.37

2 Jun 1975
: ALS starts with the initial restricted hours from 7.30 am–9.30 am. Private cars pay S$3 daily, S$60 monthly. Company cars pay S$6.
23 Jun 1975: Taxis pay S$3 daily.
1 Aug 1975: Restricted hours increased by 45 minutes: 7.30 am–10.15 am.
1 Jan 1976: Fee for cars raised: Private cars pay S$4 daily; company cars, S$8.
1 Apr 1977: Fee for taxis reduced to S$2 a day.
1 Mar 1980: Fee for cars raised: Private cars S$5 daily; company cars, S$10.
13 Feb 1984: ALS extended to Cuppage Road and Koek Road.
19 Nov 1986: ALS extended to Marina Centre.
1 Jun 1989: ALS extended to evening peak hours: 4.30 pm–7 pm on weekdays. Every road user pays, except emergency vehicles and public buses. Fees are reduced: Company cars pay S$6daily; others, S$3.
1 Jul 1989: Motorcycles pay S$1 daily.
Dec 1989: Evening restricted hours shortened: 4.30 pm–6.30 pm.
3 Jan 1994: ALS hours stretched all day: 7.30 am–6:30 pm on weekdays and 7.30 am–3 pm on Saturdays. Peak-hour fees unchanged. At other times: 10.15 am–4.30 pm on weekdays, 10.15 am–3 pm on Saturdays and eve of public holidays, the fee is: 70 cents for a motorcycle, S$4 for a company car and S$2 for private cars and other vehicles.
May 1995: ALS ends one hour earlier at 2 pm on Saturdays.
May 1997: Morning peak period reduced by 45 minutes: 7.30 pm–9.30 am on weekdays and Saturdays. Evening peak extended by 30 minutes: 4.30 pm–7 pm.
1 Apr 1998: ERP system replaces ALS.

Lim Tin Seng

1. The Motor Vehicles (Restricted Zone and Area Licenses) Rules, 1975, Sp.S 106/1975, Government Gazette. Subsidiary Legislation Supplement, 16 May 1975, 322. (Call no. RCLOS 348.5957 SGGSLS)
2. Edward P. Holland and Peter L. Watson, Traffic Restraint in Singapore (Washington, D.C.: World Bank, 1978), 15. (Call no. RSING q338.4131 HOL)
3. Christina Rodrigues, “Our ALS Gets a Pat on the Back,” Straits Times, 9 April 1976, 7. (From NewspaperSG)
4. Parliament of Singapore, Budget, Ministry of Communications. Main and Development Estimates of Singapore for the Financial Year 1 April 1975 to 31 March 1976, vol. 34 of Parliamentary Debates: Official Report, 19 March 1975, col. 583. (Call no. RSING 328.5957 SIN)
5. Holland and Watson, Traffic Restraint in Singapore, 15.
6. Holland and Watson, Traffic Restraint in Singapore, 15.
7. “Traffic Jams: Govt Gets Tough,” Straits Times, 17 May 1975, 6. (From NewspaperSG)
8. Parliament of Singapore, President’s Speech. Debate on the Address (First Day), vol. 34 of Parliamentary Debates: Official Report, 25 February 1975, col. 39. (Call no. RSING 328.5957 SIN)
9. “Govt Acts to Cut Traffic Chaos,” Straits Times, 4 January 1974, 1. (From NewspaperSG)
10. P. M. Raman, “Yong’s New Shock for Motorists,” Straits Times, 29 May 1974, 1. (From NewspaperSG)
11. Holland and Watson, Traffic Restraint in Singapore, 15.
12. Raman, “Yong’s New Shock for Motorists.” 
13. The Motor Vehicles (Restricted Zone and Area Licenses) Rules, 1975, Government Gazette. Subsidiary Legislation Supplement, 322.
14. Raman, “Yong’s New Shock for Motorists.” 
15. The Motor Vehicles (Restricted Zone and Area Licenses) Rules, 1975, Government Gazette. Subsidiary Legislation Supplement, 323.
16. “ALS: It’s from 7.30 Today,” Straits Times, 2 June 1975, 1. (From NewspaperSG)
17. “Foreign Envoys Will Have to Pay Too,” Straits Times, 4 June 1975, 13. (From NewspaperSG)
18. V. Setty Pendakur, “Elaboration of the Transport System,” in Management of Success: The Moulding of Modern Singapore, ed. Kernial Singh Sandhu and Paul Wheatley (Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, 1989), 408. (Call no. RSING 959.57 MAN-[HIS])
19. Raman, “Yong’s New Shock for Motorists.” 
20. Ilsa Sharp, The Journey: Singapore's Land Transport Story (Singapore: SNP Editions for the Land Transport Authority, 2005), 77. (Call no. RSING q388.4095957 SHA)
21. “It’s from 7.30 Today.”
22. Holland and Watson, Traffic Restraint in Singapore, 22.
23. S. M. Muthu, “Advance Sales of Restricted Zone Licences to Begin on May 15,” Straits Times, 4 May 1975, 7. (From NewspaperSG)
24. “Car Pooling Starts to Catch On,” Straits Times, 3 July 1975, 13. (From NewspaperSG)
25. S. M. Muthu, “All Set for Park-and-Ride,” Straits Times, 15 May 1975, 7. (From NewspaperSG)
26. Holland and Watson, Traffic Restraint in Singapore, 17; William S.W. Lim, Area Licensing Scheme (ALS) & Urban Environment (Singapore: Design Partnership Architects, 1976), 2. (Call no. RCLOS 388.413143095957 LIM)
27. Holland and Watson, Traffic Restraint in Singapore, 14–15.
28. S. M. Muthu, “More Pool Cars in the RZ,” Straits Times, 5 June 1975, 11. (From NewspaperSG)
29. Edward P. Holland and Peter L. Watson, “Singapore’s Area License Scheme: Results and Lessons,” in Urban Planning Practice in Developing Countries, ed. John L. Taylor and David G. Williams (New York: Pergamon Press, 1982), 288. (Call no. RSING 301.36091724 URB)
30. Pendakur, “Elaboration of the Transport System,” 414.
31. Sharp, Singapore's Land Transport Story, 76.
32. S. M. Muthu, “ALS: It's 10.15 am from Today,” Straits Times, 31 August 1975, 1; “Diary of the Scheme,” Straits Times, 30 August 1998, 33 (From NewspaperSG); Koh, T. T. B., et al. (Eds.). (2006). Singapore: The Encyclopedia. Singapore: Editions Didier Millet in association with the National Heritage Board, p. 35. (Call no.: RSING 959.57003 SIN-[HIS])
33. “252 Outlets for CBD Licences Next Year for Extended ALS,” Straits Times, 21 November 1993, 3. (From NewspaperSG)
34. “Diary of the Scheme”; Tommy Koh et al., eds., Singapore: The Encyclopedia (Singapore: Editions Didier Millet and National Heritage Board, 2006), 36. (Call no. RSING 959.57003 SIN-[HIS])
35. Road Traffic (Electronic Road Pricing System) Rules, 1998, S.Sp 176/1998, Government Gazette. Subsidiary Legislation Supplement, 30 March 1998, 547. (Call no. RSING 348.5957 SGGSLS)
36. Koh et al., Singapore: The Encyclopedia, 35.
37. Leong Chan Teik, “ERP's Starting Soon: Here's How It Will Work,” Straits Times, 1 September 1997, 33. (From NewspaperSG)
38. “Diary of the Scheme”; S. M. Muthu, Philip Lee and Michael Yeong, “Angry Cab Drivers Boycott RZ,” Straits Times, 24 June 1975, 9; Muthu, “It's 10.15 am from Today”; Sharp, Singapore's Land Transport Story, 78; Leong Teik Chan, “Time's Up, Goodbye,” Straits Times, 30 August 1998, 33 (From NewspaperSG); Road Traffic (Electronic Road Pricing System) Rules, 1998, Government Gazette. Subsidiary Legislation Supplement, 547.

The information in this article is valid as of 15 August 2014 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.




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