Parliament: Security features of new ERP units more superior to mobile phones – Amy Khor

·3-min read
The new on-board unit for vehicles. (Photo: Land Transport Authority)
The new on-board unit for vehicles. (Photo: Land Transport Authority)

SINGAPORE — While payments for Electronic Road Pricing (ERP) can technically be done via smartphones, security and operational issues underlie the Land Transport Authority’s next-generation on-board units (OBUs) for ERP charges, said Senior Minister of State for Transport Amy Khor on Monday (5 October).

Responding to queries filed by Members of Parliament on the design and functionality of the new units, Dr Khor said they were adopted to better protect the ERP system, which contains the data of all motorists.

She said, “LTA consulted an inter-agency committee including the Cyber Security Agency of Singapore, who advised that the core charging transactions and ERP data must be safely and securely processed with high assurance. The on-board units, which are an integral part of the ERP system, have been designed to uphold the necessary protection for such purpose, and the security features are superior to that of a mobile phone.”

On the operational side, Dr Khor said that using smartphones for ERP charges would require motorists to bring along their phones and ensure the devices are sufficiently charged, with connection to the cellular network and the ERP payment app launched throughout the journey.

“There will bound to be numerous unintended failed transactions and inconveniences caused. Hence, LTA concluded that it is better to process payments through a dedicated and integrated OBU, similar to today’s in-vehicle unit (IU),” she added.

Among other things, MP Melvin Yong had asked if the majority of the OBU’s functions can be replaced by a smartphone while MPs Saktiandi Supaat and Dennis Tan asked if the design of the new units can be improved.

On the design of the OBUs, the new units for motorcycles (14cm by 8cm by 5cm) will be slightly larger than the current IUs (13cm by 8cm by 4cm).

As for the OBUs for other vehicles, the processing unit will be installed below the dashboard and separated from the display unit on the windscreen.

Dr Khor said, “This is necessary, because the OBU uses Global Navigation Satellite Technology and is really a little computer. There will be safety and reliability issues to leave the processing unit on the dashboard when vehicles with enclosed spaces are parked under the hot sun, similar to how we will not expose our smartphones that same way.”

The display units (15cm by 8cm by 2cm) will be slightly larger than the current IUs (12cm by 8cm by 3cm).

Dr Khor said LTA is currently consulting workshops and authorised motor vehicle agents on how best to install the OBUs. It will then present a few options to gather public feedback.

“For example, the display can be kept black most of the time, and only display ERP charges paid when a transaction is effected. As a possible future upgrade, LTA is also studying whether information from the OBU can be pushed to our smartphones, which can then be used as the display screen instead,” she said.

Responding to a query filed by MP He Ting Ru on whether the public was consulted on the design, Dr Khor explained that there were practical constraints to doing so.

“This is a first-of-a-kind project – there is no similar system anywhere else in the world. LTA sought proposals through an international tender. Several designs were submitted, and LTA has to select the best from the point of view of performance, design and value for money,” she said.

“But after awarding the tender, LTA is contractually bound. It could have specified that the winning tenderer has to conduct a major public consultation exercise, and make significant changes to the design to take in public feedback, but that will add significant uncertainty which will delay the project and push up the tender prices,” she added.

The first OBU will be free while new vehicles will come with them installed. LTA will release details on the warranty period for the OBUs and information on the installation exercise at a later date.

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