Light Pollution in Singapore – Is Public Lighting a Boon or Bane?

March13, 2018
by admin

I brought my family on a vacation to the Australian state of Tasmania last November.

Staying on a farm was a natural inclusion into our itinerary as my two-year- old adores tractors. After a long and windy drive into the countryside, we received a warm welcome from our hosts and prepared to settle in for the night.

As I flipped through the pages of the visitor log in our guesthouse, I was surprised to see that with the exception of local Australians looking for a weekend getaway, almost all the other entries were written by Singaporean families. When I brought this up to the farmer the following day, he replied with a wry smile, “Ah, they’ve come to escape the Singapore lights and to enjoy the obscurity of our nightfall.”

Singaporean’s Affinity for Street Lighting

Now as an Economics tutor, that surprised me. What he said seemed to run contrary to the wisdom which we inherited from microeconomics. Street lighting has always been regarded as a public good, alongside national defence and other services such as dengue or flood control measures. The term “public good” refers to a good which is not only non-excludable and non-rivalrous in consumption, but also socially desirable. The social benefits are mainly derived from the ability of well-lit roads to prevent traffic mishaps due to poor visibility.

Now I have to admit that I found the lack of street lighting in Tasmania slightly unsettling, especially when I drove along the murky forest trails. I also could not help but notice that almost 80 per cent of the cars being driven around in Tasmania were white. The main reason, I presume, is to improve their visibility to other drivers at night. Given our local experience with car colours and the sovereignty of consumers (reference to the dizzying array of matt and gloss vehicle colours in Singapore), I assumed that the prevalence of white cars in Tasmania was not determined solely by individual owner preferences, but likely involved some element of moral suasion from the government. In fact, regression analysis done on data from Western Australia and Victoria showed that white vehicles had a 47 per cent lower crash risk compared to black cars under dawn or dusk conditions

What surprised me further as an Economics tutor based in Singapore was the revelation that my fellow countrymen would be keen to seek out the darkness of the night to augment their experiential journeys. In fact, Singapore stands out not just as a green oasis to its residents and visitors, but also as an extremely well-lit city – as anyone who has looked down at our city skyline from a departing night flight can attest to. In addition to managing more than 95,000 streetlights along Singapore roads, Singapore’s Land Transport Authority (LTA) also maintains lighting at bus shelters, covered linkways, footpaths and road crossings. Street lighting conditions are also checked every two months to ensure that any faulty lighting is swiftly dealt with.

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