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NUS running electric vehicle trial

The National University of Singapore will launch a trial this year to study whether one-seater electric vehicles can enhance travel around its campuses.

Participants will use the Toyota COMS – a single-seater micro electric vehicle (EV) resembling a golf buggy – to shuttle between the NUS Kent Ridge campus and University Town (NUS UTown).

The year-long study will test the viability of using such vehicles to provide ‘personal mobility on demand’ at NUS.

The trial is led by Professor Chua Kee Chaing, who said it is likely to start by April with a fleet of 10 vehicles – provided free by trial partner Toyota Tsusho (Singapore).

For a start, he plans to rope in faculty members who need to shuttle between the two campuses for the trial. They will share the 10 EVs, which can hit a top speed of 50kmh.

Prof Chua, who heads the department of electrical and computer engineering in NUS’ Faculty of Engineering, is joined by two other faculty members – Associate Professor Tan Kok Kiong and Associate Professor Marcelo Ang – in the trial.

Prof Chua said plans for a trial began with an idea to look at the NUS campus as a ‘living test-bed’ to try out new technology for mobility and sustainability solutions.

‘NUS is like a microcosm of a city,’ he added. ‘What we want to do is provide a means of transportation between the UTown campus and the Kent Ridge campus. Our interest is in looking at possible modes of providing personal mobility.’

For that purpose, micro EVs were quite attractive, he noted.

He will send invitations to NUS faculty soon, but has yet to decide on the total number of participants.

‘What we’re also interested in is how far you can stretch the use of one EV,’ he said.

The trial will also examine whether participants take to the idea of sharing a vehicle, their travel patterns, the demand for the system and possible problems.

Prof Chua said he would like students to take part in the trial, but this would depend on whether there were sufficient vehicles to go round.

Noting that personal transportation mobility is a real problem in cities, he added that the broader thrust of the trial is to examine whether micro EVs can be a sustainable solution to the problem of first or last-mile connectivity.

However, he admits that it will require a lot of scaling-up to expand the concept to a wider audience, and that the process will have its own set of challenges.

For now, the next step is to put the test infrastructure in place. Safety signs will have to be erected to alert other motorists to the presence of the EVs.

Prof Chua and his team will also have to decide where to site the vehicles. While the Toyota COMS can be charged at any regular power point, he said he is in discussions with a company about setting up campus charging stations.

The NUS trial is the latest in a series involving EVs.

Environmental start-up company Clean Mobility Singapore started one last November renting out the vehicles.

And last June, the Land Transport Authority and Energy Market Authority rolled out a three-year, $20 million trial.

It will test the durability, running cost and long-term performance of EVs, and after three years, the Government will decide whether it is worthwhile to provide incentives for the use of EVs.

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