SINGAPORE — Singapore need not go down the path taken by some cities that have penalised car owners, such as by imposing high parking charges, raising tolls to sky-high levels or taking away land meant for vehicles and giving priority to other users such as pedestrians and cyclists.
This is because Singaporeans still aspire to own cars, outgoing Transport Minister Lui Tuck Yew said, and the Government will seek to strike a balance between allowing people to fulfil their dreams and convincing more to take public transport to keep traffic flowing smoothly. It can achieve the former by exploring some options that have not been tapped fully, he added, such as car sharing.
[Car Sharing is NOT car ownership. Nobody ASPIRES to share a car.]
“There have been commentators and so-called experts who have said, ‘You ought to make it (car ownership) a lot more painful’ … At the end of the day, we will have to make the decisions, including the unpopular ones, and be responsible for them, rather than listen only to one side versus the other side,” said Mr Lui.
Nevertheless, controlling the car population is still a main lever in transport policy: The annual vehicle growth rate was slashed by half to 0.25 per cent from February this year to January 2018, and even this rate will be reviewed in 2017. The Government has said that, eventually, the growth rate for cars is likely to be reduced to zero.
Going by recent figures, a shift away from cars has begun. Based on latest statistics from the Land Transport Authority (LTA), the number of cars on the road as of last month was 585,384 — down from the peak of 607,292 in 2013, and the lowest since the end of 2010, when the figure was 584,399. Meanwhile, public transport ridership has been growing steadily. It went up last year by 4.6 per cent to hit a record 6.65 million trips per day, and its mode share grew to 66 per cent, up from 64 per cent in 2013.
Still, just under half — 45 per cent — of households here own at least one car, which is “very high” for a city-state, Mr Lui said. “Going forward, can you maintain this? That’s a good question,” he said. “What we have done is to strike some kind of balance, recognising that there are aspirations to own cars but also trying to do a couple of things: One is to make the public transport network a lot more convenient than what it is now. Second, provide alternatives for point-to-point (commuting).”
For point-to-point commuting, Mr Lui noted that more taxis are now available during peak hours and there is better match between demand and supply following the introduction of more stringent taxi availability standards. Car-sharing options are also gaining traction among Singaporeans, with the Housing and Development Board pledging to set aside 3,000 parking lots across the island for such services, he added.
Mr Lui also responded to observations that the Certificate of Entitlement (COE) system would prop up demand for cars, given that people will rush in to buy cars whenever premiums fall. His retort: People rush in to get cars whether premiums go up or down. “Why do they rush in? Well, the dealers are also very clever people. They introduce new models … very attractive packaging and so on,” he said.
under policies such as the COE system, cars become cheaper if demand for them drops. “If people really start giving up their cars, then (COE) prices will fall, thereby stimulating demand. So actually, it’s very hard to really make a big dent in car demand because of basic economics,”He noted that the COE system has been refined over the years. Since February last year, the LTA has moved from releasing quotas every six months to doing so every three months to make the COE system more responsive to deregistrations. A cap on engine power was also imposed on cars under Category A. In 2012, taxis were removed from the COE bidding exercise.
Overall, the fundamentals that necessitated the creation of the COE system have not changed, Mr Lui said. Already, roads are taking up 12 per cent of Singapore’s area, and that is not including space set aside for parking. In comparison, housing takes up 14 per cent, he added.
[Also, COE accounts for the 4th largest revenue stream of the government.]