SINGAPORE: Providing attractive alternative transport options will be key as Singapore continues its drive towards becoming a "car-lite" nation, transport experts said.
Shila Naidu, 29, is among the few who have taken steps to give up their cars. She has been using her car to get around for the last three years, but with its Certificate of Entitlement set to expire in August, she has no plans to get a new ride.
Ms Naidu has no plans to get a new car after her COE expires. (Photo: Olivia Siong)
Ms Naidu said this is because of the alternative transportation options available. She and her husband recently moved to Circuit Road and the nearest MRT station is just a five-minute walk away.
"We can actually get around quite conveniently without a car,” she said. “In addition to the Circle Line - the MacPherson station that's nearby - we're getting the Downtown Line in 2017 as well, so that will increase accessibility a lot more.
“We will be able to park the money we would be spending on a car somewhere else. I think it also reduces the stress of being caught in traffic jams and looking for parking. Sometimes I arrive on time, but I'm late for my appointment because I can't find parking.
“I think I would reconsider getting a car in the future if we decided to have children. If I had to, say, care for my ageing parents ... if they weren't as mobile and I was the main caregiver – definitely, I would get a car in that circumstances as well."
The Government hopes that more in Singapore will do the same as Ms Naidu, as the country aspires to become less reliant on cars. However, transport experts said this will require a mindset shift.
"If you can provide alternatives, good alternatives, like public transport or good cycling tracks and good pedestrian footpaths, people might think twice about owning a car,” said Mr Gopinath Menon, a senior research fellow at Nanyang Technological University. “The idea is can you provide something that can match the expectations?"
As part of Singapore's car-lite strategy, the Government plans to double the rail network by 2030 and make public transport more reliable. Infrastructure is also being built to make it hassle-free for commuters to travel from their homes to the nearest train station or bus stop.
Illustration of a cycling path in Ang Mo Kio marked red. (Image: URA)
By 2030, all towns will have their own dedicated cycling network, such as the one in Ang Mo Kio. To improve connectivity further, new rules governing the use of bicycles and other personal mobility devices will begin at the end of the year. This will allow the use of such devices in parks and on footpaths, within speed limits.
PRIVATE CAR VS PUBLIC TRANSPORT
Channel NewsAsia’s John Leong tested out two transport options during the morning peak period to see if there is enough to entice Singaporeans to go car-free. From his home in Punggol, he set off for the Mediacorp office at Andrew Road. He drove one day, and relied on an e-scooter as well as the MRT on the next.
While both experiences had their pros and cons, the winner in terms of time was clear. Driving took just over 20 minutes, while travelling time on public transport was 50 minutes.
However, another factor that often weighs on people's minds when considering whether to buy a car is cost, with the Certificate of Entitlement (COE) forming a major component.
In May, the Monetary Authority of Singapore eased car loan restrictions, resulting in higher car buyer demand and a significant increase in COEs during the last bidding exercise in June. The COE for a small car in Category A then was S$53,694, while the premium for a larger, more powerful Cat B car was S$56,000.
Transport expert Dr Park Byung Joon broke down the cost using his own daily commute from his home in the east to his office in Clementi as an example.
With a mass market vehicle that costs about S$100,000, one could get a seven-year loan with a 70 per cent loan-to-value ratio. With the average interest rate currently at 2.28 per cent, this means monthly instalments work out to around S$966.
Adding on other costs like fuel, insurance, road tax, parking and ERP charges, the monthly expense for a car could range between S$1,100 and S$1,500.
Compare this with commuting by bus and MRT - where each trip costs S$1.97 - monthly expenses are significantly lower at S$87. However, compared with travelling by taxi, Dr Park noted that with a booking fee, his taxi fare came up to about S$32 per trip – working out to S$1,408 per month.
THE COST OF TIME
Despite this, Dr Park noted that commuters look at factors other than cost.
"Some people may say I can do something while in the MRT and this kind of thing, but how much can you do in a really crowded environment? You can't really read a book properly, you can't even read something properly. The only thing you can do is just glimpse through your mobile phone,” he said.
“So, if you consider that as kind of unproductive time in a way, then two hours every day is quite a lot. For me, reducing that two hours from something else, which is face-to-face time with my children, that's quite valuable."
One transport expert said commuters look at more than just cost when considering transport options. (Photo: TODAY)
That's why some, like the Chia family, have decided to fork out the extra money. They recently bought a second-hand car, as they're having their first child soon.
"It's very hard to bring kids around,” said Mrs Lysa Chia. “Firstly, you're not that mobile because either you have to put them in a carrier or a stroller. On trains maybe it's not so bad, but on buses, you have to fold your stroller. And there's a lot of inconvenience even before you can get on the bus to your destination."
"It was more expensive than taking a taxi every day, but we thought (it was worth it) for the convenience,” added her husband, Mr Caleb Chia. “We thought if you're paying that much money, why not buy a depreciating asset. At the end of the day, you'll still get some scrap value back."
GIVING PEOPLE OPTIONS
Transport experts noted that while there will always be people who want to own a car, it is about giving people enough options to make a choice.
"We should get the expectation right,” said Dr Park. “The purpose of a car-lite society is not removing the car entirely from our life. It's more that we use existing assets more wisely. The car sharing club is one way to do it."
"It's not about removing the car entirely from our life," said one transport expert. (AFP Photo/Roslan Rahman)
Citing previous studies, the Car Sharing Association told Channel NewsAsia that one shared car could take 14 private cars off the road.
Industry players like Car Club and WhizzCar said that while there has been growing interest in car sharing services, there is room for more to come on board. They said they hope for more awareness and greater support from the authorities, as Singapore continues on the road to a more car-lite future.