For the longest time, all that talk about turning Singapore car-lite sounded like a lot of hot air. Yeah right, said everyone, easy enough for the authorities to tell people to give up their cars when they’re the last ones who’d do it.
But over the past few years, even the most cynical person will admit that we now have significantly more transportation options than before. Uber and GrabCar now offer a cheaper way to get home after midnight than taxis, the MRT network has expanded considerably, and bicycles, kick scooters, electric bikes and the odd hoverboard are regularly spotted jostling for space with pedestrians and road users.
This is just the beginning. The LTA expects the full impact of the car-lite initiative to be felt only 10 to 15 years from now. It feels like a long wait, but just the thought of living in a truly car-lite society is exciting. Here’s what we can expect if this comes to pass.
A more diverse commuting landscape
For the longest time, Singaporeans had only three commuting options—driving, taxis, or MRT/bus. It’s no surprise that so many aspired to own cars, since the public transport network made journeys arduous and time-consuming for those who did not live near MRT stations.
If the car-lite drive succeeds, we’ll see a larger fraction of the population using alternative modes of transportation. Right now, despite the push to promote cycling and the use of personal mobility devices like kick scooters and unicycles, the take-up rate has been relatively low. Pedestrians might feel like they have to jump out of the way of some sidewalk cyclist every three seconds, but only 1.5% of the population is actually cycling.
In future, people will be able to ride their longboards to work without their colleagues raising an eyebrow. To meet the rising demand for facilities catering to cyclists and PMD users, bicycle parking and public shower facilities might become commonplace.
There’s also room for new transport initiatives. The Jurong Lake District looks set to enjoy the nation’s first bicycle-sharing scheme in 2017. But perhaps the most exciting news for the masses of Singaporeans with a driver’s licence but no car, is that an electric car-sharing scheme that will hit our shores in 2017.
While these initiatives are likely to be confined to certain neighbourhoods at the start, if they do well it is likely they will be implemented on a much larger scale, hopefully islandwide.
Redefining our urban landscape
Anybody who’s recently balloted for a BTO will tell you that the days when you could live within 15km of your workplace are over. Travelling to the CBD via bus and MRT from Punggol or Tampines is a real chore.
Hopefully, that will change if the drive to de-centralise the city bears fruit. In order to ease the strain on the public transport network and traffic jams into the CBD, more office space is being developed outside of the city core so people can work closer to home.
Already, office space has been springing up in the suburbs—Changi Business Park, Westgate Tower and Technopark@ Chai Chee are some examples of suburban office buildings. The supply of decentralised office space is set to increase further over the next few years.
In many ways, this decentralisation began many years ago. While the “heartlands” used to be consist of residential estates that were pretty much featureless in the 90s and early 2000s, there are far more retail, recreational and F&B options in certain areas these days, some examples being the Punggol area, which has become somewhat well-known for Punggol Waterway Park, and the Jurong East area, which is now filled with somewhat hip malls.
Fast forward 10 or 15 years, and people might no longer have to resign themselves to commuting to Raffles Place/Tanjong Pagar for work. This will not just ease traffic, but also reduce stress levels, improve work-life balance and perhaps even boost the birthrate, since people will have more free time.
A healthier population
We might not be as bad as cities like Bangkok or Beijing, but air quality in Singapore isn’t that great, even if you don’t take into consideration the annual haze.
Air pollution from daily sources, including car exhaust, pose a health risk. Given the fact that the entire country is basically one big concrete jungle, it’s hard to escape from the pollution—residential units can be affected by exhaust from nearby roads, for instance.
Reducing the number of cars on the road would go a long way to lowering air pollution levels. In Paris, where air pollution is considering a big problem, cars are banned from entering the city when pollution goes above a certain level.
In addition, more people choosing to make at least part of their commutes on a bicycle or other personal mobility devoice means more will be engaging in regular physical activity. Considering 7 in 10 Singaporeans don’t get enough daily exercise, according to this 2012 survey, and we have very high rates of lifestyle diseases like diabetes and heart disease, this can only be a good thing.
Do you think Singapore will succeed in becoming a car-lite city? Tell us why or why not in the comments!