Car COE prices have been creeping downwards, and wannabe car owners all over Singapore are waiting with bated breath for them to fall even lower. Every so often, the newspapers publish joyful news that car COEs ended lower in the last bidding exercise.
But nobody in Singapore seems to give a crap that motorcycle COEs are now ridiculously high, and just keep getting higher. If the current motorcycle COE of $6,158 sounds like a pittance to car owners who are used to paying 10 times that amount, it should be noted that a brand new class 2B motorcycle can cost $3,000 minus COE. In fact, 5 years ago I bought a second hand motorcycle with 9 years of COE left for only $1,900.
Ironically, the objective of the COE system is designed to reduce road congestion. Here are three big reasons the system has failed and is doing nothing to achieve its stated objectives, making motorcycle owners suffer for nothing.
Decreasing the proportion of motorcycles on the road does not positively impact road congestion
As much as the LTA might insist that motorcycles are just like cars in their contribution towards road congestion, guess what? Research is against this erroneous point of view. In fact, a quick search online reveals many studies that have shown that commuting by motorcycle rather than cars can actually ease traffic congestion.
A study conducted by a Belgian consultancy revealed that a shift from private cars towards motorcycles actually eases traffic congestion. If 10% of all private cars were replaced by motorcycles, all vehicles wasted 40% less time. While car owners often complain about motorcyclists riding in between lanes, imagine the jams that would result if motorcycles were the size of cars and unable to lanesplit.
Instead of trying to increase the proportion of motorcycles vis a vis cars on the road, LTA is doing the opposite by deregistering motorcycles and returning them to Cat E instead. So while the supply of COEs might appear to remain unchanged, the level of road congestion is steadily increasing as the proportion of motorcycles falls.
Deregistering of motorcycle COEs increases the number of cars on the road
A huge reason for the spike in motorcycle COE prices is a quota shortage caused by deregistering motorcycle COEs and returning them to Category E instead. Cat E is an open category, meaning owners of any vehicles can bid for COEs in that category.
However, this effectively sounds a death knell for motorcycle riders, as Cat E prices are way too expensive to justify bidding for them. The cost of the current Cat E COE is, at $61,300, the cost of about 20 brand new class 2B bikes.
According to statistics provided by LTA, between 2003 and 2013, the car population rose by 36.45%, while the motorcycle population rose by only 6.41%.
Motorcycles make up only 14.94% of all vehicles on the road today, as opposed to 19.19% ten years ago. Yet COEs for motorcycles have risen disproportionately, from about $500 ten years ago to well over $6,000 today.
This means that motorcycle COEs are getting more expensive so that car COEs can get cheaper. This has the net effect of increasing, rather than decreasing traffic congestion. Looks like some people at LTA aren’t thinking straight.
Many lower income people need their motorcycles for commercial purposes
Goods vehicles and buses bid for COEs in Category C, which tend to be significantly lower than COEs in Categories A and B, which most car owners bid under. This enables business people who need vans to ferry goods to run their businesses without going broke.
However, people turn a blind eye to the fact that many rely on their motorcycles to make a living. One only has to look at the delivery riders who ply the roads from McDonald’s and Pizza Hut to people’s homes.
These guys are using their own bikes, and with full-time delivery riders earning only about $8 an hour (equivalent to about $1,300 a month for working a 40 hour, 5 day week), motorcycle COEs basically put them out of business.
We can’t argue that without the COE system, roads would reach record levels of congestion in the absence of any other system regulating the number of cars on the road.
But the LTA needs to ask itself if its current COE mechanisms penalise motorcycle riders unnecessarily when doing so does nothing to benefit society, given the fact that the high motorcycle COEs do little to relieve traffic congestion.
What can bikers do?
With a far lower average income than the car-owning community in a city where money talks, the motorcycling community doesn’t have a voice. Many shopping malls do not have motorcycle lots in their carparks and some even ban motorcyclists from entering their carparks altogether.
Motorcyclists need to be more vocal about their concerns with the current COE system if they want to be heard.
This could mean writing in to the LTA (which I have done, only to receive their standard-format response about how the COE system curbs traffic congestion) and speaking with your MP at Meet the People Sessions. If those in charge hear nothing about this issue, it becomes even easier for them to turn a blind eye.
Are you a motorcycle rider who’s been affected by the rising cost of COEs? Share your experiences in the comments!