Opinion

3 Reasons the High Motorcycle COEs in Singapore are Unreasonable

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Joanne Poh

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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!

Image Credits:
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Joanne Poh

In my previous life, I was a property lawyer who spent most of my time struggling to get out of bed or stuck in peak hour traffic. These days, as a freelance commercial writer, I work in bed, on the beach, in parks and at cafes, all while being really frugal. I like helping other people save money so they can stop living lives they don't like.

  • Koon Tet Foo

    I agree with the writer. Singapore is small, heavily built up and the roads are well maintained. In such a setting, this actually makes motorcycles a very efficient form of transportation. Having the COE for motorcycles at such a high level penalises the efficiency afforded by this mode of transport. Between private (passenger cars) and public transport (buses, taxis), motorcycles is a unique compromise between the two. Fewer cars to clog up the roads during peak hour and less crowding on the public transport system. A win-win situation for everyone using the roads.

  • Ovaltine Milo

    Yeah agree with the writer totally! Can all riders start a petition to Garment who sit in cheuffered Benz hving zero contact with the people on the ground?

  • R6ex

    One car space = 4 motorcycles space. Congestion? What congestion?!

    Well argued article.

  • Julia Navaro

    ….

  • Victor Png

    I only have class 2B license and thus small motorcycle is the only vehicle I can purchase. My bike is 5 years old and problem start surfacing. Am looking for a new ride for the past 6 mth but the COE price is putting me off.

    Was looking at the reason for high increase in COE for bike, and came across this article. I agree with the writer that the COE for bike is really too high. After finished reading, I decided to start a campaign. Was thinking of gather information, some biker point of view and conduct some interviews of those delivery bikers. With these information, I will go to the MP, send email to LTA and CC the whole world.

    I just looked through at the basic information which I could get immediately and feel that I’m fighting a losing battle. Strange to say, although 10% of the de-registered vehicle will go into open category which will be used in car due to the price of the COE, the motorcycle population had not drop like the car population did for 2016. https://www.lta.gov.sg/content/dam/ltaweb/corp/PublicationsResearch/files/FactsandFigures/M06-Vehs_by_Type.pdf
    The reduce in vehicle population mostly contributed by lesser car on the road, 2k for this year since the beginning. I included the rental car as well.

    I also looked at the bidding pattern and found that CAT D (motorcycle) bidder are bidding at way above the QP (40% above the successful bid). https://www.lta.gov.sg/content/dam/ltaweb/corp/PublicationsResearch/files/FactsandFigures/COE_Successful_Bids_2016.pdf
    This bidding pattern are something we will not normally see in other COE category.

    Lastly, but not important, the writer indicated that the CAT E (open category) COE cost 20 new class 2B bike. But do note that if you bid a CAT E for a motorcycle, you only need to pay 1/3 the QP. Still very very expensive.

    I believe that for us (rider) to action on this, we need to find the root cause. Thus I’m guessing that it is due to bike shop bidding the COE so as to increase the chance of sale for their bike. What good is there if the shop has the bike but no COE? http://www.singaporebikes.com/forums/showthread.php/483050-COE-Analysis
    The above is my argument and discussion about the CAT D COE.

    Please comment here or at the bike forum as I would like as many view as possible. Thank you.