Opinion

3 Ways the Singapore Government Can Truly Encourage Car-Liteness

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Joanne Poh

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It’s pretty ironic that the Baby Bonus isn’t making Singaporeans want to have more kids, while in spite of the COE so many Singaporeans still feel that cars make their lives better.

This has got nothing to do with cars being status symbols, despite what the authorities seem to think.

It’s rather that nobody wants to spend twice the amount of time commuting each day on a transport network that is, for many people, still does not get you from Point A to B as quickly as a car does.

And, obviously, nobody likes being the recipient of that all too frequent piece of news that there is once again no train service on X line due to a disruption.

No matter how expensive cars become, a significant subset of the population is still going to work themselves to the bone to be able to afford one for the above reasons. Here are three things that can be done to truly encourage car liteness.

 

Do more to encourage cycling and the use of other mobility devices instead of trying to herd everyone onto the sagging public transport system

The government dreams of a Singapore where everybody takes public transport, just like in Tokyo or Hong Kong. Except the standard of our public transport is nowhere near that of theirs, for now anyway.

Even assuming SMRT manages to fix its worsening problems concerning breakdowns, public transport often takes a longer time than driving, due to first-and-last-mile connectivity. People still take time to travel to the MRT station from their homes, and this is usually the slowest and most frustrating part of the commute.

For a long time to come, public transport will not be able to replace the convenience and comfort of driving. The issues concerning breakdowns seem to be worsening with time rather than improving, so it’s safe to say a backup plan is needed, at least in the next decade or so.

That could come in the form of other forms of private transport. To their credit, the government does seem to be acknowledging that other forms of transport like cycling are going to be necessary to stop people from driving.

Recommendations have been made to allow cycling on pavements and more bicycle paths are popping up everywhere, although islandwide connectivity still leaves much to be desired. Other steps could be to deal more effectively with bike theft, which is still a big problem here, find a way to keep cyclists safe from crazy drivers and let urban planning in future prioritise people rather than cars.

 

Encourage decentralisation of office space

Singapore may be small, yet it seems to take forever to travel to the city centre if you’re fighting with a million other people to get to Raffles Place at 9am. A one hour-long commute is more stressful than it has to be when you board a feeder bus that’s so full you have to balance on the steps as the bus lurches to the MRT station, and then have to fight for space in an MRT carriage filled with dour faces.

This problem can be alleviated somewhat if decentralisation is encouraged. It’s ironic that our town planning was designed to give each area its own amenities, yet many people are forced to spend all their time in central areas because they work long hours and have no time to actually use the facilities close to home.

If office space could be decentralised, more Singaporeans could opt to work far from the city centre. This would not only ease peak hour jams towards the city, it would also shorten commuting time and reduce reliance on cars.

We’ve already come quite a long way, with more companies setting up shop in the Jurong East, One North and Changi areas. The government can encourage decentralisation even more by offering companies incentives to develop office spaces in suburban areas.

One potential issue is the fact that most Singaporeans live in HDB property they or their families own, and moving closer to work is often not an option. If you buy an HDB flat in Punggol and then get a job in Tuas, you are basically forced to live there until the five year Minimum Occupation Period is up.

Still, having Singaporeans travel to different parts of the island is preferable to having everyone rushing to Raffles Place at the same time. If more companies start adopting flexible working arrangements, fewer people will be forced to commute during peak hour.

That guy who takes a leisurely bus ride to work during off peak hours, enjoying the scenery from his seat, is less likely to want to buy a car than the office worker who has to brave the MRT crush every morning.

 

Implement a bike sharing scheme

In Paris and many other French cities, there are bicycle rental kiosks everywhere. You scan a card with your ID on it and a bicycle automatically gets unlocked. You can ride it anywhere in the city, and return it by simply looking for another bicycle kiosk and locking the bicycle back in place.

This is something that might actually work in Singapore, if the authorities find a way to make cycling here less of a life-threatening experience. Getting from Holland Village to Orchard Road or from Raffles Place to Bugis could easily be done by bicycle.

Another great thing about this initiative is that it gives people an inexpensive late night transport option when the MRT and buses stop operating. Since the bike kiosks are automated and no personnel are needed, they can be used round the clock.

Singapore’s small size means there is so much potential when it comes to implementing nation-wide transportation schemes. Let’s hope we get to enjoy some positive change in the next few years.

What else can be done to encourage car-liteness in Singapore? Share your suggestions in the comments!

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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.