“Car-free” has turned into one of those meaningless buzzwords bandied around by politicians to make people feel more optimistic about the future.
Despite valiant attempts to improve the public transport system and persuade Singaporeans to cycle, Singapore is still far from becoming the car-free paradise the government has been trying to build.
A recent news report revealed that despite all that talk about the five Cs becoming obsolete and having grown up with the exhortations that cars are unaffordable, young Singaporeans still aspire to car ownership.
There are surely those who still think of cars as status symbols, and the only ways to destroy their aspirations are either to price them out of the market entirely, or work to change society’s status-consciousness and materialism. No prizes for guessing which measure is more likely to be taken.
But even when the above has been done, there are some deeper reasons young Singaporeans today are still willing to take out loans to buy a vehicle that will serve them for no more than 10 years. Dealing with these issues will go a long way towards promoting the government’s dream of a car-free city.
The public transport system has gained a poor reputation
Back in the 90s, even when the MRT only consisted of only two lines and feeder buses could take an eternity to arrive, people had the perception that the public transport system was efficient and worked well. Overcrowding wasn’t such a big issue, and breakdowns were unheard of.
These days, despite the expanded network, the public transport system has gained a bad reputation for overcrowding and unreliability. When the MRT breakdowns first started occurring, they made sensational news, because people couldn’t believe the system was failing them. These days, news of breakdowns barely appears as a blip on people’s radars, because we’ve gotten used to thinking of the MRT system as unreliable.
What this means is that regardless of the fact that commuting time for many people has actually been shortened over the years, young Singaporeans continue to think of cars as the most reliable form of transport.
Add to that the fact that first-and-last-mile connectivity (basically, how you get to the MRT station from home or work) is still a problem for an albeit shrinking portion of the population and you can see that the practical reasons for wanting to own a car are still strong.
The LTA needs to work not just to reduce the frequency of breakdowns, but also to mount a major PR exercise in order to change young people’s opinions of the reliability of the public transport system.
Young Singaporeans are demanding when it comes to comfort
Singaporeans are quite pampered when it comes to our need for comfort. We tend to be quick to blame the hot weather on our unwillingness to take a step outside of our air conditioned cocoons. The fact that more and more locals lack exposure to outdoor activities as kids (tuition takes place in air conditioned classrooms) also raises the compulsion for physical comfort.
By the way, less than a quarter of the people surveyed in the above Sunday Times report knew how to cycle. The results are so shocking I’m seriously questioning if this is for real. Less than a quarter? Really? What are parents doing when they can enrol their kids in fencing classes and GEP preparation courses but neglect to teach them to cycle?
In addition, buses and MRTs have become increasingly uncomfortable due to overcrowding. The phrase “sardine can” has become pretty much synonymous with MRT carriages in internet-speak. Complaints about being pressed up against sweaty bodies during an MRT air con failure are common.
All of the above makes a strong case for car ownership amongst young Singaporeans, and also suggests that the government should focus not just on improving efficiency but also comfort on public transport. The tip-up seats it is rumoured will appear on MRT trains in 2019 are a step in the right direction.
Few young Singaporeans are thinking of retirement and don’t mind blowing all their disposable income on a car
No matter how many advantages car owners enjoy, the cost of car ownership is just so high that that alone should be enough to discourage young people from wanting to buy one.
Yet the numbers of aspiring car owners remains high, with almost 2/3 of the people (aged between 18 and 35) surveyed saying they aspired to own one.
Despite the fact that car ownership is not financially prudent for most Singaporeans, it seems many simply do not care.
There is evidence to show that young Singaporeans aren’t saving enough money and are overspending with abandon, preferring to live the high life while they’re young and worry about retirement later. This lack of financial savvy could be another reason so many would not think twice about taking out a hefty car loan.
Do you aspire to own a car? Tell us why or why not in the comments!
Personal finance tips delivered to your inbox!
Receive news, subscriber-exclusive promotions and guides on how to become smarter with money.
We promise never to spam you!