Issue 113 | Apr-Jun 2018

A Car-Lite Future - Yay or Nay?

Going car-lite is part of the Sustainable Singapore Blueprint unveiled in 2015. The Blueprint detailed a 15-year plan for the Republic to reduce its reliance on cars and move towards public transport, cycling, walking and carsharing services, by expanding the rail transport network and infrastructure to promote safe cycling, as well as piloting an electric car-sharing scheme


What do you make of the term “car-lite”?
What does it entail to you?

JOSEPH: I had been away most of 2017 for work in Hong Kong, so I wasn’t aware of this push to go carlite. So I do ask, does the term “car-lite” mean reducing the use of solely private cars or does it also refer to taxis, Uber and Grab?

AJAY: To me it means minimising private ownership of cars as much as possible. The word “lite” implies that we need not get rid of cars entirely, but instead have a shared pool of vehicles that anyone can use as they need.

CHEE KIAN: “Car-lite” in my opinion doesn’t just refer to ownership but also usage. It means using less of private transport and using more high-capacity public transport like trains and buses. Bicycle-sharing, too, forms an integral part of using less of private transport.

MAIYAZ: The simplest of definition for car-lite to me is less cars on the road.

Do you think it’s important for us to transition towards a car-lite future?

JOSEPH: We have to be careful with this initiative because it's bound to upset those who are aiming to get a car because they see it as a symbol of success. We also have to remind ourselves on why we want such a future. What is the objective here? Is it to reduce traffic congestion? Is it for the environment? If it is the latter, then do we penalise car-owners who don't use their cars as much because they are technically not causing much harm to the environment?

CHEE KIAN: The main consideration, as published in the media, is that there are no plans for our roads to be further expanded to ensure comfortable driving. If everyone aspires to have a car and the government cannot deliver, there will be resentment. Hence, we are all urged to use less and own less. On top of that, Singapore has also signed the Paris Agreement, pledging to reduce carbon emissions. Going car-lite is one way to commit to that agreement.

AJAY: For the sake of the environment, we have to be pro-car-lite. We have to keep evolving as a society and move away from the time period in which everyone aims to have a car. Given the advances in technology and infrastructure, it’s time we shift this mental paradigm.



Do you personally support this movement?

MAIYAZ: I do agree with the concept for environmental reasons. But there are other factors to consider. I’m sure we all have friends who just love cars. In Singapore, cars are one of the big-ticket items to have, as with houses. Taking that privilege away, takes away from people’s well-being. Perhaps as Chee Kian mentioned, it’s best to look at usage. Therefore, if you rely on the car more, then you pay more.

CHEE KIAN: Though I am a driver, I think we should move towards this, to curb the effects of climate change. However, this can be difficult. Having a car essentially “provides” people with more time. Given our pace of life, expected performance at work and family commitments, having a car is certainly convenient. There needs to be a societal shift where employers are accommodating to public-transport taking staff’s punctuality when it is raining in the morning, for example.

Should there be exceptions to the rule then?

AJAY: In Singapore today, car ownership is based largely on economic means — if you can afford the COE (Certificate of Entitlement) and cost of cars — not whether there is a pressing need. Families with many children and ageing parents as well as those with mobility issues can’t depend much on public transport to get them around. For these groups of people, a car is a necessity surely.

CHEE KIAN: So you’re saying we should consider the distribution mechanism — how ownership is given to people? Should car ownership be based on needs, or should it be based on affluence, as with our society today?

AJAY: Exactly! There is now a single parameter to determine car ownership, and that is money.

JOSEPH: Maybe then we need to identify those who need a car, and those who use it for fun. And protect the group that actually has a need for it.

MAIYAZ: I agree that car ownership should ideally be needs-based. That being said, people aren’t going to be too happy when more and more restrictions are implemented.

How do you think Singapore is doing so far in managing the issue?

JOSEPH: Coming from the Philippines, and having lived in Hong Kong — where traffic in both cases is atrocious — the number of cars on the road here, to me, is acceptable. Something must be working.

CHEE KIAN: That’s partly because we have Electronic Road Pricing (ERP) in place and high barriers to entry to owning a car largely due to the cost!

AJAY: Singapore is charging ahead in its efforts to design and construct driverless vehicles. These vehicles are especially designed to solve “the first and last mile problem” — a term used to describe the challenges of moving people between transportation hubs and their final destinations. Research has shown that a typical car is idle for a significant portion of the time. Driverless cars that the public can use as they need, without having to own one, in that regard, is a move in the right direction.

Research has shown that a typical car is idle for a significant portion of the time. Driverless cars that the public can use as they need, without having to own one, in that regard, is a move in the right direction.

Chee Kian, what would it take for you to give up your car or reduce your car usage?

CHEE KIAN: As a teacher, I have to be at work by 6.30am. Before getting a car two years ago, I’d call for an Uber both ways, which would cost me about $20 a day. I had to, as there isn’t a direct mode of transport from my home to the school. By car, the journey takes about 10 to 15 minutes, but if I take public transport, 50 minutes to an hour. After doing the maths, I realised getting a car wouldn’t cost me significantly more. Therefore, I consider the car a necessity for the convenience it provides and the time it enables me to save, to get to work on time. I suppose as the cost to own a car keeps rising, and the difficulty in getting a parking spot worsens, I might be forced to give up my car down the line.

AJAY: There’s certainly a need for flexibility in the workplace to support this initiative. Sometimes our society can be too rigid — if we are late, we get penalised even if it’s due to an MRT breakdown or wet weather. I think we have to be more tolerant and understanding towards people who travel by public transport if we want to support a car-lite future.

MAIYAZ: It comes back to our culture and mindset. We should not be too robotic.

CHEE KIAN: Yes, employers should try to be more accommodating.

MAIYAZ: Or just human.

Singapore has also signed the Paris Agreement, pledging to reduce carbon emissions. Going car-lite is one way to commit to that agreement


Do you think our transportation system is reliable and efficient enough to present a compelling reason for motorists to give up their cars?

AJAY: Taking public transport is definitely tedious. The first and last mile problem is real – there are plenty of inefficient pockets along the way such as waiting or transition times, especially if you need to take a bus to get on the train. Perhaps there should be more MRT stations in one housing estate. That being said, our MRT network has become more comprehensive over the years. The pooling services provided by Grab and Uber have also helped with connectivity as we travel with passengers whose destinations are along the same route.

CHEE KIAN: But isn’t the delay when you “pool” very substantial? I’ve heard it can take an hour more than taking the usual Grab/Uber!

AJAY: Sometimes, yes, but I think those incidences are few and far between!

MAIYAZ: I think our transportation system is good, but not without problems. Train delays and breakdowns have certainly affected reliability of public transport. And even when it does come on time, sometimes I can’t get on board because the train cars are just too full. During peak hours, it can take up to 30 minutes of waiting time before I can get on. That makes the experience quite frustrating.

JOSEPH: Having lived in Hong Kong and Manila, I think that Singapore’s public transport system is far superior. There are even apps to tell you when precisely the buses will arrive. So we can certainly depend on public transport — we just have to plan the journey and time accordingly to cut down the wait. It works fine for me.

What more can be done to make people aware that cars are not the be-all and endall mode of transport?

JOSEPH: When I returned to Singapore earlier this year, I discovered that the bike-sharing initiative has really taken off. For me, it’s a game-changer. I love cycling, so I’m absolutely on-board, and have been cycling to MRT stations. It has simplified my commuting experience. But of course, doing this might require you to have a shower before you start your work day!

CHEE KIAN: The laws have made it possible for a shared path, allowing people to use personal mobility devices (PMDs) or bikes on the pavement. Therefore, these alternative modes of connection are now more viable. However, you have to content yourself with the weather. As Joseph mentioned — your workplace needs to have shower facilities, or even an area to park your PMD securely, in order to accommodate this move towards a car-lite society.

AJAY: Social problems are always complex; there’s no one solution that can resolve them. To me, leadership has to play a role for this mindset shift to happen more swiftly. The people we look up to or respect at work, and leaders in government and business should set the standard and be role models for using public transport. Change sometimes should start from the top.

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