TRANSPORTATION IN SINGAPORE: MASS TRANSIT, BIKE RESTRICTIONS AND SUPER HIGH CAR TAXES

TRANSPORTATION IN SINGAPORE

Singapore has a sophisticated urban transit network of light rail, metro rail, and buses to move commuters throughout the urbanized nation. As the home of the world’s busiest port, Singapore provides free-trade zones and shipping services at a strategic juncture of shipping lanes and water, air, and land trade routes.

Singapore’s principal public mass transit system is operated by Singapore Mass Rapid Transit (SMRT) Corporation, which also runs light rail, bus, and taxi services. In fiscal year (FY) 2005, SMRT trains conveyed 402.59 million passengers on the system’s 89.4 kilometers of above- and underground track. The system has 16 underground stations, 34 elevated stations, and one station at grade and operates on two lines, the North-South and East-West lines. The Bukit Panjang Light Rail Transit system is a fully automated service that carried 37,800 passengers per day in FY 2005, using some 7.8 kilometers of elevated guideways and serving 14 stations. More than 1 billion passengers rode on SMRT and SBS Transit buses in FY 2004. SBS Transit, which started as a bus company (Singapore Bus Services) in 1973, began light rail and its mass rapid transit operations in 2003. By 2005 SBS was operating two mini-metro light-rail feeder lines and one full metro line—the North East Line—with 14 operational underground stations and 20 kilometers of track. SBS and SMRT metro lines intersect at key interchange points.

Singapore has limited traffic in downtown areas by charging user fees on cars allowed to drive in downtown areas. Taxis are outfit with a devise that makes a honking and beeping noise when the driver exceeds the speed limit. They also have "In Vehicle Units" which subtract tolls from a "Cash Card" every time a driver passes through gantries on busy roads. All driver are required to buy the Cash cards. Taxis are also outfit satellite tracking devices that are used for paging taxis.

Singapore has 3,356 kilometers of roads. Of this total, 161 kilometers are expressways. A causeway links the Singapore road system to Malaysia’s road system across the Johore Strait. The Ministry of Transport reported that at the end of 2004 Singapore had 419,470 mostly private automobiles, 20,407 taxis, 13,173 buses, and more than 137,316 commercial and other vehicles plus 137,029 motorcycles and scooters. [Source: Library of Congress, 2006 **, CIA World Factbook 2013]

Singapore has only 23 kilometers of railroad track, all operated by Malaysian Railways and technically located on Malaysian territory per an agreement brokered in 1965. The line provides passenger service three times daily from Singapore’s Keppel Station across a 1.2-kilometer causeway that spans the Johore Strait to the Malaysian mainland and Kuala Lumpur. Weekly luxury train service also is available from Keppel Station to Chang Mai and Bangkok, Thailand, with connections to Kuala Lumpur. **

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$213,000 BMWs and Other Ways to Encourage Train Rides

Kyunghee Park of Bloomberg wrote: “The island state, smaller in size than New York City, is spending S$60 billion ($47 billion) in the next decade to double its metro rail network and make public transport attractive in a nation where a BMW 328i sedan costs S$270,800, six times its price in the U.S. Rising wealth has led to more car sales and traffic jams while the influx of foreign labor has overcrowded trains, prompting an overhaul of the transport system. “We’ve had to take some measures here in Singapore that are both unorthodox and somewhat controversial and expensive,” Lui said in a Bloomberg Television interview with Haslinda Amin. “But we also at the same time are making sure that we try to provide alternatives and options for Singaporeans, so therefore massively increasing the public transport network so that there will be viable alternatives for people who decide that they no longer want to make use of cars.” [Source: Kyunghee Park, Bloomberg, January 8, 2014 <^>]

“The government is targeting 70 percent of the population, currently 5.4 million, to use public transportation by the end of the decade, compared with 63 percent now, said the 52-year-old Lui, who graduated in chemistry from the Trinity College, University of Cambridge. The government plans to double the rail network across the city to 360 kilometers (225 miles) by 2030, he said. The government will extend its rail network further after 2030, Lui said, declining to give details of the plan. More trains and buses will also be added as part of a transport revamp in Singapore, home to Southeast Asia’s third-largest airport and the world’s second-busiest container port. Singapore’s population has jumped by more than 1.1 million since mid-2004 and the government has said it plans to raise the total to 6.9 million by 2030. <^>

“About 12 percent of land in Singapore is for roads, Lui said. That’s almost similar to the amount that goes into housing. “There’s so much wastage if you have your vehicles and your people and your goods stuck in traffic,” Lui Tuck Yew, minister of transport, Lui said. “It is the commitment by the government to really put in a lot more emphasis to shift people away from private transportation to a very high quality public transportation network.” The taxi fleet in Singapore -- at 28,000, larger than New York and Hong Kong -- needs to “work harder,” Lui said. Many of the taxis today are driven by a single driver and therefore not utilized around the clock, the minister said. “We’ve been encouraging the operators for example to find relief drivers to supplement the primary hirer,” he said. <^>

“A former information minister, Lui was also the chief of navy, according to the Singapore government’s website. He was appointed transport minister in May 2011. Singapore, which was rated as the easiest place in the world to do business for seven years by the World Bank, needs to keep the levies high as part of its overall transport plan, Michael Wan, a city-based economist at Credit Suisse Group AG, said in a phone interview. “The COE is still workable, it’s still effective,” Wan said. “The train system is at its maximum capacity.” <^>

Singapore’s Campaign Against Jaywalking and Anger Over Bad Road Habits

Bad traffic manners was the third hottest topic among letter writers to Singapore's leading newspaper in 2001 behind the city state's elections and the September terrorist attacks in the United States. AFP reported: “ The Straits Times said Thursday (Feb 14) that "motorists' poor habits on Singapore roads drove many readers up the wall". In a country known for its strict law-enforcement, wide avenues and orderly traffic flow compared to other Southeast Asian cities, 40 letters complaining about bad road manners were published last year, making it the third most discussed issue. [Source: Agence France Presse, February 14, 2002]

There were 45 letters concerning the September 11 terrorist attacks in New York and Washington and 82 letters related to the general elections swept by the ruling People's Action Party. One reader Zachary Wong wrote: "Vehicles stopping on the side of a road with double yellow lines seems to be a common sight. Drivers switch lanes without signalling and dash across a red light junction where there are no stationary traffic lights." He also complained that taxi drivers stop suddenly to pick up passengers without signalling. Never mind that such complaints pale in comparison with more chaotic traffic conditions in some Southeast Asian capitals.

Starting in July 2003, pedestrians in Singapore caught walking across bus parking areas can be jailed under tough rules meant to reduce accidents involving jaywalkers. AFP reported: The city-state, known for imposing stiff fines for littering and spitting in public, said jaywalkers caught taking short cuts will face fines of up to S$500 (US$285) for their first offence. They could also could wind up in court and be given penalties twice that or sentenced to three months in jail. Repeat offenders could face a maximum $2000 fine or six months in jail. "This new offence was recently introduced in the Road Traffic Act, to deter jaywalking and to ensure public safety at bus interchanges and terminals," the Land Transport Authority said on its website. "This was so as there were many accidents involving jaywalkers at bus interchanges." Four people have been killed and 34 others injured in jaywalking accidents at bus stations in the last three years. [Source: Agence France Presse, July 13, 2003]

Singapore’s Transport System Starts to Malfunction

In recent years Singaporeans have begun complaining about the shortcomings of its crowded and over-burdened public transport system. Seah Chiang Nee wrote in The Star, “Singapore’s public transport system has become the latest thing to feel the weight of rapid population expansion. Singapore’s infrastructure – painstakingly built and maintained – is still in fairly working order compared to many countries, but it has lost much of its previous lustre. The latest crisis is public transport, which has been getting intolerably overcrowded in recent years. [Source: Seah Chiang Nee, The Star, December 24, 2011 ^-^]

“Built 24 years ago when the population was half the size, Singapore’s Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) broke down in December 2011 on a daily basis, stranding more than 200,000 passengers. For the first time Singaporeans were finding out that their “world-class” transport system was starting to malfunction. The MRT breakdown was “extremely serious”, exclaimed Transport Minister Lui Tuck Yew. ^-^

“The failures caused widespread public misery. Stories abound of businessmen missing deals and appointments and workers having part of their wages docked for coming late. A government backbencher said she had received numerous appeals for help from affected commuters. “Some workers made it home around midnight,” she said. ^-^

“The demand for public transport spilled into jammed buses, where fleet expansion had already resulted in the hiring of poorly-trained foreign drivers unfamiliar with the roads. Like a comedy of errors, several drivers found themselves driving around in circles before reporting being lost In one case travellers were kept in the vehicle for hours as the driver, probably from China, drove around trying to find the right way. ^-^

“Many critics blame the government for running public services (including transport and public housing) like a business where keeping costs down and profits up is top priority. The Straits Times published a survey last week which said Singaporeans were most dissatisfied with the public transport system and disliked the poor punctuality. The survey, done before the recent breakdowns, said four out of 10 in this group were seniors above 60 years old, of which 41 percent were very dissatisfied. ^-^

“The feelings are understandable. They already live in one of Asia’s most expensive retirement cities, and the government policy is to make it costly to operate a car. Two years ago when I downgraded to a smaller home I was guided by one thought – how to avoid being squeezed by the government’s future transport strategy. It looked obvious to me the policy was to make car ownership impossibly expensive to contemplate. So I searched everywhere for a home that was within 10 minutes walk from a train station. That was easier said than done. It seemed everyone had the same idea and costs were going up.” ^-^

Dealing with Singapore’s Restrictions on Bicycles

In 2006, Reuters reported: “Chu Wa feels the small thrill of breaking Singapore's notoriously strict rules and getting away with it every time he wheels his pretend "shopping trolley" through a shopping mall or along a train platform. "Singapore is absolutely not fair for cyclists," said the 46-year old product designer. After years of biking to work in the Netherlands, Wa gave up and bought a car when he moved to Singapore, finding its motorways and shopping malls bike-unfriendly. "If you love cycling in Singapore, you have to accept the status of a secondary citizen, many places are 'restricted zones' and you are simply not welcome," he wrote on his blog, www.jz88.com. [Source: Reuters, December 20, 2006 +=+]

“The lack of top-level support makes returning to cycling more difficult than it should be, said Wa, who had five regular bikes stolen from unguarded bike stands in Singapore. His solution? The JZ88: a thief-proof bike that flips from shopping trolley to cycle in 8.8 seconds. With a shopping bag strapped over its handlebar, and spokes concealed under clear plastic shields, Chu's folding bike goes everywhere he does. Weighing nine kilograms (20 pounds), it is small enough to fit under train seats and in taxi boots. Shoppers stare as he loads groceries into his trolley, and pedestrians sometimes laugh as his long legs pedal the little wheels. But Wa says his bike is more than a gimmick. "My ideal is to see more Asian cities become bicycle friendly ... The hurdle is so high, in terms of road safety, too much effort, or bad weather, that even the authorities can't do much," he said. "(But) the folding bike can be a bridge." +=+

“In Singapore, like much of Asia, bikes are seen as poor man's transport, he says. Despite the odds, a few "rebels" are trying to buck the trend. In 2005, Singaporean entrepreneurs Alex Bok and Lynton Ong opened the first in a chain of Bike Boutique stores they plan for Hong Kong, Kuala Lumpur, Bangkok, Jakarta, Manila and Australia. Housed in an old shop-house, the concept store they hope will become the "Starbucks for bikes," charges sweaty bike commuters S$150 a month to store their bikes and take a shower before work. +=+

“Customer Mark Goh, says cycling's image problem is a worse barrier than tire punctures, the tropical heat, or heavy rain. "The problem with Singaporeans is one of perception, not motivation," the 39-year-old law firm managing partner said. His colleagues think he is a "clown" for giving up his air-conditioned Mercedes-Benz to pedal half an hour to work. "They prefer to spend their weekends in air-conditioned malls, eating out and moving about cocooned in air-conditioned cars," he said. "More importantly, the car you drive is a huge status symbol. It benchmarks your social level. Few would dare proclaim that they own a bicycle as against a German-make car." +=+

Chopper Bikes in Singapore

In 2008, Frankie Chee wrote in The Strait Times, “They gather in the heart of town on sleek bikes with chopper-style tall handlebars adorned with leather accessories and chromed mirrors. Before setting off on their two-wheelers, the five bikers each don a cool pair of shades... and pedal away. That’s right. These ‘hell riders’ rely on their own environmentally friendly muscle-power rather than the throaty rumble of a 998cc petrol-burning Ducati motorbike. [Source: Frankie Chee, The Strait Times, February 26, 2008 <<<]

“This convoy of breezy riders still turns heads, though. With bikes equipped with 2m-long frames, colourful lights and fanciful designs, there’s no missing them as they whiz down Singapore’s Orchard Road or cruise the East Coast. "Four wheels bad, two legs good... an increasing number of ‘spokes-men’ are pumping it up on their wheels for fun." They belong to a group called Choppers & Cruisers, one of several recreational cycling groups that have sprung up here amid a surge of interest in the sport. Apart from chopper riders, others spin on one wheel on stunt bikes, rough it out on off-road tracks on mountain bikes or burn up the tarmac on speedy racers. <<<

“Bicycles are no longer the simple provision shop deliveryman contraptions they used to be, but lifestyle equipment that fulfill the need for speed, thrills or the cool factor. And it’s not cheap thrills either, with prices that can range from $2,500 (US$1,750) for a grungy chopper to $15,000 (US$10,500) for a top-of-the-line carbon racing bike. Still, while some fanatics spend many thousands of dollars on a bicycle, cycling, in general, has become a cheaper sport. Lai Kum Kuan, owner of Bikezone bicycle shop in Pasir Ris, says bicycles which used to cost at least $100 (US$70) now go for as low as $60 (US$42). This is because China churns them out cheaper than Taiwan, the previous source. <<<

More Bike Riders in Singapore

In 2008, Frankie Chee wrote in The Strait Times, “Bike shops The Straits Times spoke to all said sales have been rising. The director of Treknology Bikes 3, Mohan Mirwani, said sales at its two shops have risen every year: “Before 2005, the yearly increase was about 5 percent. Now, it’s about 10 percent.” That is echoed by Daniel Sng, regional sales manager for Cannondale Centre, which sold 600 bicycles last year—a 10 percent rise from the previous year. His shop is the Southeast Asian distributor for American bicycle brand Cannondale. The company, which sponsors the National Technological University’s bicycle rally, an annual round-island cycling event, said the number of participants rose from 400 last year to more than 600 this year. [Source: Frankie Chee, The Strait Times, February 26, 2008 <<<]

“It is hard to ascertain the number of recreational cyclists here but Louis Wee, a partner at Cycle Craft bicycle shop in East Coast Road, says that in a round-island cycling event in 2003, more than 50,000 cyclists turned up. In June 2007, 4,500 cyclists were at the National Runway Cycling event. The increasing number of bicycle shops reflects the rising popularity of the sport, says Wee. At least 10 new bicycle shops have opened within the last two years, he says, bringing the total number to more than 100. <<<

“Purchasing power is going up and people are getting more affluent, so sales are going up, too. More people are willing to fork out $500 (US$352) for a bicycle,” he says. The opportunity for better and safer riding locations, such as the new 42km Eastern Coastal Park Connector network, helps to generate interest in the sport, say operators. And the number of endurance competitions such as triathlons and biathlons—which have a cycling segment—held here now makes people more aware of the health benefits of cycling, they added. Last year, there were at least four such endurance competitions here, and seven are set to be held this year. “These triathlons have a big marketing impact,” says Wee. As Lin Zuyi, 31, a cycling fan of more than 10 years, puts it: “Cycling is something that has interested me since I was young and I like it for the wind, the scenery and the adrenalin rush from the speed.” <<<

Singapore, Malaysia to Build High-Speed Rail Link

In February 2013, Singapore and Malaysia announced plans to build a high-speed rail link, with the completion date set for 2020, fuelling hopes of a Southeast-Asian-wide rapid train system connected to China and India. Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and his Malaysian counterpart Najib Razak hailed the project, which would cut travel time between the city-state and Kuala Lumpur to 90 minutes. "This is a strategic development in bilateral relations that will dramatically improve the connectivity between Malaysia and Singapore," the leaders said in a joint statement issued after meeting in Singapore. "It will facilitate seamless travel between Kuala Lumpur and Singapore, enhance business linkages and bring the peoples of Malaysia and Singapore closer together." [Source: Philip Lim, AFP, February 19, 2013 \~\]

Philip Lim of AFP wrote: “The existing rail link between the two countries dates back to the period of British colonial rule over both, with stops at several Malaysian towns. The current Singapore-Kuala Lumpur service takes more than seven hours. No cost estimate was given for the construction of the new rail link. "(We) have some very preliminary figures but I am not inclined to mention those figures because it will tend to stick in people's minds," Najib said at a joint news conference with Lee. \~\

“Lee quipped that Singaporeans would be able to have lunch with friends in Kuala Lumpur, which is about 350 kilometers (220 miles) away, and get back within the day. "It's a strategic project for the two countries. It will change the way we see each other," said Lee, likening it to the heavily used London-Paris connection. The 90-minute travel time for the new train compares with four hours by car, including clearing immigration, and five hours by bus. And while a flight takes less than an hour that does not take into account the time taken to check in, pass immigration and pick up luggage. \~\

“Both countries belong to the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), which hopes to one day link most member states by rail and extend the connection to China and possibly India. ASEAN is contemplating a link that will run from Singapore to Kunming in southwestern China, thereby tapping into the country's vast high-speed network -- the world's longest at more than 9,300 kilometres and rapidly expanding. To link up with China, ASEAN estimates that there are 4,069 kilometres of missing links that need to be built, or existing railways that need to be upgraded, in several countries. \~\

"Beyond ASEAN, once these links are built, it will connect both the mainland ASEAN and ASEAN with its trading partners China and India," a fact sheet on the trading bloc's website said. A Singapore-Malaysia high-speed railway was first mooted in the 1990s by Francis Yeoh, head of Malaysian infrastructure conglomerate YTL, which built an express train service from Kuala Lumpur's main airport to the city centre. \~\

The idea was repeatedly shelved largely due to cost concerns. Malaysian media reports said in 2009 that the project's cost was estimated at $2.5 billion-$3.5 billion. Hopes for the project were revived in 2010 after Najib became prime minister. Chin Hoong Choor, an associate professor at the National University of Singapore specialising in transport, told AFP that there was "definite political will" to create a Singapore-Kunming rail link. The new Singapore-Kuala Lumpur service will be one of the important links in the network "and possibly among the first to be constructed due to demand and availability of funds," he said.

Automobiles in Singapore

Official statistics show there were 945,829 motor vehicles in Singapore in 2010, including private cars, taxis and motorcycles. This was up 2.2 percent over 2009. The local population, including citizens, permanent residents as well as foreign workers and their families, totalled 5.18 million as of June 2011, up 2.10 percent from the year before. About 12 percent of Singapore's land area is now taken up by roads compared with 15 percent for housing, the Straits Times said. [Source: Agence France Presse, October 4, 2011]

Traffic congestion and air pollution are not as big of problems in Singapore as they are elsewhere in Asia. Singapore uses outrageously high car ownership fees to curtail automobile use. The Singapore government adds sales tax and import duty charges of 195 percent that can jack up the price of a Honda Civic to over $80,000. Ten-year driving permits are auctioned for US$75,000. Gasoline is heavily taxed; there are tolls on all major roads; and driving in downtown Singapore is prohibited on weekdays.

But despite this there are surprising number of motor vehicles on Singapore’s roads. Reuters reported: There was “a record 117,000 more new cars on its roads” in 2006. Local lore has it that a car is one of the must-have "5C's" - car, cash, condo, credit card and country club membership. Even the Director of the Singapore Environment Council has called the country a "nation of car lovers." Government statistics say the proportion of households with cars increased to 32 percent in 2000, up from 28 percent in 1990. [Source: Reuters, December 20, 2006]

According to Bloomberg: More than 20,000 vehicles were sold in Singapore between January and November 2013, with luxury automakers Daimler AG (DAI) and Bayerische Motoren Werke AG (BMW) emerging as the top two sellers, making up one in every three cars sold. [Source: Kyunghee Park, Bloomberg, January 8, 2014]

Kyunghee Park of Bloomberg wrote: “Car buyers in Singapore must pay for excise and registration duties that more than double the vehicle’s market value. They must also bid for a limited number of permits that are auctioned by the government, allowing drivers to own a car for a maximum of 10 years. Once the certificate expires, owners either have to bid for a new 10-year permit, export the car, or scrap it. Singapore also introduced the electronic road pricing (ERP) in 1998 that charges toll for usage of the most-crowded roads. In February 2013, the government estimated revenue from motor vehicle taxes for the year at S$1.55 billion, or 2.8 percent of the government’s total revenue, according to the Ministry of Finance’s website. Vehicle-quota premiums were estimated at S$2.4 billion, or 4.4 percent of the total. “That attests to both the success and the purchasing power of Singaporeans,” Lui said. “Therefore, if we do not impose some constraints on the growth of private vehicles here in Singapore, then I’m sure that many more people will want to own a car.” [Source: Kyunghee Park, Bloomberg, January 8, 2014]

Seah Chiang Nee wrote in The Star, “At the moment, the Singaporean’s love affair with the car remains strong, but I believe the authorities will invent tougher fiscal measures to pry the car away from him. Some will, of course, rather kiss Singapore goodbye than their vehicle. One devilish way on the card is the replacement of the Electronic Road Pricing (ERP) system, where cars passing through certain gantry points are automatically charged a fee.In its place, the authorities will introduce the Global Positioning System (GPS) to satellite-track vehicles on Singapore roads for tax purposes. When that day arrives, the moment you drive your car out of your front gate, the government taxman takes over – unseen and efficient. That will probably happen within the next two years. By then few Singaporeans can afford to keep their cars or abandon the train or bus. This is why the Transport Minister has the good wishes of every commuter in Singapore to repair public transport on time. [Source: Seah Chiang Nee, The Star, December 24, 2011 ^-^]

Singapores’s “Carputers”

Car owners in Singapore are outfitting their vehicles with multimedia players, in-car computers on either the PC or Mac platforms and even game consoles. Tan Weizhen wrote in The Straits Times, “These "carputers" can cost a pretty penny -tens of thousands of dollars in some cases. But price tags are not stopping a small but growing band of motorists from installing car-ready small PCs or Mac Minis, complete with touchscreen monitors, in their vehicles. These enable motorists to store and play thousands of songs, surf the Internet, check e-mail, work on documents and even print them out in the car. [Source: Tan Weizhen, The Straits Times, November 13, 2008 /*/]

“One such group of local "carputer" enthusiasts even meets regularly to create a wireless network and swop music files. Bluetooth-enabled multimedia devices which come with USB ports are getting popular. Drivers use them to play DVDs or music with their iPods and to transfer songs using portable disks or Bluetooth. Some watch television in their cars by planting tuners to receive channels such as MobileTV and Channels 5 and 8. A check with six local workshops has found that sales of these devices have grown at least 30 percent from last year. /*/

“One such workshop, MobyCar, which customises car computers running on Windows Mobile or Mac OS, said its business has doubled from a year ago. It has also seen more customers buying parts and assembling them. Another company, Innovasia, said sales of its car multimedia devices have climbed 20 percent since it started selling them just six months ago. Mr Jackson Tan of Pin Liang Enterprises said that with more car-makers already kitting their cars with DVD players and iPod docks, customers hardly need to buy those devices now. Sellers of the new lines of gadgets offer several reasons for the increased demand. /*/

“Mr Eugene Ng, 28, has blown close to $10,000 on souping up his BMW 3-series. Besides revving up the sound system with three amplifiers and seven speakers, he has installed a powerful car PC; 11 USB ports are scattered throughout the cabin. He uses the system to listen to his 2,000 songs, play games and check e-mail. He accesses the Internet by connecting his phone and using its 3G function. Mr Ng, who works in his family's business, said: "When I need to access documents, which I can't do on my phone, it saves me from running back to the office. My car has become my mobile entertainment and office all at once." Another motorist, Mr Paul Cheong, 31, installed digital television in his car four months ago.The civil servant said: "It is one of my best purchases - my wife catches her fave dramas while on the move and I can watch the news as well." Mr Edwin Swee, 26, has gone further - gaming with his in-car PlayStation 2. "About 15 minutes each time, three times a week, I will play Street Fighter while waiting for my wife," said the IT specialist, who hastens to give the assurance that he never plays while driving. /*/

Singapore to Tackle Jams with Car Ownership Curbs

In October 2011, Singapore imposed fresh curbs on car ownership to improve public transport. Transport minister Lui Tuck Yew said the current 1.5 percent annual growth in car ownership -- already down from 3.0 percent three years ago -- will have to be reduced further because Singapore has limited space for new roads. "For the next three-year phase, it will not stay at 1.5 percent but it will have to come down," the Straits Times quoted him as saying.[Source: Agence France Presse, October 4, 2011]

AFP reported: “Singapore controls car ownership through a quota system under which a car buyer must pay for a Certificate of Entitlement (COE), whose numbers are now capped at about 30,000 a year. The Toyota Vios, a popular compact sedan, now costs about Sg$90,000 ($70,000), more than half of which goes into buying a COE. In addition to the quota system, car owners have to pay for entry into main highways and the central business district through an electronic toll network.

Singapore’s Hated COE System: Why Cars Are So Expensive

Seah Chiang Nee wrote in The Star, “COE has become one of the most disliked – and feared – three letters for Singaporeans. It stands for Certificate of Entitlement, which Singaporeans must have if they want to buy a new car. Demand for this precious piece of paper has been rising steadily for years to a level that is killing off the dream of many young Singaporeans to own a car. In the latest bidding, the COE – each certificate is valid for only 10 years – recently hit S$91,000 for a big car (1600cc or bigger) – a sum that could buy a bungalow or a large farm in many Asian countries. Even in Singapore, this amount can finance up to three people for a four-year degree course. Even for a small car (1600cc or below), the COE is S$64,200. Ironically, the certificate often costs more than the car itself. [Source: Seah Chiang Nee, The Star, April 28, 2012 ***]

“A lifetime of buying and operating a car could impoverish a Singaporean by as much as S$2mil by the time he retires, a prominent blogger calculated. In fact, many of the 10,000 Singaporeans who emigrate abroad annually – 4000 of them to Australia – say they do so for cheaper cars and houses. My own case may give an idea of how it is life changing. Eight years ago, I paid S$18,700 for a COE to buy a new 1800cc Japanese car that inclusively cost S$80,000, the most expensive in the world. I thought it ridiculously high at the time. It was nothing compared to what was to come. Today, the same car costs S$157,500 or nearly twice what it did eight years ago. In other words, for this price I could have bought two cars back in 2004. It has made my model the dearest car in the world. A similar one in the United States is one-seventh the cost. ***

“Since my COE will expire in two years’ time, I am faced with two choices: buy a new car that I can ill-afford or bid for another 10-year COE, which could by then exceed S$100,000. The third option is, of course, to abandon it and use the bus or mass transit like other Singaporeans? That would have been preferred if my state of health permits it. At 72, with a weak heart and on peritoneal dialysis for failed kidneys, alas public transport is not possible for me.Most of my trips are to and from hospital for treatment. I will probably decide, if I’m still alive, to pay for a five-year COE extension at half the then prevailing rate (currently S$91,000) so I can continue to drive my old jalopy for five more years. ***

“The government had intended the scheme to reduce road congestion by putting a quota on new cars. Somewhere along the way, it became a great source of revenue. Has it cut down car enthusiasm or traffic jams? Yes, but the success has been confined to peak hours in the business districts. There are more than 500,000 private cars on the roads here – or 44 per 100 households. Critics often call for an end to the COE, saying there are other less costly ways to contain road jams. Beijing, for example, has occasionally imposed alternate-day driving. The Singapore authorities should impose higher levies on the second and third car, the same way it is doing in the property market to reduce the possibility of a bubble forming, some motorists suggest. This would be a disincentive against over-consumption by the rich. “But since these measures are revenue-reducing, they are unlikely to be implemented,” the motorist added. ***

After paying a small fortune for a new car, the owner will then have to worry about Singapore’s Electronic Road Pricing (ERP), another money-draining project. Nearly 70 electronic gantries are placed over busy streets and highways to tax car users. My drive to the Singapore General Hospital, for example, passes four gantries and costs me some S$7 at peak periods. But the COE has worked to some extent in keeping down the number of cars in these ERP-covered roads. The problem is pushed to the surrounding roads, which often inherit some of the congestion as cars make a detour through them. ***

Singapore Experiments with a GPS Car-Taxing System

Seah Chiang Nee wrote in The Star, “Singapore has started to test a new satellite-tracking technology to tax vehicles on congested roads. The government plans to use the Global Positioning System (GPS) to track cars on congested roads and highways and charge them levies. If necessary, this may replace the current annual road tax. Satellite tracking will replace the current Electronic Road Pricing (ERP) system that uses some 80 electronic gantries located at various busy expressways and in the city centre. [Source: Seah Chiang Nee, The Star, Malaysia, October 13, 2012 /=/]

“This new form of charging motorists may make it even more expensive to use a car in Singapore. For the state Treasury, it will be a more effective source of revenue. The new system’s other capabilities include better traffic control like catching speeding vehicles and those which beat red lights, spotting illegal parking or tracking hit-and-run drivers. It can help find stolen cars, assist police in solving certain types of crimes, and aid in tracking offenders. The Straits Times, however, warned: “Singaporeans will have to watch not only their back, but high in the sky whenever they think of committing a traffic offence.” /=/

“The authorities can also – if they want to – use it to keep track of the movements of political foes. “Big Brother will be watching you!” exclaimed one blogger. A web surfer said it would really bring things to a whole new level: “In future your car would be watched every hour of the day, seven days a week. And that’s just plain creepy.” A transport official mentioned no launch date, but said these are still early days. It could be a few years before all problems are ironed out and the system becomes fully operational. /=/

Boats, Ports and Shipping in Singapore

The Port of Singapore, with a deep harbor and a strategic location, is the busiest in the world. More than 130,000 ships arrived with about 1.15 billion gross registered tons (GRT) in 2005. In the same year, the port handled 423.3 million tons of general and bulk cargo and 23 million twenty-foot equivalent units of containers. The port has three major anchorages—the Eastern, Western, and Johore sectors—which offer specialized locations for various types of cargo and ships of various sizes and purposes, including foreign warships. There are five port terminals, each specializing in different types of cargo, and some 15 kilometers of wharves. The port has seven free-trade zones, six for seaborne trade and one for air cargo. Goods are stored in these zones for processing and reexportation with minimum customs formalities. Singapore also offers extensive technology-driven warehouse and oil storage facilities. More than 3,000 ships are registered in Singapore, which itself has the fifteenth largest merchant fleet in the world, numbering 900 ships of 1,000 GRT or more for a total of 23.1 million GRT. The major ships include 136 bulk carriers, 84 cargo ships, 96 chemical tankers, 4 combination bulk carriers, 8 combination ore and oil carriers, 186 container ships, 41 liquefied natural gas carriers, 10 specialized tankers, 3 livestock carriers, 2 multifunctional large-load carriers, 5 roll-on/roll-off carriers, 1 short-sea passenger ship, and 32 vehicle carriers. [Source: Library of Congress, 2006]

Merchant marine: total: 1,599, country comparison to the world: 6; A) by type: bulk carrier 247, cargo 109, carrier 6, chemical tanker 256, container 339, liquefied gas 131, petroleum tanker 436, refrigerated cargo 13, roll on/roll off 5, vehicle carrier 57; B) foreign-owned: 966 (Australia 12, Bangladesh 1, Belgium 1, Bermuda 25, Brazil 9, Chile 6, China 29, Cyprus 6, Denmark 149, France 3, Germany 32, Greece 22, Hong Kong 46, India 21, Indonesia 60, Italy 5, Japan 164, Malaysia 27, Netherlands 1, Norway 153, Russia 2, South Africa 13, South Korea 3, Sweden 11, Switzerland 3, Taiwan 77, Thailand 33, UAE 10, UK 6, US 36); C) registered in other countries: 344 (Australia 2, Bahamas 7, Bangladesh 7, Belize 4, Cambodia 3, Cyprus 1, France 3, Honduras 11, Hong Kong 13, Indonesia 46, Italy 1, Kiribati 9, Liberia 22, Malaysia 13, Maldives 4, Malta 4, Marshall Islands 30, Mongolia 3, North Korea 1, Panama 92, Philippines 1, Saint Kitts and Nevis 10, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines 5, Sierra Leone 9, Thailand 1, Tuvalu 19, US 16, Vanuatu 2, unknown 5) (2010). [Source: CIA World Factbook =]

The Strait of Malacca and the South China Sea off of Singapore are heavily trafficked by maritime ships. The International Maritime Bureau reports the territorial and offshore waters in the South China Sea as high risk for piracy and armed robbery against ships; numerous commercial vessels have been attacked and hijacked both at anchor and while underway; hijacked vessels are often disguised and cargo diverted to ports in East Asia; crews have been murdered or cast adrift =

In 2005, Reuters reported that Singapore planned to will fit tracking devices on all of its boats and private yachts as a security measure. The Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore said it will spend S$3.5 million ($2 million) to fit 3,000 small boats with the devices over the next year and a half. The devices have a panic button to alert authorities in the event of an attack. [Source: Reuters, July 2, 2005]

The port of Singapore is the world's busiest transshipment port, the World's busiest bunkering port (since 1988). It was the world's busiest container port in 1990, 1991, 1998, 2005-2009 and was the world's busiest port by cargo tonnage in 2002-2004 and 2008, when it was overtaken by Shanghai. [Source: Wikipedia +]

The the world's busiest container ports by total number of actual twenty-foot equivalent units (TEUs) transported through the por ( rank, and container traffic in thousand TEUs) in 2011, 2010 , 2009 , 2008 , 2007 , 2006 , 2005 , 2004): 1) Shanghai: 31,740, 29,069, 25,002, 27,980, 26,150, 21,710, 18,084, 14,557; 2) Singapore: 29,940, 28,431, 25,866, 29,918, 27,932, 24,792, 23,192, 21,329; 3) Hong Kong: 24,380, 23,699, 20,983, 24,248, 23,881, 23,539, 22,427, 21,984; 4) Shenzhen, China: 22,570, 22,510, 18,250, 21,414, 21,099, 18,469, 16,197, 13,615; 5) Busan, South Korea: 16,170, 14,194, 11,954, 13,425, 13,270, 12,039, 11,843, 11,430; 6) Ningbo-Zhoushan, China: 14,720, 13,144, 10,502, 11,226, 9,349, 7,068, 5,208, 4,006; 7) Guangzhou, China: 14,260, 12,550, 11,190, 11,001, 9,200, 6,600, 4,685, 3,308; 8) Qingdao, China: 13,020, 12,012, 10,260, 10,320, 9,462, 7,702, 6,307. +

Jacques Cousteau's ship Calypso was sunk in Singapore after being hit by a barge. In May 2004, a ship carrying 4,190 South Korean and Japanese cars sunk south of Singapore after colliding with a tanker loaded with 279,949 tons of oil. Fortunately there was no oil spill. In January 2003, a 500-ton patrol ship collided with 52,000-ton Dutch container ship off of Singapore. killing four Navy officers and injuring eight others. Two officers on the ship were found guilty of negligence. It was the worst naval accident ever for Singapore.

Image Sources:

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Singapore Tourism Board, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, and various books, websites and other publications.

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© 2008 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated June 2015

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