In the early 1970s Singapore faced traffic chaos, a failing bus system, little money for infrastructure and acute awareness of space limitations.
The answer was a hard-headed “bargain” that offered steady improvements in space-efficient public transport at the price of making ownership of space-wasting cars unattainable for most. This has been widely seen as a success
However, both sides of this bargain are under growing strain. Demands for broader access to cars have been difficult to resist. At the same time, pressure has intensified to dramatically improve public transport. These trends may be heading us towards a policy dead end and may be a concern for LTA policy makers as they conduct the recently announced ten-year review of land transport policies.
Restricting car ownership has been a key plank of Singapore transport policy since the 1970s. It works but it is a blunt instrument. Ownership restriction is an indirect way to tackle congestion and there is political fallout from the frustration of those denied car ownership. But with space at a premium, the need to keep traffic under control remains strong. Congestion remains a constant threat, even with only one third of households owning a car. At the same time, the scope for cost-effective expansion of road capacity is modest.
These issues prompted policy-makers to seek ways to allow broader access to cars while containing their usage, especially at congested times and places. 'Off-peak' cars are an example - although much cheaper to buy, they cannot be used during the busy times of the week. Car-sharing, which offers short-term car use with fees based on time and distance, is another promising option, as we will see.
For a decade now, the policy for mainstream privately-owned vehicles has been shifting from high purchase and ownership taxes, to one with a greater reliance on usage charges, especially Electronic...