'Pay as you drive' scheme suggested to ease Singapore's traffic congestion

SINGAPORE: Experts are suggesting that Singapore implements a 'pay as you drive' policy, which they say may be more effective in tackling traffic congestion.

They are also calling for current transport policies to gear towards greater sustainability and mobility.

These suggestions were floated at a seminar held at the National University of Singapore on Monday.

Owning a car in Singapore can be costly.

Motorists pay for the Certificate of Entitlement (COE), the Additional Registration Fee (ARF)... and with the recent loan curbs, more cash upfront as well.

Experts believe the high costs motivate car owners to maximise the use of their cars to get their money's worth.

This in turn adds to the problem of congestion.

Currently, about four in 10 households in Singapore own at least a car.

Prof Paul Barter, Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, said, "Singapore has a very high level of car use per car, each car is used around 20,000 kilometres per year, whereas for European or Japanese cities per year, it is more like 10,000 to 12,000 kilometres per car. 

"So even though we have very low car ownership, we still have a lot of traffic because those car owners use the car more. Ideally cars would be cheaper in the future but perhaps more expensive to use, more expensive to park."

So one sustainable way could be to peg the costs with usage or distance travelled.

Prof Barter said, "At the moment you buy a COE which has 10 years, you pay ARF which last the whole time and those two amount to almost $100,000 typically for a car. What if instead of that, you bought 50,000 kilometres worth of car taxes when you bought your car, and 50,000 kilometres later you have to top up for another 50,000 kilometres of those taxes, COE and ARF, then you have the incentive not to use your car to make them last longer, so pay as you drive. This will be a way to make it more affordable, but still control traffic."

He said tracking distance can be possible should authorities go ahead with plans to implement the next generation Electronic Road Pricing system which leverages on GPS.

Experts agree there's room to make the public transport become more reliable, particularly for buses.

But other than implementing bus priority measures more aggressively, there's the need to better integrate the bus and MRT networks better to improve mobility.

And so experts are calling for a bus rapid transit or BRT system where buses travel at high frequencies on dedicated bus lanes, to be linked to the MRT system. 

Associate Prof Anthony Chin, Department of Economics at NUS, said, "Transportation and mobility is part of that quality of life that we should address. It's not just about ERP, its not just about COE, because we know what the consequences are. At the end of the day, we need to talk about, for example, getting to work, fitting it into a reasonable lifestyle, reducing the stress of travel and so on and so forth. 

"I want to know that when I go to the bus stop, the bus comes in five minutes. Can it be done for certain precincts to have a BRT, why not? Give it a try for the newer estates and that will improve the connectivity from the neighbourhood to the MRT stations."

Experts also called for authorities to have more open discussions about the cost-benefit analysis of transport policies, before implementing them. - CNA/de