A car-free Singapore?

DECEMBER 6 — The invention of the automobile is credited to Karl Benz. In 1886, his motor wagon featured gears, a carburettor, radiator and spark plugs.  

Over 130 years later, vehicles that are the direct descendants of Benz’s wagon still dominate roads and human transport.  

There are 1.5 billion cars on roads worldwide and at least 600,000 cars in Singapore which, given a resident population of five million, is a high number. Particularly given that the Singapore government has always stated its aim is to keep the number of cars on the road as low as possible. 

Despite some of the highest taxes on car ownership in the world, expensive parking fees and extensive tolls, people keep driving.

The truth is there still isn’t really a good substitute for the convenience of a car. It can take you to your door and help you carry goods, family members and shopping — better than virtually anything else. 

But cars really aren’t good for the environment; they are wasteful and also somewhat dangerous in terms of the accidents they cause. 

The government is absolutely right in terms of trying to restrict them and yet it doesn’t seem to work.  

Every day I see the highways around Singapore jammed with cars and fundamentally this is because public transport isn’t good enough. Which is rather a harsh thing to say. 

Singapore’s public transport is very good, it’s borderline excellent by almost any standard. We have frequent buses, a fairly extensive and expanding MRT, ever-expanding cycle paths but if it doesn’t dissuade people from buying cars — despite the enormous taxes — then it’s not good enough. 

But what’s the alternative? Well, today, I tried an electric car sharing scheme.   

Basically you can pick up a car from a charging station (there are charging stations dotted around Singapore) and then you can drive the car yourself. You return the car to a charging point and pay for the number of hours you used.  

It’s a pretty convenient way of having access to a car without actually owning one. It’s entirely automated so you can pick a vehicle without human intervention, meaning it’s much smoother than previous car rental schemes. 

The fact that the cars are electric also indicates there has been some progress from the days of Karl Benz.  

Easy rental and hire schemes allow people to use a car on days they really need to without having to own one. 

This sort of initiative combined with an increase in metro lines, more bus lanes and a higher density of metro stations, longer metro hours (24 hours like New York, please?) could really help Singapore become one of the first nations in the world to go largely car-free.  

More incentives and work would obviously be needed — the integration of even the dreaded electric scooter and bicycles, along with more pedestrianisation but I think we might be able to get there.   

*This is the personal opinion of the columnist.

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