Photo from Yahoo Singapore
Our transport system is hurting on many levels and it has reached a point where the average Singaporean doesn’t really know where to turn to for a better alternative.
Cars have become exorbitantly expensive again, with COEs reaching S$92,000 this month. To put things in perspective, my 3-year-old Toyota Corolla Altis cost me S$49,000 including the COE when it was new. Today you would have to pay about S$120,000. So if you’re buying a car, it doesn’t make sense to buy anything but a luxury model since you’re going to be wiping out your bank account anyway. One can understand the need for restricting the car population, but poor management of the system over the 2000s by LTA led to an unrealistic availability of COEs and increased jams. We’re now suffering the shock effects of patching the system to reduce the car population.
To make things worse, the ERP road pricing system is broken too. At 830am in the morning, cars are still travelling on the Central Expressway (CTE) regardless of the toll fares that you would have to pay. The alternative of taking a detour back home is even more frustrating because of the peak-hour jams. What I find annoying is being charged on the way back home (twice) to Bishan because I happen to stay in the north and the CTE has always been heavily utilized. People staying in the other parts of the island don’t get charged for taking the AYE or PIE home.
The bit that really grates me is that ERP prices can vary over a period of 5 miserable minutes (eg. 8.00am to 8.05am). Seriously, LTA, does it really make a difference? I don’t step out of my house with clockwork timing. Nobody does.
The SMRT train system appears to be suffering from recurring cancer. Ever since the major breakdown occured last December, the breakdowns have only gotten more frequent (3 times in 3 consecutive days this past week!) even on newer lines. It is like the infrastructure is protesting against its owners. I don’t dare to take the SMRT to work any more, lest I get stuck with thousands of people trying to get on a bus bridging service that doesn’t know where to go. It’s a perfect storm of system overload, poor future planning and poor maintenance. Who’s suffering? Millions of passengers, while the ex-CEO is happily blogging about her past achievements at SMRT and has quickly gotten a new job at Lippo.
Taxis, ah taxis. Possibly the world’s most complicated taxi surcharge system is in place, and you still can’t find a cab when you need one. They keep raising the fares, but one never sees an improvement in availability. I find it ridiculous that I have to pay over $10 for a short trip through town. I have a very low opinion of the taxi companies in Singapore – they really don’t put the customer first, and no longer regard themselves as public transport providers. The way they run the companies in turn influence the behavior of the taxi drivers in Singapore, many who see themselves as being part of a business rather than providing a necessary service.
Public buses used to be my main mode of transport when I was a student. However, it can be immensely frustrating to wait for a bus these days as the clogged roads mean that your bus can take 30-40 min to arrive. The Govt is pumping over a billion dollars to buy more buses for the privately-run bus companies (I know, it’s our tax dollars funding private companies), but the net effect is probably less crowded buses and more road congestion. And since they took out most of the seats in today’s modern buses, I do dread the standing and squeezing between people just to get out of the exit door.
Now amid all this hand-wringing, I do give thanks to the SAF for forcing me to learn how to ride a motorcycle back in 1996 as a recce trooper. It opened up my eyes to the joys of riding. Most Singaporeans will not even consider riding a motorbike due to the high accident rates, and it is often stigmatized as a mode of transport for low-income folks (“Who me, ride a bike?”) and despatch riders. There is no doubt that riding bikes (be it motorcycles or bicycles) is risky in Singapore where many car drivers have poor road manners and driving skills.
However, riders who have driving experience for many years do find it manageable on the roads as long as you don’t ride like some of the hell-riders on the streets who weave in and out of lanes recklessly. Unlike 99% of riders, I pile on the protective gear like gloves, full-faced helmet and armored jacket for every ride.
And largely unseen to most of the driving population, there is a large group of middle to high-income folks who ride bikes for pleasure. You don’t see them unless you look out for them and their hot rods.
One thing that does stop people from riding is the sheer ordeal of getting a Class 2 licence if you want to get a nice model above 400cc. I skipped owning a Class 2B bike because they are underpowered and are largely skimpy-looking. I really like my current Kawasaki Ninja 250R (Class 2A) but it does need a bit more oomph in the torque department.
One has to take three tests (Class 2B, 2A and 2) and wait at least three years (if you don’t fail any of the tests). It’s extremely painful if you don’t have much free time and thus it is unlikely that Singapore will become a bike-riding nation soon. It’s better that way anyway, since so many young men do not have the maturity to ride with proper road etiquette or care for their own lives.
So with all this issues at hand, what are we to do? Isn’t it ironic that in a small country like Singapore, we are finding it difficult just to get around?