Saturday, November 04, 2006

Between a rock and a hard place

Rock and a hard place -, who wants to take the bus in Singapore if they had a choice not to? In status conscious Singapore, everyone will prefer to be driving and seen to be driving a car - the latest model if possible, just like their handphones. The only way you can do that is to make the cost of owning your own set of wheels so prohibitively expensive that you have no choice but to take the bus and/or the train to get around.

Which is what the Singapore government is doing with its slew of costly car taxes, petrol taxes, road taxes, electronic road pricing (ERP) fees and life-span taxes (I mean the car, not the driver's, though it can come to that). Still people continue to buy and drive cars in Singapore. And what do they do in order to cough up all those money to pay for all those taxes? For the marginal bunch (and I believe they form the majority), both couples have to work to pay off the car loans besides the various taxes incurred everyday they use the car. This results in substantially less savings which could have been put into long term investments. For couples, the trade-off is to keep the kid in the childcare. Parents rationalise, ironically with the help of the government, that the car is more important. The government encourages every adult, male and female, mothers and fathers, sons and daughters, to work so that next year's economic growth will be a record breaking one.

But I digress. One of the ways to resolve this perennial transport problem in Singapore  is to make owning and driving a car even more expensive than it is today. This will be akin to political suicide. So the only real solution lies in making public transport more convenient and comfortable than it is today. The problem is, doing this will make Singapore's public transport the most expensive in the world. This is inevitable. Private transport companies will want to maximise on profit, so for any public transport that is made any more convenient than it is today means raising cost substantially. Coupled with the  Singapore government's reluctance to distort the market through subsidies and you find yourself between a rock and a hard place.

Since I don't drive, let me list the reasons why I would want to own a car:
1. Unpredictable arrival times of buses ** number one grouse **.
2. Long waiting times for buses and sometimes taxis too.
3. Unpredictable waiting times for taxis.
4. Unavailable buses, taxis and trains.
5. Disappearing taxis
6. Uncomfortable buses (particularly non-air-con ones).
7. Uncomfortable, broken and dirty seats.
8. Selfish commuters (who do not make room for people to enter the bus, people who sit on the aisle of seats - as if to say, "sqeeze in if you want the seat, otherwise, stand").
9. Bus stops that are far away (walking in the blazing sun spoils the make-up).
10. Bus stops that are too near (results in a noisy and filthly house).
11. Buses that take a roundabout way to reach your destination.
12. Boarding and alighting buses can be physically and mentally challenging.
13. Missing the bus/train.
14. Cross-border restrictions on travel (for that drive to JB)

But I suppose owning a car has its top ten list too. Since I don't own a car, I can only surmise the cost involved. A rock and a hard place indeed. Which is why the government is proposing that you have the cake and eat it too. I am not sure this will not be even more expensive.

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