The Straits Times says

Getting ready for mobility revolution

Singapore has not been at the forefront in the use of electric cars on its roads. In fact, it has been quite the laggard. Unlike policies elsewhere, there are no special incentives offered by the Government to promote their use. There are also only a handful of public charging points which make them an unattractive proposition for those living in public housing. Several recent announcements though have raised the hopes of those who believe these noiseless, non-polluting vehicles represent the future of urban mobility. The most promising is a plan for a nationwide car-sharing scheme using electric cars which will deploy 1,000 vehicles and install 2,000 charging points. Last month, the national utility company, Singapore Power, announced it would replace its entire fleet of 400 service vehicles with electric vans, and a new taxi company, HDT Singapore Taxi, will soon be rolling out its fleet of all-electric taxis.

These are promising, if belated, signs. Better late than never. In fact, Singapore is ideally suited for electric cars. Commuting distances are relatively short here, which is a big plus for those who worry about batteries running out of juice. But the biggest attraction is their impact on the environment. For densely populated Singapore which aspires to be among the most liveable cities in the world, clean air is a priceless asset.

These are reasons enough to do more to promote their use. It has to start with having more public charging points, including in public housing estates where the majority of Singaporeans reside. Developing such an infrastructure would not call for elaborate engineering as most electric cars can be charged from an outlet using household current. How the cost of the infrastructure and the electricity supply should be shared among users has to be worked out. But, first, transport and urban planners must be convinced electric cars have a future here, especially to drive car-sharing initiatives that reduce congestion.

Driverless cars are said to be the next urban mobility frontier to be conquered. The technology is being experimented with in a few places, mainly the United States. American electric car company Tesla leads in this field with cars that have an auto-pilot feature. But a recent fatal accident involving one of its cars driven in this mode has raised questions about their safety. Whether or not technology was to blame, more work needs to be done on driverless cars to win over the public. Singapore would do well to monitor their development closely. Apart from the embryonic technology, many other issues need to be addressed, including legal questions regarding liability and accountability, insurance and traffic laws. When these are finally resolved, driverless cars (and perhaps buses) will revolutionise urban commuting. Singapore should make sure the city is ready for this gear-shifting moment.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 05, 2016, with the headline 'Getting ready for mobility revolution'. Print Edition | Subscribe