Most in favour of Govt's proposals to inject fairness into vehicle quota system

The Government's proposals to inject more fairness into the vehicle quota system have whipped up a vigorous debate and initial signs point to more people supporting, rather than opposing, the suggested moves.

Motor traders, transport experts and online readers of The Straits Times are largely in favour of the proposal to impose a surcharge on motorists who buy more than one car.

Announced by Transport Minister Lui Tuck Yew on Thursday, the idea was cheered by many yesterday.

Said the president of the Motor Traders Association, Mr Cheah Kim Teck: "In a society like ours, there's just no need for anyone to own more than one car."

Similarly, they welcomed Mr Lui's announcement that the Land Transport Authority (LTA) will look at ways to better segregate luxury car buyers from those who buy mass-market models.

Online comments on show only five of the 74 remarks were against the two ideas. About 25 supported them.

The rest, however, came up with further suggestions.

One, for instance, called on the Government to "subsidise" budget cars, instead of imposing heftier taxes on luxury or subsequent cars.

Others called for an outright ban on multiple-car ownership.

Mr Cheah, however, said segregating luxury and budget cars may not produce social equity.

"The guy buying the budget car is not necessarily low-income. He could well be wealthy, and will outbid others for that car."

He added: "No matter how you tweak the system, there will be dissatisfaction."

The veteran motor trader believes a better approach is to fix the "fundamental problem" - record low supply of certificates of entitlement (COEs), which motorists must secure at fortnightly auctions before they can own a vehicle.

A "5 or 10 per cent increase" in the quota will have negligible impact on congestion, but will lower COE prices "significantly", he added.

"The way I see it, the guy having the headache is not getting the Panadol," he added.

Experts like university don Ivan Png steered the discussion back to the COE's fundamental role: congestion control.

Said Professor Png of the National University of Singapore Business School: "I feel it would be unwise to mix two objectives of regulating congestion and social equity.

"It is best to use the tax system to influence social equity, not the COE."

But if distance-based road pricing is rolled out, it could make the the COE irrelevant, said Dr Alex Erath, researcher at the Future Cities Laboratory, a collaboration between Singapore and ETH Zurich.

In such a road-pricing system, satellite technology is used to charge vehicles instead of fixed gantries.

After years of tests, the LTA has found the system to be technically feasible in Singapore.

It can be applied islandwide - even though Minister Lui said it will start with roads already priced today - and pricing can be adjusted infinitely to optimise demand for road space.

Said Dr Erath: "One could even think of abolishing COE altogether and manage demand only with electronic road pricing, which, from an economic theory standpoint, would be a more efficient system."