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Cars get bigger, but not parking spaces

As Singaporeans move to bigger cars, the risk of dents and scrapes is higher in many carparks

Over the years, Singaporeans' cars have become bigger. But the authorities' rules for carpark space size have remained the same for a while now, prompting drivers to call for an update.

By some estimates, drivers of bigger cars have difficulty navigating inside about 25 per cent of shopping centre carparks today. Car repair workshops are also reporting a rise in accidents at such carparks.

Land Transport Authority rules state that carpark spaces have to be at least 4.8m long and 2.4m wide. LTA told The Sunday Times that regulations on space and ramp dimensions are reviewed "regularly". It declined to say when the last update was done.

But industry players said it has been a while. Mr Raymond Tang, first vice-president of the Singapore Vehicle Traders Association, said the requirements have not been changed for as far as he could recall.

This is even though Singaporeans' cars have increased in size discernably since the 1990s.

Existing models have fattened up. For instance, the Honda Accord's width has increased by 7 per cent since 1990 to 1.85m.

Meanwhile, Singaporeans also have a greater appetite for bigger car types such as sports utility vehicles and multi-purpose vehicles.

In the past three years, the number of such vehicles here has risen by about 25 per cent, estimated Mr Nigel Chan, managing director of Huat Lee Batteries and Motor Services, a car repair workshop. As the population ages, many are opting for bigger cars which require less effort to get in and out, he said.

But the downside is the greater risk of scrapes, scratches and dents inside carparks with narrow spaces.

At Huat Lee, the number of bigger cars coming in because they were damaged at such carparks has gone up from an average of four a month two years ago to seven today. At Dynamics Mechanic, the number has risen from 11 a month to 15, said director Eric Chew.

On forums online, there are discussions on which carparks to avoid. Unsurprisingly, older carparks pose the biggest challenge. These include the one at Liang Court, built in 1985, and that at Shaw Centre, built in the 1970s. Another is at People's Park Complex in Chinatown.

The head of a financial firm located there, who declined to be named, said she scratched her BMW 7 Series on the wall while going up the carpark's narrow ramp on Thursday.

Some malls have contemplated restructuring their carparks.

Mr Steven Tan, the building services manager at Shaw Organisation, said spaces at the Shaw Centre carpark are narrow because they had been designed in the 1970s when cars were smaller.

Now, if a row of three spaces is occupied by three big cars, the people in the vehicles will find it difficult to move out or open their doors, he said.

The company did consider shaving away parts of the columns in the carpark to make room for new spaces but this move was advised against by an engineer, he added. Besides, it receives fewer than five complaints a year on carpark space size, he said.

People's Park Complex did not respond to queries on its carpark.

Government Parliamentary Committee for Transport deputy chairman Ang Hin Kee said that setting aside more land space for carparks with bigger spaces is not the direction land-scarce Singapore is heading in. Hence, those considering buying wide vehicles should first consider if their vehicle would fit the facilities Singapore has, he said.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on October 30, 2016, with the headline 'The big squeeze'. Print Edition | Subscribe