Government to rein in vehicle growth from next year, says Transport Minister Lui Tuck Yew

The bus hub at the pilot site in front of Block 270 Bukit Panjang Road. “Bus hubs” are bus stops that have extended bays and shelters.
The bus hub at the pilot site in front of Block 270 Bukit Panjang Road. “Bus hubs” are bus stops that have extended bays and shelters.ST PHOTO: NG SOR LUAN
Commuters welcoming Minister for Transport Lui Tuck Yew at the Kent Ridge station on Oct 2, 2011.
Commuters welcoming Minister for Transport Lui Tuck Yew at the Kent Ridge station on Oct 2, 2011.ST PHOTO: LAU FOOK KONG

Current 1.5% not sustainable given land constraints: Minister Lui

The Government plans to further curb vehicle growth, given how Singapore has limited space for new roads, said Transport Minister Lui Tuck Yew.

The annual growth is currently capped at 1.5 per cent, and this rate applies till the end of January next year.

Mr Lui said the 1.5 per cent rate has to be brought down further in the next review. "For the next three-year phase, it will not stay at 1.5 per cent but it will have to come down," he said.

More details will be revealed later this month, but industry sources expect the move to push up premiums for certificates of entitlement (COEs) beyond their already high levels and, with that, car prices too.

 

The supply of COEs – which would-be buyers must bid for to own a car – is dependent on the number of cars scrapped and the allowable growth rate. 

The current annual COE quota of about 30,000 has boosted car prices, with a Toyota Vios, for example, selling for about $90,000.

In his first wide-ranging interview since he took over his portfolio in May, Mr Lui stressed that even as the vehicle population is contained, the Government is improving public transport.

For example, 35 bus stops will be converted to "bus hubs" with extended bays to allow more buses to pull in at the same time, thereby reducing commuters' journey time.

The Government will also build more sheltered walkways to transport nodes.

It is also working closely with the land use agencies to identify areas that will be designated housing clusters in the future. 

Mr Lui said that currently, about 400,000 households live within 600m of an MRT station, and 200,000 live about 400m away. 

The aim in a decade's time is to double the number of households living within 400m and 600m of a station. 

On the vehicle growth cap, he said the 1.5 per cent growth rate – cut from 3 per cent three years ago – is not sustainable in the longer term given Singapore’s limited land. "It’s really... finding the right balance," he said.

Currently, 12 per cent of the land is taken up by roads, compared with 15 per cent for housing. 

He said the growth in the road network will also slow down from the 1 per cent in the past decade to 0.5 per cent a year. 

Mr Lui said that there was always a trade-off in expanding the road network.

"When you increase the size of your expressways, it brings them closer to residents," he said.

"When you build a new road, there is, I think, quite a lot of convenience for both public and private transport users, but I think there are others who feel that we have lost something as a result of doing so. So again it’s a trade-off."

But the new growth rate will not be zero, he said. 

"You could theoretically bring it down to zero or even below zero but I think it will bump up against the aspirations of some who want to own a car," he said. He recognised that there will still be those for whom a car is a necessity, such as to ferry their elderly parents around.

Motor Traders Association president Cheah Kim Teck said it was too early to say how the changes would affect the market. "We will have to take all the measures in totality and wait to see if there are other announcements that the Government will make," he said. 

Mr Cheah, who is also motor operations chief executive of Jardine Cycle & Carriage, added that the industry had hoped for the Government to introduce measures to energise the market. 

"It's not comforting news as the market is small enough. In fact, it’s a bit depressing, to say the least."

National University of Singapore transport academic Lee Der Horng felt that the "cut will affect those who genuinely need cars the most".

Adding that COE prices are likely to rise exponentially with the cut, he said: "This will have an impact on not only COE premiums but also the consumer price index."

In the interview which was conducted last Thursday, Mr Lui revealed that a review of the Land Transport Masterplan is likely to take place next year, with the details to be unveiled perhaps the year after. This exercise will extend the Transport Ministry’s plans to 2025 and beyond.

Since the last masterplan was rolled out in 2008, the Government has made a big push to improve public transportation and get users to switch from cars to buses and trains. 

But existing car owners can look forward to some good news, with the Government planning to reduce the duration of the Electronic Road Pricing (ERP) during evening peak periods on some expressways. 

Mr Lui hinted that the Central Expressway (CTE) was one expressway that could see hours reduced. Currently, the charges are between 50 cents and $1 from 5.30pm till 10.30pm. 

He said the overall philosophy of tweaking only when traffic is outside of optimal speeds still holds, "but in the evening when the balance between economic and more personal considerations may differ from the morning hours... I think you can make some adjustments. There is room". 

mariaa@sph.com.sg