Car-sharing does not reduce road use

With the car quota system, sharing vehicles will lead to greater demand for road space

A Nissan Leaf electric vehicle is used for a car-sharing service in Kanagawa Prefecture in Japan. In Singapore, there are car-sharing schemes such as Car Club (above). -- PHOTO: ST FILE
A Nissan Leaf electric vehicle is used for a car-sharing service in Kanagawa Prefecture in Japan. In Singapore, there are car-sharing schemes such as Car Club (above). -- PHOTO: ST FILE
A Nissan Leaf electric vehicle (above) is used for a car-sharing service in Kanagawa Prefecture in Japan. In Singapore, there are car-sharing schemes such as Car Club. -- PHOTO: BLOOMBERG

How would an electric car- sharing scheme further our ambition to be "car-lite"? In short, it does not.

Car-sharing schemes, electric or otherwise, will actually lead to higher utilisation of road space, not less. And as the whole purpose of going "car-lite" is to put a cap on congestion, car-sharing does not quite serve the cause.

Former Transport Minister Raymond Lim told Parliament in 2010: "From an overall transport perspective, more people sharing a car in effect increases the use of that car."

Furthermore, Singapore already has an absolute cap on its car population, via the vehicle quota system. In countries where there is no such control, a car-sharing scheme might conceivably reduce overall car demand marginally. Not so in Singapore, where the quota system has been in place since 1990.

In Singapore, car-sharing schemes will only lead to a greater demand for road space.

If the end goal is to reduce demand for road space, then we need to ramp up our public transport system, improve how our taxis are deployed, and make it easier for people to share rides. Ride-sharing - or car-pooling as it is more commonly called - reduces demand for road space.

So, why are we launching an electric car-sharing scheme?

One theory is that it is another way for us to assess the viability of electric cars here. The first $20 million "test-bed" led by the Energy Market Authority (EMA) ended with pretty watery findings. Examples include:

  • Electric vehicles are "technically feasible" in Singapore, because the average distance clocked in the trial was 46km a day. This is less than the national average of 50km for a conventional passenger car, and much lower than the manufacturers' declared range of 120-160km per charge. (The average distance clocked by car owners is a long known fact, and there is no reason to doubt an electric car owner would behave differently.)
  • High purchase price was the top inhibiting factor cited by consumers. (There has already been clear evidence of this in other markets.)
  • Range anxiety was the next major concern. (Another well-documented fact.)
  • Electric cars are expensive compared to conventional cars primarily because of their high open market value. (Yet another known fact.)
  • A cost-benefit analysis showed that the health-care savings arising from the clean mode of transport would not be sufficient to offset the high cost of electric cars. (This is probably the most interesting finding, but the EMA did not elaborate despite repeated requests.)

Another $75 million in tax dollars have been set aside to put more than 1,200 green vehicles on the road. Sources say the electric car-sharing scheme would account for the bulk of the budget.

But despite having been on the drawing board for over a year, the initiative is still stuck in neutral gear. Life! understands that the Land Transport Authority and Economic Development Board - which will be spearheading the plan - have not yet called for an RFI (request for information).

As such, the scheme is unlikely to take off anytime soon. According to industry players, one of the stumbling blocks is the different charging cables used by various manufacturers from China, Europe and the United States.

This makes setting up a public charging infrastructure that can be used by one and all a costly affair. Even if Singapore were to adopt the latest European convention, the new cable is different from those used by cars involved in the first test-bed.

That might render an entire network of three-year-old charging stations obsolete.

One view is that Singapore should forget about setting up a public charging infrastructure. As the first trial showed, the average driving distance for an electric car is less than half the range of a fully charged vehicle.

The Government should just leave it to the private sector to decide how it wants to provide charging facilities to customers.

And instead of another tax-funded trial to see if electric vehicles are viable, the carbon emissions-based vehicle scheme (CEVS) should be enhanced to give due recognition to cars with substantial environmental and health contributions. Today, CEVS rebates are granted too freely.

Having said all that, car-sharing still has a role here. Not so much as a transport solution, but a social one. Car- sharing indirectly placates the person who is priced out of the car market.

But the way we have been operating car-sharing thus far is inefficient.

In Europe, car-sharing plans rely on smartphone apps that tell users at a glance the availability of cars in the vicinity. Users can then book an available car with a touch of the screen.

There is no need for designated parking spaces and other logistical requirements. In Singapore, where carpark spaces are as precious as road space, reserving lots for car-sharing schemes is just not possible.

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