Encouraging more to switch their rides

The drive to get more Singaporeans to switch from private cars to public transport is moving in the right direction, with bus and train ridership up 4.6 per cent last year to hit a record 6.65 million trips per day. Going "car-lite" is the only sustainable way forward for a landscarce city state that already sets aside 12 per cent of land for roads, and whose population is still growing. Singapore also has one of the highest car ownership populations for a city. Some 45 per cent of households own a car, up from 38 per cent a decade ago. That cannot be sustained if dreaded, chronic jams are to be avoided. Hence the reduced reliance on private cars signalled in the nation's sustainability blueprint.

Its ambitious target is for 75 per cent of peak-hour trips to be made via public transport by 2030, a big jump from the 59 per cent logged in the last survey in 2008. But for that to happen, service providers must first live up to expectations. The latest rebuke from the Land Transport Authority following recent rail service disruptions shows the network is far from being utterly reliable.

And reliability is a crucial factor for commuters. With car prices among the highest in the world, they can save a tidy sum by going public but will only do so if alternative travel options are predictable, flexible and comfortable.

There has been a big leap in bus service standards resulting from a billion-dollar programme to put hundreds of state-funded buses on the road. But rail remains a weak link. Episodes of major delays of more than 30 minutes and peak-hour congestion still vex users.

Train service operators will be held to more stringent standards by the LTA from next year, to ensure shorter waiting times, and faster, safer and more comfortable rides. The Government is also pumping in billions to double the rail network to 360km by 2030, so that eight in 10 households will be within a 10-minute walk of a train station. Improving the taxi service here will also help.

Such continual improvements are a must if the aim is to persuade large numbers to adapt their lifestyles and mindsets that have had for decades fixed primarily on cars as one of the five Cs of the so-called Singapore Dream. But leading cities like New York have won praise for their walkability and promotion of cycling. Singapore as a Garden City should aim for nothing less.

Public intellectual Kishore Mahbubani's vision of zero private car ownership by 2065 might sound idealistic but it could be achieved if, say, people are given access to cars on a shared basis for special needs or occasions. Usage of a car might be for a few hours or over a weekend and different sharing models can be allowed to develop to give users more options.