The Straits Times says

Capping the vehicle population

Zero growth for the car and motorcycle population is logical, as a tiny island cannot be building roads infinitely and allowing vehicle ownership to rise with incomes. Caught between a rock of capacity limit and a hard place of limitless demand, policymakers must make rational decisions for the common good and for the long term. Competition among groups could lead to ever-denser rules on quotas and ever-higher bids for certificates of entitlement. Favouring households with children and the elderly or taxing multiple-car households are not foolproof solutions. The problem is seething congestion which could cause gridlock. Rush hour here would then be no different from scenes commonplace elsewhere.

Higher road tolls might reduce peak-hour usage but business and travel costs would rise, and those who do not own cars or motorbikes would have to bear the pain as well. A better way is to promote usage of public transport and limit vehicle numbers. The authorities signalled two years ago that the growth rate was likely to go down to zero. This rule will take effect from February next year, it was announced recently. Goods vehicles and buses have until the first quarter of 2021 to adapt. The time should be used well by the inefficient domestic logistics sector to make their operations more efficient. Small deliveries done by a throng of vans to a busy spot cause needless jams. The sector's 4,000 vehicles, making over 20,000 delivery trips daily, take up a quarter of road space. Hopefully, a series of government-supported initiatives might help to improve efficiency - like integrated, shared delivery systems and drawing from a vehicle pool when demand peaks, so individual firms can size their fleets conservatively to match typical needs.

Despite the forewarning and earlier discussions on a sustainable land transport system, the latest news of the zero-growth implementation prompted motorcycle dealers to hold an emergency meeting. Their association called for a three-year grace period, arguing that it is unfair to manage motorbikes in the same way as cars, as the former represent an affordable mode of transport for the low income and are often used to earn a livelihood. Further, motorbike usage supports the vision of a car-lite society and contributes less to traffic congestion. However, one has to only look at places like Jakarta to see how two-wheelers can clog up streets and contribute to pollution.

All vehicles, including electric cars, contribute to particle emission which is linked to the premature deaths of people with heart or lung disease and to respiratory problems. With stricter standards, engine exhaust now contribute only 15 per cent of the particulate matter; the rest comes from tyres, brakes and dust from road surfaces. For a healthier environment and better use of land, the vehicle population must simply be curbed.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 31, 2017, with the headline 'Capping the vehicle population'. Print Edition | Subscribe