More drawn to off-peak cars

Off-peak car owner Jeosiah Wee (far left) with his family. Mr Wee uses his car on weekends and for taking his family out.
Off-peak car owner Jeosiah Wee (far left) with his family. Mr Wee uses his car on weekends and for taking his family out.ST PHOTO: YEO KAI WEN

LTA figures show increase in registrations for the scheme amid trend towards used vehicles

A small but increasing number of car buyers and owners are opting for the off-peak car scheme, even as the overall population of these red-plated vehicles on the roads continues to shrink.

As of July this year, there were 33,969 off-peak cars, a 22 per cent drop from the 43,370 in the same period two years ago. They currently account for just 5.8 per cent of the 585,384 private cars on the roads.

However, the number of new registrations for off-peak cars is picking up, figures from the Land Transport Authority (LTA) showed.

In 2013, there were just 131 new registrations, or about 11 every month. This increased to 203 last year, or about 17 a month.

There are already 345 new registrations in the first seven months of this year, or about 49 every month.

Cars under the off-peak scheme cannot be driven between 7am and 7pm on weekdays. However, owners enjoy savings, including rebates and a discounted road tax.

An electronic day licence to drive during restricted hours costs $20.

National University of Singapore transport researcher Lee Der Horng said it is likely that the off-peak car scheme becomes more appealing when certificate of entitlement (COE) prices fall. The is because the scheme's rebate - which can be used to offset the COE price and additional registration fee in buying a new car - is fixed at $17,000.

"Imagine if the COE is $87,000; this means the buyer still has to pay $70,000 with the rebate. This may be beyond what potential buyers, especially those considering an off-peak car, can afford," said Dr Lee. "Assume the COE is $57,000; then (the payment is) $40,000. This may feel more affordable."

At the close of the latest bidding exercise last Wednesday, COE prices for the small-car category finished at $57,089. Premiums were between 6.9 per cent and 61 per cent higher two years ago.

Transport consultant Gopinath Menon said that buyers consider "whether the upfront rebate is attractive in comparison with the COE payment for cars".

But it is not just new car buyers who are driving up the registrations for the off-peak car scheme. First vice-president of the Singapore Vehicle Traders Association, Mr Raymond Tang, said: "There's a trend of people buying used cars and registering them as off-peak cars, so they can defray costs."

Under the scheme, owners who convert their normal cars to an off-peak one can receive a cash rebate of up to $1,100 every six months, and a flat discount of up to $500 on annual road tax. Mr Tang estimates that about 10 per cent of second-hand buyers are doing this.

Marketing executive Kelvin Low, 30, who bought a used Toyota Corolla in 2012, said he did not want to incur parking fees and ERP charges by driving to his office on weekdays. Registering for the off-peak scheme, which offered rebates and savings, was a "natural option".

However, Mr Low switched to a normal plate recently as he found the scheme inflexible. "There are occasions when I have to make a short commute. Imagine buying a day pass which is supposed to be utilised within a range of 12 hours, but instead, I buy it and drive for only like five minutes," he said.

Still, there are some who are sticking with the scheme. Mr Jeosiah Wee, 32, an IT support engineer, got his second off-peak car last month - a Mitsubishi Outlander.

"I don't drive to work because of the traffic jams. The car is mainly for the weekends, and taking the family out," he said.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 14, 2015, with the headline 'More drawn to off-peak cars'. Print Edition | Subscribe