Singapore petrol usage set to hit record despite fewer vehicles

Popularity of private-hire cars helping drive up fuel consumption, say experts

Singapore is set to consume a record 6,453,600 barrels of petrol this year, according to oil industry data. ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

Despite a shrinking vehicle population, Singapore's petrol consumption is rising - a phenomenon that experts attribute to the proliferation of private-hire cars.

According to oil industry data, Singapore is set to consume a record 6,453,600 barrels of petrol this year. This is 3 per cent more than last year, and 5.6 per cent more than in 2013, the year private-hire operators Uber and Grab entered Singapore. One barrel is around 159 litres.

At the same time, Singapore's vehicle population has contracted by nearly 2 per cent since 2013 to around 957,000. The private-hire vehicle population, however, has quadrupled to more than 55,000.

Conversely, the usage of diesel has dipped, possibly because of a shrinking taxi population and a growing fleet of petrol-electric hybrid cabs.

Singapore Management University Assistant Professor Terence Fan, who specialises in transport economics, attributed the trend to cabbies switching to driving for private-hire operators, noting that all the taxi companies had reported falling hired-out rates.

Prof Fan added that private-hire cars tend to be driven more than regular cars, fuelling a rise in petrol consumption. Anecdotal evidence suggests that private-hire vehicles - which are largely petrol-powered - cover at least 50 per cent more distance daily than the average family car. Many clock more than 400km a day - nearly nine times that of the average family car.

"The population of such rental vehicles is around 5 per cent to 6 per cent of the total vehicle population, and they average two to three times the mileage travelled by a normal vehicle," said Nanyang Business School's Adjunct Associate Professor Zafar Momin. He was previously an automotive expert with Boston Consulting Group.

He noted there are more higher-capacity cars now. These cars, with bigger and more powerful engines, tend to consume more fuel. According to Land Transport Authority statistics, cars above 1,600cc now make up about 48 per cent of the car population - up from 45 per cent in 2013.

As to why diesel consumption has fallen, Prof Momin said one possible reason is a higher proportion of lighter vehicles (below 3,500kg) in the overall commercial vehicles portfolio. "These vehicles are fairly fuel-efficient and may be in greater demand for multiple reasons like e-commerce deliveries, transporting workers for the large number of construction projects and as traditional SME workhorses," he said.

The overall commercial vehicle population - reliant on diesel - has fallen since 2013. But the sub-3,500kg cohort has grown to 68.6 per cent, from 67.6 per cent in 2013.

Oil industry consultant Ong Eng Tong pointed to other reasons for the trend of rising fuel consumption.

"The amount of roadworks, especially for all the new MRT lines, seems to be causing quite a lot of traffic jams," he said, noting that congestion would contribute to higher fuel consumption.

Observers said if the trend continues, it might undermine the Government's efforts to make Singapore "car-lite". And it would not be alone. New York City's traffic has worsened since Uber and Lyft started operating five years ago. Its subway ridership has also fallen.

According to Inrix, a transportation analytics firm, lost hours and excess fuel costs sucked nearly US$17 billion (S$22.7 billion) out of the New York City economy last year.


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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 30, 2017, with the headline Singapore petrol usage set to hit record despite fewer vehicles. Subscribe