Can we please increase our ERP rates? They’re too low. Wait, hear me out.
The long-touted rationale for car prices in Singapore being among the world’s highest, is that road space here is in such short supply that allowing everyone to buy cars would result in hopeless gridlock.
Except the rationale overlooks the fact that it’s vehicle usage, not ownership, which causes congestion. After all, who contributes more to traffic jams – the office-bound chap who only drives to work in the morning and back in the evening, or the Grab driver who spends all day plying the roads (and occasionally stopping randomly mid-junction to let his phone’s sat-nav app catch up)?
Even the wealthiest tech billionaire with a dozen supercars tucked in the basement of his district 10 GCB (Good Class Bungalow) can only ever use one car at a time. It’s the private-hire driver or the roving sales executive who drives about all day, who is the problem.
So let’s do away with our hundred-plus percent ARF taxes and COEs, and let people buy as many cars as they want – with the proviso that they must first show that they have sufficient off-street parking to house each car, so that we don’t end up with estate roads and HDB carparks clogged with parked cars instead.
And then raise ERP rates to the point of pain – make it prohibitively expensive to drive into town on weekdays, for instance. Something at the level of central London’s £11.50 (S$21.30) congestion charge should do the trick.
The main congestion culprits – private-hire drivers, cabbies, delivery companies – will all feel the pinch. But that’s because the rest of us are no longer absorbing the cost of the negative externalities inflicted by their chosen livelihood.
And by making it prohibitively costly to drive into town (or to other congestion hotspots), transport decisions (and, in the longer term, city planning) will hopefully change – more businesses will relocate to suburban hubs, people will switch to MRT, buses or cycling instead of wasteful single-person private-hire car or taxi journeys, and marginal trips will be foregone.
And what’s in it for the petrolhead? With no more ARF and COEs, a more exotic ride or perhaps a multi-car collection may now be within reach for the average car-loving Joe, as it is elsewhere in the world.
I’d happily give up the daily drive to work and ride the train instead, if it means that I can afford a 911 GT3 for the weekends. If raising ERP rates leads to lower car prices, bring it on.