Private transport guide for expats in Singapore
Private car ownership affords drivers the extreme in travel flexibility and convenience. However, private transport does come at a high price. Driving around the city is relatively convenient, with smooth roads and traffic, ample parking space, and a populace that generally follows driving and parking rules (although there is a tendency for drivers to suddenly switch lanes without signaling). The gridlock sometimes found in other Southeast Asian locales is very unusual in Singapore. However, it does become more difficult during peak hours from 7.30 to 9.30 am and 5 to 7.30 pm, when major roads and highways are congested with cars.
The government, in a bid to reduce the amount of cars in Singapore, has imposed a number of restrictive policies including the Certificate of Entitlement (COE) requirement and the Electronic Poad Pricing (ERP) policy. The former requires car owners to purchase a COE (permission to own and operate a specific vehicle), which can range from a few thousand to above one hundred thousand SGD. The price is dependent upon the COE bidding exercise, which is held twice monthly on the first and third Monday with bidding taking place over a three day period. COE rates are currently very high and, as of June 2014 you can expect to pay in the region of $71,000 SGD for a single COE for a car above 1600C. Once purchased, a COE lasts for a period of ten years and remains with the car if it changes owner. All COEs must be renewed after the ten year validity has passed and at that point they become worthless.
The ERP is a citywide toll system that uses electronic gantries used to collect road usage taxes and ease congestion on major roads, with prices varying at different times of day from $0.50 to $3.00. Some routes go through a number of gantries, however, making rush hour traffic both slow and expensive. All cars are fitted with an ERP card reader and cash cards can be purchased and topped up at gas stations and seven eleven convenience stores.
Most people who own or lease cars drive their own vehicles. Good traffic systems and rule-abiding drivers make driving relatively easy, leaving chauffeur service mainly to the very affluent or infirm. Drivers from non-British commonwealth locales do have to get used to driving on the left side of the road with reversed car controls, but this transition is actually much simpler that it might seem, and takes only a minimal amount of time for comfortable adjustment.
If you do not anticipate driving in Singapore on a frequent basis, you may wish to opt for an “off-peak vehicle.” These are referred to as “weekend cars” by the locals and have cheaper road tax. They can be identified by their red number plates and they are only allowed to be used on the roads between 7pm and 7am on weekdays. They can be used as normal on Saturdays, Sundays and Public Holidays.
Off-peak vehicles pay a relatively lower road tax (a discount of up to $500) as compared to other private vehicles and are also given rebate of $17,000 which can be offset against COE and ARF.