Friday 22 April 2016

Fewer, pricier parking spaces to deter driving?

Having such a policy may work, but what works in other cities may not be best way to put brakes on driving here
By Christopher Tan, Senior Transport Correspondent, The Straits Times, 21 Apr 2016

In 2003, Seoul's then mayor Lee Myung Bak went on a "car-lite" strategy to rejuvenate the capital.

He proposed the removal of a major elevated highway in the city to restore a river beneath it - a highly unpopular move back then, but one which turned out to be a brilliant project that is cited by planners worldwide.

The Cheonggyecheon River today flows with crystal clear water teeming with aquatic life, and its banks are a bustling thoroughfare for pedestrians as well as a popular oasis for residents and tourists.

Mr Lee also overhauled the confusing public bus system, transforming it to become one of the best in the world.

But a lesser known decision he took was to crimp parking. Leading by example, he slashed City Hall parking by 90 per cent.

Parking spaces went from 400 to just 50. Now, this must have meant a great inconvenience to many government officials and civil servants. But he did it anyway, to put his money where his mouth was.

Will Singapore have the political will to do something similar?

At the recent committee of supply debate, both National Development Minister Lawrence Wong and Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan hinted that Singapore's parking policies were too generous and would have to be tweaked.

For instance, parking charges here were lower than in many developed cities. Taking 2011 rates as an illustration, the season parking in Tokyo and Hong Kong was around $920 per month. For London, it was nearly $1,340. But in Singapore, the average price of parking in the Central Business District was $278.20.

Those of us who have driven in cities like Melbourne, New York, Paris and Frankfurt will attest to this. Parking charges are far higher in those places than in Singapore.

In fact, as a proportion of car cost, London's season parking per year is almost equivalent to half the price of a new Toyota Corolla, which is why only the very wealthy have season parking in the city's financial district.

In Singapore, annual parking in the CBD worked out to be only 3 per cent the cost of a Corolla (2011 comparison).

Therein lies one difficulty in pursuing parking as a driving deterrent here. Parking charges in the CBD would have to be raised 14 times higher to $3,955 per month to match London's parking-to-car cost ratio.

Not only that, Singapore already has multiple anti-car measures - namely high taxes, statutory vehicle lifespan, quota system, congestion pricing, fuel tariffs. The other cities which adopt a stricter parking regime do not apply these other deterrents as extensively nor half as harshly.

Ironically, the high upfront cost of cars here also makes usage charges less effective than elsewhere. As illustrated above, parking charges may have to be prohibitively high if we were to adopt London's example.

The other way would be to make parking scarce. In the past, Singapore mandated developers to have a minimum parking provision. That was a pro-business decision, so the city was not slowed down - as it were - by indiscriminate and illegal street parking. Or by motorists circling to look for parking, thereby contributing to congestion.

Transport researcher Paul Barter, who has done extensive studies on parking, points out that cities like London and Berlin have abolished minimum parking requirements.

Dr Barter says having sufficient parking encourages people to drive. He is right, of course.

Singapore is starting to ease up on this requirement. In fact, the Urban Redevelopment Authority is considering future zero-parking developments in the new downtown.

But we have a long way to go.

The Land Transport Authority, whose headquarters in Hampshire Road is served by two MRT lines and several bus services, has at-grade parking as well as additional spaces in a four-storey carpark.

It recently converted one floor of the multi-storey carpark into office space, but this was more a response to its fast-expanding staff size than a desire to rethink its parking policy.

Elsewhere, developers of the newly-completed National Gallery provided two levels of its basement to carpark lots, even though the place is accessible by MRT. In fact, there are plans to pedestrianise the part of the civic district near where the historic building stands.

Not only that, there is already ample sheltered parking in nearby places such Suntec City, the Old Parliament House and Funan Centre.

Yet, it will not be easy for Singapore to go "parking-lite" like the Western cities. At least, not without reviewing all the other measures we have in place that deter motoring.

In fact, we will have to tread carefully, lest we end up with parking charges climbing 14 times higher, which would be an extremely bitter pill for consumers to swallow, and which will impact Singapore's business competitiveness in no small way.

Much promise lies with the upcoming satellite-based ERP 2.0, which would be able to charge motorists for the distance they clock. If applied well, it should allow Singapore to strike a proper equilibrium between the cost of acquiring a car and the cost of using it. (Right now, the cost is heavily skewed towards acquisition.)

For instance, we could have a mileage-based COE, rather than one that lasts 10 years. Assuming the lifespan of a COE is limited to 100,000km (about 40 per cent lower than the current average), motorists will automatically drive far more judiciously than they do now.

Michael Manville, assistant professor of city and regional planning at Cornell University, says: "In principle, the best way to reduce driving is by charging people directly to drive, and to vary the price with demand."

That is what the ERP system has been doing since 1998, and what ERP 2.0 - which is slated to be up by 2020 - will continue doing, but in a more refined manner.

If that is so, we may not even have to tweak our parking policy much.

Nevertheless, we would still do well to take stock of our urban form if we want Singapore to remain high on the liveability ranking. There are of course, numerous ingredients in the ever so varied recipe for liveability, but having more roads is usually not one of them, especially if the roads are occupied by old-tech vehicles powered by combustion engines.

Several cities have, in fact, torn or pared down highways, to great effect. In the same vein as Seoul's Cheonggyecheon project, we see others like San Francisco's Embarcadero, Portland's Harbor Drive, Madrid's M30 and Seattle's Alaskan Way.

Will Singapore be bold enough to scrap the North-South Expressway project (which has been renamed North-South Corridor)?

Will we dare to reopen the Orchard Road canal and convert it into an ABC (active, beautiful, clean) waterway? Will we put trams on Marina Bay's broad boulevards?

Will there be a champion like Lee Myung Bak?

Incidentally, Mr Lee went on to become South Korea's tenth president in 2008. Of course he did not win the office because of his urban renewal and transport projects.

Rather, it was because he had the tenacity, vision and purpose - qualities that made it possible for him to pull off an audacious project like Cheonggyecheon - that made him a winning candidate.

Car-lite endeavour

Private residential parking needs resolution

The many recent discussions on using parking as a tool to encourage Singaporeans to go car-lite have not focused on managing parking at the place of a private residence ("Fewer, pricier parking spaces to deter driving?"; last Thursday).

Developers in residential housing spread the cost of providing parking across all units.

This means that regardless of whether a buyer owns and drives a car, he pays for the parking space, and even the maintenance of the parking space within the estate.

Hence, owners who do not own and drive cars subsidise those who do.

The subsidy is both an upfront and one-time payment, in the form of the price of the apartment, as well as a recurring fee, in the form of monthly service charges.

To resolve this, developers should be allowed to sell parking as a strata space or an accessory space.

Buyers of a property who do not own a car should not have to pay towards the cost of building and maintaining parking space.

There is also the issue of enforcement if we are to use parking to regulate car ownership and usage.

Illegal parking in housing estates should be clamped down on rigorously, as this is not only another form of subsidy but also a loss of revenue for the state.

Phang Fook Ghay
ST Forum, 27 Apr 2016

Car-lite solutions need to consider all factors

Mr Phang Fook Ghay suggests that buyers of private residential property who do not own cars should not have to pay towards the cost of building and maintaining parking space ("Car-lite endeavour: Private residential parking needs resolution"; Wednesday).

This line of thinking will lead to its own set of problems.

For instance, what happens when such a resident invites his family or friends over? Will he have to ensure that his guests do not drive there, as he is not entitled to a share of parking spaces?

And if he needs some form of transport assistance in future, does he expect neighbours who drive to be kind and give him a helping hand?

It will be tough for this resident, too, when he wants to sell his apartment and there are no more parking spaces available in his condominium. He will then have to sell his unit at depressed prices.

Such thinking will also lead other residents to question why they have to pay for condo facilities, such as swimming pools, gyms, barbecue pits and playgrounds, as well as their maintenance, if they do not use them.

Those who buy units on the ground floor may then ask to be exempted from paying lift maintenance fees.

In trying to find ways to encourage people to go car-lite, we should not seek to penalise those who own cars, as many do so for family or work needs.

People with aged family members or young children will understand the necessity of having a car, especially when the weather can change drastically from hot and humid to wet and thundery.

Often, we forget that our own situation and needs may change, and the penalty intended for others becomes our own.

Grace Chua Siew Hwee (Madam)
ST Forum, 29 Apr 2016

Car-lite Singapore

Two writers offer contrasting viewpoints on cars: the first says charging market rates for parking will wean people off driving cars, while the second argues that helping families own cars may boost fertility rates.

$1,200 for CBD parking, $400 for HDB: Will you still drive?
By Lee Chiu San, Published The Straits Times, 27 Apr 2016

Cities should be planned for people, not cars. But transport is also an absolute necessity. How can both needs be met?

Senior Transport Correspondent Christopher Tan raised this perennial issue in his article of April 21: Can Singapore go car-lite? This time, he tackled the issue from the angle of parking.

In its efforts to control congestion, the Singapore Government has put too much emphasis on purchase price and not enough on running costs.

In London, Tokyo and New York, cars are cheap. But parking is expensive. Only the richest drive to town. Will such a solution be effective in Singapore?

Let's work on the premise that the public should not subsidise motorists, but neither should motorists be penalised with charges that cannot be directly linked to their impact on society. Imagine a scenario where motorists pay the market rate for parking, but are free to own cars, also at market prices for the vehicles, without any extraordinary taxes.

The Government is obliged to provide roads, because these are vital for business. But despite Electronic Road Pricing (ERP), it is unlikely that the full land and construction costs are being recovered without some cross subsidy from other taxes. This anomaly is unavoidable in transport calculations. But any proposals to go car-free are mere pipe dreams that will bring commercial and social activities to a halt. However, the Government is under no obligation to provide private parking space for cars below market rates, which it is doing now in Housing Board estates, schools and for its staff in some buildings.

Taking warehouse rents per sq ft as guidelines, a season parking space can justifiably be charged at between $700 and $1,200 per month in town, and perhaps about $400 per month in HDB estates. The former are equivalent to charges in major European and Asian cities, where hourly parking costs about $10. In those places, lower- and middle-level staff often own cars, but do not drive to work. They get there by public transport, and use their cars for leisure, having practised the Weekend Car lifestyle long before Singapore introduced the concept.

In Singapore, a $100,000 car can be bought with a bank loan. The costs are fixed, however much the car is used. But in charging for usage, costs cannot be financed, are recurring and variable.

If we assume that a family saloon car is instead priced at $30,000, which is what one would pay in Japan, the US or Britain, but that the user has to fork out $600 per month for parking and ERP charges (without ever taking the car to the office), over 10 years, the total paid to the State would be about the same. But the car owner would be constantly reminded of the pain.

As for the provision of parking in office and commercial buildings and in private residences, the Government is right in leaving such decisions to the market. Developers will very soon find out what their customers demand. A commercial block without sufficient parking for tenants, staff, business visitors and customers will soon have to either lower rents, convert more space for parking, or fall vacant.

Christopher Tan noted in his article that, despite being accessible by MRT, the new National Art Gallery Singapore - and its adjacent, expensive eateries - provides two levels of parking.

Its planners obviously knew the demands of their high-brow, high-class clientele. Will the Urban Renewal Authority dare to proceed with zero parking in its developments for the new Downtown?

With regard to private residential properties, car owners are prime prospects. Can a developer hope to sell any units if he cannot assure his customers that they can park at home? And that their visitors can park too?

Hand in hand with raising costs in designated parking spaces, the Government has to clamp down harder on illegal parking. Currently, even though traffic builds up behind them, many drivers leave vehicles as they please.

Though both National Development Minister Lawrence Wong and Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan hinted recently that current parking policies are too generous, will this Government actually pay the political price of telling Singaporeans that the true cost of driving cars must include market-rate parking charges, and that car ownership will eventually become the preserve of the elite?

The writer is a former Straits Times journalist who became a motor car dealer, and is now retired. He is the author of the geopolitical novel Buy My Beloved Country.

Want more babies? Help families afford cars
By Ezra Ho, Published The Straits Times, 27 Apr 2016

Last month, officials from the National Population and Talent Division, led by Senior Minister of State Josephine Teo, went on study trips to Denmark and South Korea to understand how these countries dealt with their falling fertility rates.

The consensus is that we need a holistic approach that cultivates a more family-friendly society. Raising the fertility rate would require an equalising of the demands of childcare by enhancing paternity leave, promoting a more supportive work culture, providing adequate infantcare and fostering a shift in societal attitudes.

So here is a crazy idea to add to the mix: help families afford cars.

At first glance, this appears to run counter to the policy mantra of going "car-lite" in land-scarce Singapore. Such a "car-lite" culture promises to enhance Singapore's urban liveability based on a well-connected and efficient public transport infrastructure. Singaporeans would benefit from healthier, more cohesive, and grounded communities.

Yet, on another level, the idea of helping families afford cars does not seem so crazy when you consider that most people would intuitively agree that having a car significantly eases the experience of starting and raising a family.

A car provides working couples with added time for parenting, and flexibility as they juggle work and family schedules.

For young families, this may mean the ability to pick up or drop off kids on their way to and from work, without having to expend more physical and emotional energies navigating an already overtaxed public transport system that has frequent breakdowns.

A car also provides a conducive means of family interaction and bonding.

After all, when people are stuck in a car, mobile yet immobile, where eye contact between driver and passengers is difficult, they are able to have sensible or sensitive conversations about relationships, responsibilities and decisions.

The car provides a quasi-private space cocooned from the hustle and bustle of urban life for parents and children to communicate, whether it is a serious conversation between parents, playful talk or parental guidance.

A car can facilitate the task of caring for children. For couples with newborns or toddlers, getting around without a car can be a laborious task, especially when a nappy change is needed, or when a mother urgently needs to breastfeed or store her breast milk.

Indeed, it is not uncommon to see such young parents on the MRT, where in addition to having to manage energetic toddlers, they also have to lug along a pram and a bag of baby accessories.

One can sway between admiration and anxiety for their safety as these parents attempt to travel up an escalator with an infant in their pram.

In short, more than just a chunk of metal that gets you from point A to point B, or a status symbol, the car is a multifunctional parenting tool.

Of course, parenting is never an easy task, and we should not expect it to be.

But if the objective is to create a family-friendly environment that encourages couples to have more children, then should we not consider more ways to support parents' everyday lives?

What form can this take?

We can leave that to our skilled technocrats, although one possibility might be a"family car" certificate of entitlement category for families with young children.

Whatever form it takes, such a policy will have its limitations. Helping families own cars may exacerbate inequalities within social classes as the ability to sustain car ownership is associated with certain socio-economic groups.

Crucially, it would send mixed messages about the Government's commitment to a "car-lite" Singapore.

But we need to be clear about means and ends here. After all, the Singapore Government is well-known for its non-ideological and pragmatic attitude towards policymaking.

Restricting car ownership through a series of policy instruments is a means towards an end of reducing congestion and promoting liveability.

Likewise, having a series of policies to ease car ownership for families is a means towards the larger imperative of supporting families and encouraging couples to have children to raise the country's fertility rates, and easing things for families, who are the basic building blocks of society.

The writer is a research assistant and recent graduate of the Bachelor of Environmental Studies programme at the National University of Singapore.

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