On 4th February, the media celebrated the reduction of COE for cars with headlines and articles that focussed on the positive impact in the car industry. In at least 2 major newspapers, only 1 sentence within their articles mention the increase of motorcycle COEs. In fact, in the latest round of bidding, the price of motorcycle COEs hit a historical new high at $6312! In just 1 year, the average price of motorcycle COEs has tripled! The COE price increase is largely due to the 30% reduction of motorcycle quotas in 2014. The quotas for Febuarary till April for motorcycles were slashed about 10.1% while the quotas for small cars and commercial vehicles rose. In fact, there appears to be a conscious effort to increase car quotas while motorcycle quotas are being reduced. One can probably also argue that the car population is being allowed to increase at the expense of motorcycles which is somewhat perplexing if you consider the purpose of the COE system.
Meeting the Goal of the Quota System
A quota limit to vehicles was implemented back in 1990 to be a key pillar in Singapore’s traffic management strategy. Basically, the COE system and the Electronic Road Pricing (ERP) were implemented to control congestion in our road network. The COE system was not designed for other social purposes such as to discourage the use of certain modes of transport because they were perceived to be more dangerous. As such, it is quite baffling to see more cars encouraged in our increasingly congested streets while motorcycles that almost cause no traffic congestion are being discouraged. Between 2003 and 2013, the car population jumped from 405,328 vehicles to 621,345 vehicles, a staggering 53% increase, according to official Land Transport Authority data. In the same period, the motorcycle population only increased from 134,767 vehicles to 144,307 vehicles, a 7% increase. Based on our analysis of publicly available 2014 statistics, private cars now form 64% of the total vehicle population, while motorcycles make up 15%.
Motorcycles can help reduce congestion
Motorcycles can make a uniquely positive contribution to relieve congestion, thereby providing a solution for every Government’s traffic problem. Motorcycles occupy far less space on the road and do not contribute to traffic congestion. The use of motorcycles will substantially increase vehicle capacity on congested urban roads. Motorcycles can easily double-up in a lane or filter through congested areas. They contribute to alleviate gridlocks on high volume roads. In congested areas, motorcycles take approximately 16 to 48 % less time to cover the same urban trip as a car based on studies in the European Union. Four or more motorcycles can park in the same space usually used by a car (yet parking space for motorcycles has in fact been reduced especially in the CBD area). Fewer kilometres are driven to find a parking place and less litres of fuel are used.
Impact on the motorcycling community
Motorcycles have a place in our society. Riders are of all ages, all races, male and female. Some are poor, some are well to do. Some rely on it to earn a living, some just need a cheap point A to B and some are just passionate about it. Some choose to not own a car but rely on a combination of public transport and motorcycle. It is enjoyed the world over including developed markets. Motorcycles are an essential part of our economy, transport system and truly part of our society and culture.
While the current motorcycle COE is insignificant to a purchaser of a car, the impact is significant to the average purchaser of a motorcycle as the tripling of the motorcycle COE has resulted in low cost motorcycles and scooters doubling in price making them largely unattainable to the average consumer. The majority of motorcycles (73%) in Singapore are small capacity bikes under 200cc (Class 2B) and many of these riders tend to be low-income earners who cannot afford a car. For those who work as dispatch riders or have to travel to industrial areas poorly served by public transport, their two wheels are an essential part of their daily workflow. The current quota premium for motorcycles is almost the cost of a new Class 2B motorcycle, and now many low-income earners are being priced out of the market. This has a far reaching impact on the less wealthy, college students, citizens that require a bike for their livelihood and overall business costs, not just the businesses that employ such riders. Motorcycles play a vital role in modern services economies. SME’s, organizations and individuals active in urban areas place motorcycles at the heart of their business. Courier companies, delivery of small goods, delivery of food, health care services, all take advantage of the incomparable cost/efficiency ratio offered by motorcycles.
Increased use of cars and public transport will result in costly investment in infrastructure, yet an increase in use of motorcycles will have the opposite effect. Motorcycles cause a fraction of the damage to roads compared to other motorized transport, and thus are responsible for only a tiny percentage of the maintenance costs. Motorcycles with a smaller carbon footprint compared to cars require lower maintenance, less fuel and are cheaper to scrap – thus contributing to lower energy use. Motorcycles have major advantages compared to any other motorized road transport means, especially on climate change, with less emission of greenhouse gas and lower figures on fuel consumption. Even high performance sports bikes have improved fuel consumption compared to cars on congested roads, consuming between 55% and 81% less fuel than a car on the same journey according to research conducted overseas. For instance, motorcycles are able to make progress in congested conditions and are thus less polluting than other vehicle subject to a stop/start cycle. Motorcycles in Singapore are also being subject to emissions limits and now comply with high Euro standards.
Based on all the above points, it is clear that the quota for motorcycles should not be decreased but in fact increased. There is no reason why there is a need to put curbs on motorcycle growth when this population has not really grown over the last 5 years and has never impacted congestion. Continuing curbs will force many motorcyclists, unable to either purchase a new motorcycle or renew their COE, to public transport which adds an unnecessary strain or congestion to our public transport network. We really don’t want to move an entire segment of road users (motorcyclists) to public transportation when clearly this segment can help complement our overall transportation system.
*the above above letter was submitted by a motorcyclist who wishes to remain anonymous. *
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LTA COE Singapore