Life without a privatly-owned car
I had the pleasure of speaking at the Singapore ITS Summit 2017, which has just concluded. Singapore is such an amazing country that offers so much to learn from. While we are working hard in Europe to create mobility services that would get rid of the second and third family car, 55% of households in Singapore do not own a car at all. There are about 100 privately owned cars per 1,000 citizens compared to 500 cars in Europe. The country’s efforts to decrease the number of privately cars further have met with success, while the number of private cars in Europe is increasing in many countries. And yet, Singapore has one of the most efficient, affordable and clean transportation systems. While it feels funny talking to them about the “Mobility-as-a-Service” movement in Europe, they have the culture of wanting to improve further and get the best out of all continents.
Singapore is realistic about the reasons behind their success: “The stress of limited available land created our diamond of a transportation system”. Here is what I am thinking: Is it possible that the stress is simply too low in Europe for us to be willing to make the necessary changes or is it just under-reported and the awareness is low? We all know about the tragedy in London, where 5 people were killed in terrorist attack. Few people know that on that same day 25 lives were lost in the same city due to transport-related air pollution. And the same thing happens every day in other cities across Europe as well. And then there are the millions of hours lost to congestions, precious space used for infrastructure instead of people, the enormous cost of our mobility… I sincerely believe it is not the lack of stress – it is the lack of understanding and the lack of common ideas of how to solve the problem.
It’s interesting to talk to people from Singapore, when they explain about the Certificate of Entitlement – a monthly bidding process where you can buy a permission to own a car. Current price is about 35,000 EUR for a 10-year license to buy a car, which is a cost on top of that – and, again, not a small cost at all. On the other hand – the luxurious, efficient, clean and silent subway system is very affordable as are other modes of shared transport.
When talking to the few locals who are not from the transport industry, some were complaining about the cost of owning a car in Singapore. I heard comments like – “A car is too expensive – if I had it, I could get around more efficiently, but I cannot afford it”. It’s amazing how false this statement is. In Singapore, there is simply no space to own an inefficient private car and simple math can prove this. On the other hand, excellent public transport linked with the occasional use of taxis, Uber or Grab provide a really efficient way to solve anyone’s transportation needs.
Another small thing that I was very impressed with was the ability to order a 13-seat, 26-seat as well as a 40-seat bus using the Grab app. Not very useful yet but a clear indicator that the future of ride-hailing and ride-sharing is absolutely not limited to being a replacement for the taxi service. Surely, we will see much more innovation in this space.
Urban mobility system is a funny thing. We need to and we want to move to the user-centric mobility systems. However, we need to understand that our intuition is not always correct – an urban mobility system is a very complex environment that requires deep thinking before smart decisions can be made. Oversimplifying leads to wrong decisions and in many ways, this is the current state of mobility systems in Europe.
Singapore is such a lovely example of how much better our lives could be if we approached mobility differently. Do we really need to be flooded by the rising sea levels to realize that our space as well as our lives are precious? I am happy that more and more European companies and organizations are recognizing the inefficiencies of our approach to city mobility and are starting to understand the power of digital technology to change this. The Mobility-as-a-Service movement is getting traction as is the recognition that this is not the problem of a single company/single city; rather, it is a challenge where the ecosystem of various stakeholders needs to work together collaboratively to create a better environment for us all.