Since the 2011 General Elections, the Government has been actively dealing with the various societal and infrastructural issues facing Singaporeans. Be it the fertility rate, housing prices or public transport, there have been much discussion and policy changes.
But the Government remains strangely stubborn on the issue of the Certificate of Entitlement (COE) for vehicles. Despite multiple calls from the public to revamp the nearly 23-year-old system, the consistent response from the Ministry of Transport is that there will be no changes apart from tweaking vehicle quotas.
It is puzzling to most citizens why this sacred cow remains resilient to policy change. It is neither fool-proof nor has it benefited the wider society in the past two decades.
Poor management of the system formula and vehicle quotas led to an explosion in the vehicle population in the last decade. The current state of COE prices have just about decimated the market for affordable family sedans, angering the heartlander population as it seems only the wealthy deserve to have cars. The roads today are still susceptible to massive jams (even during off peak hours) despite the COE and ERP systems in place, exacerbated by a strained public transport network.
It is clear that the COE system needs an overhaul to serve the people, and not be beholden to an obsolete concept from a different era.
The Government needs to abolish old assumptions and policymakers need to realize this has become a hot political issue that has reached a boiling point within the electorate.
Why not consider the following principles in designing a vehicle quota system?
1) Distribution of certificates must be fair and equitable.
To control a vehicle population merely requires a restriction in the number of certificates, not an infinitely increasing price. No matter the price, there is always someone who can afford it, but is that a fair system given the increasing wealth divide in Singapore?
Balloting has been suggested frequently by citizens to level the playing field between the rich and poor, yet this call is ignored by the Government each time.
For those who fear a black market situation, that can be easily dealt with through strict ownership laws and enforcement. Who would dare to trade in balloted COEs if he risks a $200,000 fine or six-month jail term? Singapore’s a “fine” city, right?
2) Car ownership should be driven by needs, not wants.
Balloting can also be prioritized for families who really require private transport.
I have observed how the disabled and elderly face difficulty in getting around with their family members, especially on rainy days when one can never get a taxi. We desire to be an inclusive society, but the ones who are truly dependent on private transport are often shut out. The roads have been prioritized for those who can drive big and flashy continental cars instead.
Also, has the Government ever considered improving the fertility rate simply by giving priority of car ownership to parents with three or more children? If people want to aspire to the 5Cs, especially that of a car, let them achieve the 6th C of having more children first.
Any rational Singaporean will tell you that we can only have a limited number of cars on this island and that we do need a system of control.
However, the COE system’s massive flaws have been apparent for decades, and not fixing them will only lead to greater societal discord and political fallout in the near future.