Thursday, June 28, 2007

All About Cars and Driving In Singapore

I realize it's been weeks since my last blog and I bet some of you were wondering "Did Joe get bored of blogging already?" No, I didn't get bored, I had a cold for a few days, then our shipment of stuff came in, then Oliver got sick, then I had a fever, yada, yada, yada...Anyways, things are starting to get back to normal so let the nattering resume.

First off, I want to thank everyone who's been posting replies to my blog and to the many people who emailed me. It was great hearing from all of you. OK, on to one of my favorite subjects, driving.

Prior to coming to Singapore, we toyed with the idea of not owning a car. Singapore has an excellent subway (MRT) system, taxis are cheap and we knew we can afford a location that would be central to everything. So, what happened? We bought a car. Why? Because we're North American sloths who can't get our lazy ass to walk 100m to Starbucks to get our soy-milk latte and passion fruit chai tea. OK, that's a bit of an exaggeration because I drink whole milk latte and Jill likes English breakfast tea.

Seriously though, our car has been very handy and I don't regret paying three times the price of a similar car in North America. Yes, you heard right, 3 times (gasp!) more expensive. More on that next. We bought a Honda Edix (FRV in Europe) and it's a great little car. It's classified as a compact MPV (compact minivan in North American speak) and it can seat six people, 3 up front and 3 in back. Or, as my friend from Austin, Texas would say "it can seat six people in red-neck configuration, boy-girl-boy". In our case, we'll have two car seats in the back and 3 adults up front (maid, Jill and Joe) with plenty of space in the boot to hold strollers and nappy bags. And the best thing about the Edix is it doesn't look like a minivan.

Buying A Car
Bottom line is you gotta have $$$ to own a car in Singapore. It's truly a luxury item, unless you're a cabbie. A few things drive the price of the car up. (1) Import tax and registration, 150% of open market value (OMV) (2) certificate of entitlement (COE) which is currently around $15,000 to $20,000 and (3) shipping which is probably a few thousand since every car is an import.

I'm not exactly sure what OMV is but I suspect it means the value of the car if purchased from the manufacturer exclusive of taxes and duty. Whatever it is, it's freakin' huge at 150%.

To limit the number of cars in Singapore, the government issues a set number of COEs (certificates of entitlement) and hold auctions twice a month. So, the price fluctuates depending on demand. You must have a COE before you can purchase your car and it's good for 10 years. Right now, a category B (1,600 cc or larger engine) COE is around $19,000. Prices for COE will rise and fall over time. Last year around this time it was around $12,000 and I have heard of stories where the COE was close to $100,000, Yikes!

Then, there's shipping from whatever the car is manufactured which I'm sure adds another few thousand to the equation.

So, for something like a Honda Civic which sells for $20,000 USD in the States will cost around $80-85K SDG (or around $55,000 USD). Man, I could get a Bimmer in North America for that price.

Aside from the upfront cost of owning a car, there's also road tax, fees for certain roads during peak period, parking fees basically everywhere even malls, and high fuel prices.

Enough about costs. I'm starting to rethink the wisdom of our purchase.

Driving is pretty straight forward here except for navigating. You really have to know exactly where you're going, right down to the lane where you belong in. For example, when driving on the expressway, slow and cruising traffic should stick to the left lane (since we're a left-handed system here), pretty basic stuff. The problem is there is often very short notice (i.e. less than 500m) on mandatory left exit lanes and you're forced to quickly switch a lane to the right. Sometimes the two leftmost lanes are exit lanes and then you're really screwed and have to exit. Similarly, on city streets, you're forced to make turns because the lane direction changes on you before you know it.

Then, there is this little problem with two intersecting expressways here. Let's call them Expressway A and B. If I traveled northbound on A, I cannot get on the westbound lane of B. Nor is it possible for me to go southbound on A if I'm traveling eastbound on B. The odd thing is, there are exits and on ramps and cloverleafs to get in every other direction but those two. If any drivers from Singapore is reading this post, please let me know why this is the case. The two expressways I'm referring to are the CTE (A) and the PIE (B).

Yes, parking warrants it's own little section in my writeup. Everybody here reverses into a parking spot and I mean everybody. 99 drivers out of 100 will reverse park. The sole driver who forward parks is probably an expat. Personally, I find it a little odd that people are that anal about parking. I thought I was the only one. Now, there have been statistics that suggests reversing into a spot is safer than driving forward into one. Maybe that's why the life expectancy in Singapore is so high.

The other thing that's interesting about parking here is the parking lots are SO clean. You can have open chest surgery in one of these lots. I guess all the parking attendants whose job has been replaced by automated payment systems are now cleaning up skid marks and oil spills off the floor. The only bad thing about lots being so clean is a mark-free pillar that is the same color as the wall behind it is sometimes hard to see while reversing....Crash! Oops!

The drivers in Singapore are generally pretty good. A little aggressive but that's how I like my driving. They're aggressive in that they'll merge into your lane with the bumpers literaly touching one another. It's that whole small space thing. Drivers here don't tend to speed as much as say in Toronto. I recall Toronto drivers routinely doing 120-130 km on a city expressway where the posted limit is 90 km. You don't see that here. In fact, what's really annoying is you have drivers who drive 20 km LESS than the maximum. Amazing, I can't understand why everyone isn't in a rush like I am. One really good thing about drivers in Singapore versus drivers in The Bahamas is they're not sloppy. Man, that really got my goat living in The Bahamas. What do I mean by sloppy driving? No turn signals, can't stay within their lane, wide turns, burnt out lights that obviously been burnt out for a while, excessively slow driving, drinking and driving, etc. You get the picture.

Speaking of drinking and driving, the enforcement of it is very good in Singapore. One year automatic suspension of your license if you're caught. Here, Here!! What Singapore could improve on though is their enforcement of child car seat use. To be honest, I was kind of shocked to see so many kids unbuckled in a car. We're talking about people driving Mercedes and BMWs who don't have their kids bucked up. Come on people, if you can afford a $100,000+ car, surely you can afford a $200 child seat. Unfortunately, it's not an issue of money for these people but pure ignorance. Let's hope they learn from a huge fine and not the worser alternative.

Well, on that happy note, I think I'll end it here. Drive safe.




At July 14, 2007 at 6:01 AM , Blogger Paulina said...

Nice to see another blog post from you, Joe! Considering that you learned to drive in Montreal, I don't think you'd have trouble driving anywhere in the world.

At July 18, 2007 at 10:11 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

I moved here two years ago and we miss our car!! Oh, and if you find drivers in Singapore aggressive, then traffic in Manila will drive you nuts.

Thanks for writing such a descriptive post, do you mind if we link to it from our Living in Singapore guide?

At October 27, 2008 at 4:36 AM , Blogger Unknown said...

Dear Joe:
Your bit on Car buying and keeping in Spore was quite good and straight from the heart.\I too lived in Spore for 7 years and am now in DUBAI-- being a canadian from Vancouver,BC
I must say hat spore has one of the best Subway systems in the World.i really dont.think you need a car here .
anyway-JOE would be interested in knowing your comments on Singaporean attitutdes towards STRESS? and Happiness??

At November 12, 2008 at 12:10 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great work.

At February 3, 2009 at 10:49 PM , Blogger Unknown said...

Hi Joe, thanks for the enlightening and insightful comments on driving...we are here for just 4 weeks and are in the same position - to car or not to car? Havng been spoiled in South Africa with vehicles, we do miss it. It might be laziness as distances are close, but it is also the convenience, and well - the taxi fares do add up... take care, Nivan

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