Monday, July 07, 2008

Of Cars and ERP

Yesterday’s news reported that the number of ERP gantries and existing ERP charges would be up in our island, this, would inevitably frays the nerves of motorists, especially those plying the affected routes frequently.

For motorists plying the routes in which the ERP gantries are added would now need to pay for the use of these roads. I understand the rationale of the government in installing the new gantries, which are, in a Senior Minister of State’s words, to ‘change the driving habits or patterns of Singaporean’, but policies which would hurt Singaporeans’ pockets would often be widely debated and even challenged.

In my opinion, I believe the increase in the number of ERP gantries and the charges of the existing gantries would do little change to those well-heeled Singaporeans as they could well afford the increased charges; the increases would in fact affect the middle class Singaporean motorists more as the impact on their pockets would be larger.

Well-heeled Singaporeans, especially those in the league of the ‘77,000 millionaires with a net worth of US $1 million excluding property worth’ may well be the more frequent users of roads, thus the ERP policies may only change the traveling pattern of motorists in the middle income bracket, who are likely the less-frequent users of roads.

In the long run, ERP may take some cars off the road at the cost of the less wealthy motorists who could not sustain the high cost of the system. Less cars on the roads may well increase the mileage of wealthy car owners and the pollution caused by cars may not change and might even increase for the worse.

Public transport has to be made more appealing in order to encourage more Singaporeans to switch to public transport. I have noticed the train, public buses getting more and more crowdy beyond the comfort level of passengers. This phenomenon, is in part due to the increasing population caused by the influx of foreigners. In the long run, it would most probably be the middle-income Singaporeans who could not sustain the high cost of the ERP system who would ultimately make the switch. Can you imagine a millionaire taking the public bus? The possibility is very remote as the impact of the increasing ERP charges do not amount much to his deep pockets.

An aspiring local car owner would have to contend with the following associated cost of owning a car besides the payment on the car itself: COE, car insurance, ERP fees, car maintenance and inspection fees and parking fees. The collective amount looks threatening to an owner in the middle-income bracket.

In the long run, owning a car and driving may well become the privilege of only the rich.

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