First, it was the high COE prices. Now, it’s the 50 per cent loan cap and higher ARF. Having one’s own set of wheels may well be a dream too far for many. Especially for car enthusiasts like me, it is an added blow to see our dreams go up in smoke. I used to think that if I can save up enough over 5 years (assuming I live on a diet of porridge and instant noodles), I would be on my way of achieving my goal of owning a car. As COE premiums breached the $80,000 mark, I had to adjust my goal a little farther. But then came the killer blow which meant that I have no choice but to postpone it indefinitely. Only Santa can make my dream a reality now, by leaving a car with my name in the driveway, though I have to wait till Christmas for that.
At what cost, for a car?
Recent reports in the media have highlighted the real cost of owning a car throughout an adult’s lifetime, putting the price tag of owning a humble 1.6-litre sedan for 50 years at a whopping $1.6 million. For people who are using it as an attempt to console themselves of their evaporated dreams, may I just point out that this is a natural defence mechanism – a coping strategy adopted in response to a piece of news which is hard to swallow. However, I would like to challenge this thought.
I believe motorists (and potential buyers) are already aware that we, Singaporeans, are paying a rather hefty sum to buy, operate and maintain our cars – it is not a sudden revelation. Next, not everyone owns a car from the age of 25 to 75, so we may be overestimating the figures if we assume that this is the longevity of our membership in the exclusive vehicle owners’ club. If I were to rope in statistics that 1 in 4 households owns a car, perhaps it is not so exclusive after all. Nevertheless, it brings us nicely to my next point: not everyone shoulders the financial burden of car ownership alone, since the costs (and benefits) are often shared with a spouse or among a larger family. Hence, I found it slightly amusing when the press and common man on the street are riding on the wave to “make sense” of ploughing massive sums into the purchase of a car, patting themselves on the back and saying, “It’s alright, I probably can’t afford it anyway, so it doesn’t make a difference.”
If the policy-makers had intended for this effect, then they have achieved it well. However, buying a car has always been more of a luxury than a necessity for most of us. As such, the rationality of it all may not be as comparable to, say, that of a house. Therefore, trying to make sense of a purchase which is not entirely rational would be like trying to explain why you went for a piece of premium-grade beef (a car) costing $100, when a $30 T-bone (public transport) would have filled your stomach sufficiently (gotten you from point A to B).
Why I (still) want my set of wheels
Despite the convenience of public transport as what our Government highlights to us, I still aspire to own a car. No need for something flashy – I would be happy with a decent hatchback. There is the time-proven perception that a car is a status symbol, and yes, what better way to show that you have made it in life? But bragging rights does not matter to me. It is more of the freedom associated with a car that appeals to me. With a car, I can stay out late with friends without worrying about the last bus or train home (I am sure this echoes the voices of my peers in their 20s). Trains do not operate round the clock, and the route coverage of night buses can still be improved.
Also, there are times where one wants to head for a picnic at East Coast Park and it just does not make much sense to lug around a large cooler box of drinks and another handful of plastic bags all the way from Jurong West (for example), by bus and train. There is always the option of a cab, though a round-the-island trip can cost you dear if you have others to pick up along the way. One might ask, how often do you go for picnics? Not everyday, but it can be a bit of a hassle to rent or borrow a car, given that one has to first make his/her way to the pick-up point and return it after use. Alright, I admit, these are just weak excuses to justify my love for driving. Is there anything wrong for enjoying being behind the wheel?
Considering others who may need a car more than me
So, it may be just a matter of forgoing a bit of convenience (and perhaps a little part of me as a car enthusiast) in my case, but what about others who have a greater need for a set of wheels?
Having a car can reduce travelling time significantly and make it much easier for families with dual-income parents, school-going children and grandparents who are getting on in age. The same applies for working adults whose occupations require frequent travel. As much as transport planners are trying to reduce the gap between public and private transport, an estimate from my personal experience is that travel time on buses and trains is at least one-and-a-half times that of a journey by car – you can work out the difference there.
Besides, housing regulations dictate that HDB flat owners have to reside in their properties for at least 5 years before they are allowed to sell their homes and move to another location. Frankly speaking, do that many of us stay in the same work location (or job) for that long? What if we have to travel from one end of the island to the other? Would you prefer leaving your house very early in the morning to make a long commute over having a car? I do sincerely hope that with the new MRT lines and bus routes, this is alleviated for many.
Putting things into perspective
Granted, there are alternatives to car ownership, such as leasing or joining a car-sharing club. And these might well be the only viable options for the group which has just been squeezed out of the car market. (I think I belong here.)
Perhaps the only realistic way that I can get behind the wheel of a three-pointed star regularly is to get my Class 4 license so that I can drive a Citaro bus. Or wait till I’m 30 and apply for a taxi vocational license to drive an E220 CDI cab. Or, if I really want to, splurge a little for a day of fun around the Sepang circuit up north in Malaysia.
I am staying optimistic since I still have the abovementioned options open to me, so I believe you will be able to as well! I mean, how bad can it be?