Can Singapore Go Fully Car-Free? A case study on Car-lite Singapore

Published On:
March 6, 2024

The mere mention of 'car-lite' comes with a powerful evocation of strong emotions. Some people might feel the government of Singapore is doing everything possible to stifle our desire for automobile ownership.

Car owners or would-be car owners, particularly those who see car ownership as a sign of wealth or social standing, would enthusiastically avail themselves of movements against going fully car-lite. It is a commonly known fact that having a car in Singapore has less to do with getting around and more to do with being seen as successful.

One cannot categorically condemn the grievances of private car owners on this subject. I mean, they have the money; why tell them to ride bicycles? (Yikes!). Let’s not also forget workers who need private vehicles for easy mobility, parents with little kids at home, and guardians who take care of their elderly parents or disabled patients. There are many obstacles, and I fear Singapore would not be able to overcome them, one would say. Well, let’s not conclude yet; come with me and let us digress this together.

The Mental Hard Drive: There is a Need for Brain Drain for Car Ownership in Singapore

Cars on the road, with trees on either side.

The Singapore Government is trying very hard to adopt a fully functional car-lite society, which they have started since 2014. It has been eight years already, and the Government has succeeded in making some areas, such as One-North, Springleaf, Marina South, Bayshore, Woodlands Central, Pearl's Hill, and Tanjong Rhu, car-lite areas. In addition to the new development plans for Jurong Lake District. Read my extensive insight on Jurong Lake District, the true car-lite haven of Jurong East.

Despite the heavy adoption of micro-mobility devices such as bicycles and e-scooters, the design of new towns centres on pedestrian and cyclist mobility, to easily connect commuters from their homes to MRT stations, bus interchanges, nearby shopping malls, and schools. It will still take some time for Singaporeans to adjust their perspective and see vehicles for what they really are: a form of transportation that puts the environment at risk rather than a symbol of their self-worth.

Only then would a car-lite vision take hold, be deemed "cool," and gain widespread acceptance as a way of life.

MRT Stations and the Public Transport System

A road sign showing directions to the nearest MRT, LRT, Taxi and Bus stations.

A holistic approach to the issue of whether Singapore can go fully car-free or not, would be inconclusive without mentioning the role Singapore MRT stations and public transport systems play in the whole conundrum.

According to Diao Mi of the National University of Singapore, MRT delays and malfunctions may have an influence on Singapore's long-term objective to become a car-lite society.

Singaporeans are used to and familiar with the suffering that results from an MRT delay, it is a major pain point.

However, the Government has understood the assignment, at least We have seen the MRT network grow steadily to a length of about 200 kilometers. According to LTA's long-term plan, the overall track length will be further enlarged to 360 kilometers by 2030.

New MRT stations like the futuristic Jurong Lake District MRT station are currently in plans for development to further enhance easier movement and our goal to be a fully car-lite society.

There is currently an ongoing motion: Six more MRT stations will be built in Phase 2 of Cross Island Line; to open by 2032.

A train on a railway line above a road


Why then is there such a huge demand for private car ownership in spite of everything that has been done?

My best hypothesis is that when the government tries to promote alternate forms of transportation in a society where public transportation is seen as a lesser option, they are met with skepticism.

However, for this to work, the car-lite vision must be advanced by making public transportation the most convenient means of transportation.

There are still issues with our public transportation system that must be resolved before they occur. One is reducing bus wait times, as evidenced by the annual public transportation customer satisfaction survey.

Passengers in a train

In summary, can Singapore truly become a car-lite society?

Remember the unveiling of the Sustainable Singapore blueprint in 2015, which proposed a 15-year plan for the Republic to lessen its dependency on cars and move towards public transportation, cycling, walking, and car sharing services by enhancing the rail transportation network, investing in infrastructure to support safe cycling, and experimenting with an electric car-sharing program.

It is safe to say that, the Singapore government hasn’t done badly with its goal eight years later, and with the latest infrastructural development plan on Jurong Lake District, we should just be on the lookout, standby, and be ready to embrace this change.