The Certificate of Entitlement (COE) program began in 1990 and was designed to limit car ownership by reducing the number of vehicles on the road. All road users have to bid for a COE before they purchase a vehicle, which is basically a slip of paper, before they buy their actual car. This allows holders to own a car for a period of 10 years, after which they must sell or purchase another COE if they wish to continue using their car.
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Effective or ineffective?
We all know - COE is perhaps the main factor that jerks up overall car prices to a ridiculous amount. The rate at which the COE is rising annually has also confirmed my predictions that I'll probably be forever smelling the armpits of commuters unknown to me on the jam-packed trains and buses.
COEs has been one of the most recognized and effective ways (as said in my Social Studies textbook) that the government uses to cope with traffic congestion. And it makes sense: not everyone can afford the most expensive paper in the world. I actually wonder where does all that money go to - to improve our transport system?
Regardless, despite the continuously increasing price of the COEs, its effectiveness in curbing congestion does not seem to reflect very well in our daily lives. We still need to miss buses and trains because they're too crowded during peak hours, traffics jams are ubiquitous, bus and trains fares continue to increase . Prices of the COEs can't just continue to inflate right without due results right?
So how do we exactly solve this tricky traffic issue without compromising on our citizens' comfort on the roads?
Cost and Benefit
So let me tell you a joke. What goes up but never comes down? Yep, you guessed it, the COE prices. Seems to me that I won't even be able to afford a car in my lifetime. Guess it's just my luck that I have to be born in this century where there are throngs of people competing for the right to own a car and drive on the already crowded and jam-packed roads of Singapore.
It's no surprise. With the state of the public transport that has deteriorated over the years, buying a car seems to be an attractive alternative - an an expensive one at that. Who knows then, perhaps if I do become a millionaire some day, owning a car will be a necessity and no longer a liability for my poor present self. But definitely, having the COE sure helps to prevent the roads from being overly jammed - imagine the cars on the road not even being able to move. Sure, that benefits comes with a price though, a price for the drivers of Singapore.
COE is arguably the most important factor to be taken into consideration when one wishes to purchase a car. This Singapore made famous Certificate of Entitlement fluctuates at different times according to demand and the number of cars on the road. Personally, although it is such a hated thing, I think that this is necessary and an effective way to manage the number of cars that Singapore has plying its roads. It may not be the best method and is sometimes even seen as just another way for our government to earn more money, but I think that its effectiveness is quite good.
When COE prices are high, it deters car buyers and hence they will reconsider their purchase or put it off. This will then help to stem the increase of cars on the road. Let's face it, no one wants to travel on roads that are forever jammed up. Just look at the situations in China!
But because COE is so expensive to the point that it even eclipses the actual sale price of the car, it is unlikely that I will get a new car in the future for my personal usage. Flagging taxis or getting second-hand cars will just about suffice, cheaper and still useful all the same.
Most Singaporeans would complain about the high cost of owning a car in Singapore due to the cost of the Certificate of Entitlement. But there is a harsh truth that most of us are unwilling to admit, the COE system is necessary. Singapore is a small island and we do not have the luxury of land, to prevent the roads from being overly congested, the government has to control the number of cars in Singapore.
Look at it this way, we all need transport, we need to get from point A to point B on a daily basis. If there is no COE system, it would be impossible to even get anywhere further from point A since you would be stuck in a jam once you drive out of the carpark. For those of us (including myself) who are unable to afford that piece of paper, there are alternative routes to get from A to B even as we stare on enviously at those cruising around in a car. What the government has to ensure is that those alternative routes are kept viable and well, functional.
Certificate of Entitlement - entitle to what?
COE has been making the headlines almost every bi-weekly, with the pricing getting more and more out of reach. I am kind of regretting selling off my car a year ago cause the cost of the COE now is already more than what I paid back then.
However, it always makes me wonder what exactly the government was using COE for. I always thought it was meant to control car population growth so as to ensure that the growth of cars would not outpace the growth of the road network. Frankly if that was simply the case, I really see no need for them to split the cars via CC, since as we all know, although a bigger CC means that car is bigger, but how much bigger is that compared to a smaller CC car and how much road space would it take up? If that is the case, should road space be a more correct measuring yardstick.
Also we keep on pushing for commuters to use public transport. So is taxi a form of public transport. Well I'm quite sure it is. If that is the case, and public transport is meant to ease the traffic burden, then why should taxis be subjected to COE? Isn't that rather counter-intuitive?
Let's hope that COE would come down to a more reasonable level, otherwise cars, just now back in the old days, is once again out of the reach of many people.
Ride for life
I owned a couple of second-hand bikes before I had to purchase a COE for my current ride. So yeah, I've succumbed to this acronym too. Some would argue that we should not be paying COE on bikes, but one look at the motorbike throngs of Vietnam and you'll agree that COE is needed across the spectrum of vehicles.
Much as I sought to avoid siding with our government on all issues, I must say that they are right in this case. Whew, imagine that. Even if they're increasing COE prices for their own benefits, the implications of that policy far outweighs it's liability on an island with limited road space like Singapore.
Private transport is a luxury item and should only be accorded if you can afford it. If cars are outta budget and public transport is failing you, ride for life. In Singapore, dying is cheaper than living anyway.
Cheaper COEs for first time car owners
As a youth in SIngapore, I worry about not being able to afford a car when I start a family in the future. I cannot fathom the thought of me not being able to send my child to school. As a child, I was often driven to the doorstep of my school and hence, was able to be punctual most of the time.
Besides, some of the happier times that I had with my family were when we took road trips to some of the resorts in Malaysia. Of course, not of those trips would have happened if not for the family car.
With COE prices that are at the rate that they are at these days, I'd imagine that I won't be buying a car anytime within the first few years of my career. I totally understand and see the need for the controlling of COEs if we are to get a good control of congestion within our small city. But perhaps these COEs can be made slightly cheaper for first time car buyers so that young Singaporeans like myself who wish to start a family and have a family car can afford one.
A necessary evil
One of the most public gripes is the rising COE prices. Yes, paying 90K for a cert to own a car does sound ridiculous. For that much, you could buy a sports car in some countries.
But look at the amount of cars on Singapore roads today. Look at how bad traffic gets during rush hours. No COE would put car ownership within reach of many more people and the gridlocks of Jakarta, Manila, New York, and many other cities would become an all day occurrence in Singapore.
A necessary evil but one which if not monitored may be blown out of proportion by the government.
A good joke
When I was overseas and talking to foreigners that know about the car prices in Singapore, they would always say that COE was a good joke. The joke was that people living in Singapore was willing to pay more than the value of the car itself to get a COE to own a car.
Imagine the value of a Korean car to be around $40k to $50k. What was the value of a COE? $80k to $90k? That was about two times the value of the car for a COE. Were the people living in Singapore so bad in Maths to realise that COE was overvalued.
And COE was only the start of the cost of ownership for a car. Car owner need to pay annual car insurance, road tax and when they drove around, they needed to pay ERP(Electronic Road Pricing) and everywhere you parked, you needed to pay parking fees. May be someone good at Maths should work out a total cost of ownership for a car and let more people know that owning a car was not that affordable. Eventually when the demand comes down, COE price may also come down and we will no longer be joked about.
An accurate indicator of the popularity of private transportation in Singapore
Since its inception, the COE has seen a steady, upward climb. And woe betide, the babble of voices protesting subsequent pushing up of prices of private transportation has correspondingly grown louder over the years.
The COE, in my opinion, does indeed build on sound principles. Is there really a need for a car, given the small size of Singapore? Moreover, is the potential massive traffic jams occurring from large numbers of vehicles really sound in economic terms? Hence, there is indeed justification for the measure.
However, given the increasing affluence of Singapore, people increasingly have more purchasing power. Hence, there is indeed the argument that we should not prevent people from purchasing things that they want, especially since they are using their own money and not doing anything wrong. Moreover, free choice is essential for the workings of a free market.
Thus, the need to balance these conflicting sides has made the COE one of the most controversial and debated-about issues in Singapore to date. While it is introduced based on sound principles, the inevitable high demand for private transportation may in the long term, cause the COE to be blown to massive proportion. Hence, there is a need to move cautiously.