The challenges of adapting to greener transportation in Singapore

The Green Plan 2030 highlights a lot of changes that are going to be made, but will Singaporeans be open to these changes?

Rishi Budhrani

Published: 2 December 2021, 1:39 PM

I just wrapped a leg day session at the gym. During my final set, when I was huffing, puffing and just about ready to give up, guess who popped into my head?

Senior Parliamentary Secretary of the Ministry of Transport, Baey Yam Keng.

Look, before you start spinning stories in your head, hear me out. There’s a perfectly logical reason for this.

Specifically, I thought of the conversation we had about how our legs are the mode of transport that leaves the lowest carbon footprint on the earth.

I know, right?

Perhaps it was a comment made in jest, but also, it was pretty relevant to the conversation we were having.

I got the chance to host SPS Baey and a group of youths recently as we discussed Singapore’s Green Plan 2030. Professionally, I was invited to emcee the session and ensure it ran smoothly. Personally, though, I was keen to learn about what young people actually feel about going green when it comes to commuting or active mobility.

The conversation centred around three main areas; car ownership, green commuting and the need for gracious behaviour.

In addition to engaging with potential future leaders, YouTube creators and the youths who will take this nation into the next phase of its growth, I genuinely wanted to know; is it a realistic goal to live in a future where majority of the nation is traveling on bicycles or public transport?

What happened to the dream of having 5Cs, where a car was one of the prime pillars of success? Are we predominantly going to see electric vehicles on our roads, perhaps? And are Singaporeans gracious enough to share their personal commute space with each other?

The first, and to me, most interesting discussion, was on car ownership. Let’s not mince words.

Cars in Singapore are not cheap. COEs for Cat A vehicles just closed at $55,000 recently, for instance. Despite that, a lot of participants seemed for the idea of owning a car in the future. In the short run, of course, the pandemic and health reasons contribute to this sentiment. Is it safe to travel in a crowded train with COVID-19 still not fully under control?

But long term, it seems like convenience is a greater factor, especially if you’re travelling with family. At least the youths are thinking of having families in the future, right?

The good news is that you can still fulfil your need, and perhaps, for some, your dream, of owning a car in Singapore, without living with the guilt of destroying the ozone layer.

For instance, SPS Baey shared that by 2030, we can expect 60,000 charging points for electric vehicles (EVs) nationwide, and there are going to be 8 EV-Ready Towns with chargers at all HDB carparks by 2025.

But what if you don’t wish to drive or, perhaps, are simply not able to afford a vehicle in the future? It was heartening to hear that a lot of participants are ready to make green commuting a large part of their lives. It is no secret that we have a strong integrated transport system, and the plans to increase the rail networks and expand cycling paths only make things more accessible for all of us.

While, in principle, most seemed happy to go public, some concerns did come up; namely things like privacy and hygiene. If I’m on my way to work on the bus, how can I be sure that the uncle beside me will plug in his headphones when watching his Cantopop playlist on YouTube?

Also, it doesn’t inspire much confidence when you see people lowering their masks to cough or blow their noses. Some even proceed to wipe their phlegm on the railing. One such experience is sometimes enough to put someone off public transport for good. While this is rare, it does happen.

That inevitably led to the conversation about the need for a more gracious society. This, unfortunately, is not quantifiable. Do we have it in our DNA, as Singaporeans, to take responsibility for shared space? For example, if we had more cycling paths, will that mean fewer confrontations between motorists and cyclists? Frankly, If I had to see another viral video of a man in spandex and a helmet wrestling with a driver, I might log off Tik Tok for good.

I must emphasise that if the empathy and compassion shown by the participants were any indicator of the future of this nation, then, I reckon, we are in good hands. For instance, they took the point about gracious behaviour a step further by making practical suggestions to improve inclusivity for the differently-abled. One participant suggested having a red button above priority seats. If you need a seat, press the button. The youths have their hearts in the right place and can correctly identify that these positive behaviours need to be cultivated. In practice, are we there yet?

At the end of the session, one thing became very clear to me: Singapore has proven that she is more than capable of building bridges, roads, and park connectors to have a world-class transportation system and to encourage active mobility. The way it’s going, I feel like this part is the least of our concerns.

More importantly, can Singaporeans build bridges with each other, create roads into each others’ hearts and connect with each other on a human level? This infrastructure of graciousness needs to be built, not by the government, but by the citizens. If that can be done by us, then the Green Plan 2030 won’t just remain a plan; it can definitely become an actuality.

P.S: The next time you think of a politician during your workouts, pen down your thoughts. You never know where it’ll lead you.

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