Monday, 8 June 2015

Why HKers are not as crazy about cars as SGers

During one of my lunch conversation with my colleague, he noted that HKers are not as crazy about owning cars as SGers.

He suggested that perhaps it is because HK has a good MTR system and people find it very convenient to use public transport so they do not feel the need to own cars.

Alternatively, he also suggested that HKers spend more on getting their homes so they can't afford to get a car. Which may be true (see chart below).

From "Home Prices and Inequality

The Chart shows that HKers pay 17 times their household income to buy a home. Singaporeans just pay 5 times. Our median household income is higher and the median home price is lower in SG than in HK.

So that may be a factor.

My colleague also suggested Taiwanese were not crazy about owning cars also because their public transport system is extensive and convenient.

I don't disagree that it may be true and certainly as a tourist to these two places, we might get the impression that the public transport system is extensive and convenient.

Just as a tourist in Singapore might have the same impression - Orchard, City Hall, Gardens by the Bay, Botanic Gardens, Newton Circle, Bugis, are all easily accessible by MRT.

But if you live in Sunset Way, or Bukit Panjang, or West Coast, or Marine Parade, you might not have the same opinion.

Similarly, I am sure there are parts of HK that may not be as well served as the touristy part of HK. But as tourists, we have no reason to go to those places.

I asked him if, in his personal opinion, HK's MTR were better than SG's MRT. His candid assessment was that the two systems were probably about the same. If HK's were better, it was not so much better. If SG's were better, it was also not that much better.


I did not ask him if he thought the fares were cheaper.

I don't remember how much it costs when I was there a few years ago, but I think it was also "comparable". It may have been cheaper then, or it may be cheaper now, but considering the lower median income of HK, a lower fare would be in line with their costs of transport as a percentage of median income.

Considering that HK's $50k median salary is about 62% of SG's $80k, their MTR fares should be about 60% of SG.

To be fair and comparable.

But how much is the cost of a car in HK?

Well, HK doesn't have a COE system, so offhand, I would say that a car would be at least cheaper by the COE - about $60k less. I'm not sure what their taxes are, but the tax on cars double their price before COE in SG.

Let's just say I am sure that buying cars in HK is cheaper.

And here's the proof.

A Volkswagen Golf would costs HK$240k (SGD41k) in HK, but costs over HK$812k (SGD138k) in Singapore.

So yes, cars are generally cheaper in HK, but HKers are not as crazy about owning cars and are more likely to take public transport. From wikipedia:
In terms of private car ownership, the number of cars per capita is half that of Singapore and one-third that of Taiwan. Private cars are most popular in newly developed areas such as Lantau and areas near the boundary with mainland China, as there are fewer public transportation options, and more parking spaces compared to other areas of Hong Kong.
So while cars are cheaper to own in HK, they are a hassle to use in the older part of HK where there fewer parking spaces but there are better public transport.

So my colleague is probably right.

But there are also other factors like poorer facilities (like parking) which make car ownership & usage more problematic.

In SG, attempts to cut down on parking in the CBD has been poorly received. And it will take a long while to establish. Newer developments would be subject to the new requirements (fewer parking spaces), but older developments would be providing adequate if not excessive parking spaces.

So the "problem" is, it is still convenient to own and use cars in SG.

And convenience makes hypocrites of us all (John Naughton). Or at least makes us care less for the environment.

But in Singapore, it sometimes seem like the environment doesn't care much for us. It's hot and humid throughout the year, with period of hot, humid and wet sprinkled liberally.

In such a place as this, even a 50m walk could coat some of us in a thin patina of sweat. So if the train station or the bus stop isn't literally at the doorstep, if we have to walk more than 3 minutes in the blazing sun or through humidity thick as hae kor (molasses are so Ang Mo!), we are going to yearn for the day we can own a car and leave the heat and humidity behind.

In HK there is summer which may be as hot as Singapore. But that lasts about 3 months, and the rest of the year, it is pleasantly cool with occasional bouts of cold. In such an environment, a 50m or even a 400m walk is invigorating. In Singapore, it would be exhausting. Heat exhausting.

In Tokyo, Sapporo and I guess many other Japanese cities, the train stations are linked underground and you can walk underground from one station to another (maybe not all the stations, but the major ones for sure). I've walk these concourses parallel to the tracks and found the walk bracing and invigorating. The air is naturally cool. Cold even depending on the time of the year.

To do the same in Singapore, would require expenditure for air-conditioning the pedestrian tunnels. Who will pay for that?

To be sure, there are some similar linkages. Orchard station is almost linked to Somerset via underground malls (you have to come up at Orchard Link). And you can walk from City Hall station to Esplanade Station completely underground, if I recall and if they haven't changed the route. The shops/underground mall help pay for the air-conditioning.

So what will make Singaporeans give up the convenience of their cars?

When Hell freezes over. Or Singapore cools down by about 10 degrees.

No comments: