Singapore Caps Car Growth at Zero Next Year

If you thought traffic was bad in New York or Los Angeles, think again: Singapore has officially run out of room for more cars. The Land Transport Authority of Singapore has frozen the country’s vehicle growth rate to 0 percent starting next year due to land scarcity. The authority has decided that there is no more room to expand the road network for private vehicles.

Singapore is one of the most densely populated countries in the world with a population of 5.6 million people occupying 276 square miles of land. The entire country occupies a group of islands in Southeast Asia half the size of Los Angeles. Until now, 12 percent of the country’s total land area has been used for roads. The Land Transport Authority has decided that intense competition for the city’s limited resources means there are limited opportunities for further road development. Instead, the government committed to expand the state’s existing public transportation infrastructure. The government will invest S$20 billion ($14.7 billion) in new trains, tracks, and stations, S$4 billion to upgrade existing lines, and S$4 billion in buses.

While commuters might be thrilled, the country’s 600,000 vehicle owners will have to brace for more competition for limited spots on the road. Singapore is one of the most expensive countries to own a vehicle. The government sets an annual growth rate below that of the general population, and then owners bid on the right to operate a vehicle for a limited number of years. Thus, there are far more prospective drivers than cars on the road, driving up the cost of the bids. A mid-range car in Singapore can cost four times the price in the United States. Despite that, there are more than 600,000 cars in operation, including many that are now used for ride-hailing services like Uber and Grab in response to the expense of owning a private vehicle. In this sense, Singapore is just ahead of the curve. The city’s density and investment in public transit presage the probable fate of cities like Paris, London, and New York.

Singapore has steadily tightened restrictions on vehicle ownership for years. The previous growth rate was 0.25 percent per year for cars and motorcycles. Decreasing the growth rate to zero will, in all likelihood, drive up costs again. The LTA will review the growth rate in 2020 and maintain a 0.25 percent growth rate for buses, delivery vehicles, and trucks until 2021.