a community of singaporeans

Reducing commuting time – national effort needed

Posted by theonlinecitizen on May 14, 2008

Tan Kin Lian

Like most big cities, Singapore is getting over-crowded. It is easy to build highrise apartments and offices for a bigger population but the challenge is in transporting these people between their homes and workplaces and back.

A denser population has led to congested roads, crowded trains and buses and long commuting time. Road traffic is a major contributor to the high energy consumption and increase in oil prices in recent years.

We have to find ways to reduce the need for commuting. People should be encouraged to find work near their homes or to move their homes closer to their places of work. Students should be encouraged to study in a school near their homes too.

Why can’t more people work near their homes? The obvious answer is that too many workplaces are centralised in the central and other business districts. Businesses find it easy to recruit from a bigger talent pool from all over Singapore, if their workplaces are convenient for their employees to travel to.

This means a lot of commuting. Most people have to spend one hour or longer to travel to work. And they have to spend another hour or more to travel home. This has to be multiplied by two million workers.

An alternative

Imagine a different situation – say, one third of these workers are able to work near their homes. This will reduce the commuting demand by one third. The congestions on the roads, buses and trains will be reduced by one-third. Energy consumption will also be reduced. Traveling time will be shorter.

What is needed to make it possible for people to work near their homes?

First, businesses must find it feasible to locate their big offices and workplaces in the residential towns where their potential workers are.

The businesses may be able to find some of their workers from the residents of the town but they may need to attract workers living in other towns, who do not mind moving their homes to be closer to their places of work.

Social and financial obstacles

There are two main obstacles in getting people to move their homes – social and financial.

The social obstacle is the desire to live near their parents and friends, or familiarity with their current neighbourhood.

The financial obstacle is the high cost of relocating to another place, such as stamp duty, legal and agent fees. This can amount to five per cent of the cost of the property, which is already very high in Singapore.

Another obstacle is the rule on the financing of Housing & Development Board flats. I understand that many people will not quality for the same attractive financing terms, if they changed to a new flat.

It may be difficult to overcome the social obstacle. Perhaps we can deal with the financial one instead.

Reducing the cost of relocation

If the cost of relocation can be reduced to say, 1 percent and the financing obstacle is removed, more people may be willing to consider this option. They can reduce their traveling cost and time and improve their quality of life by living near their places of work.

Another option is to encourage people to rent their property, rather than to buy the property that they live in. This will give them more flexibility in changing their places of residence and to be near their offices.

Under the current taxation system in Singapore, there is an incentive for people to buy their homes, rather than to rent it. This has led to the situation where more people buy their homes, and then get stuck to it. They lose the flexibility to move.

Renting, not buying

If renting is made as attractive as home ownership, more people may be interested to consider renting as an option. For those who wish to have a stake in property, they can invest in real estate investment trusts (REITS). The market will soon set up residential REITs, comprising of private properties or HDB flats, for these people to invest in, while they rent their homes.

I do not expect this new concept of “live near the place of work” to apply to all families. Some families have two income earners who have to work at different locations. Some may have to consider where their children study or where their parents live.

But it may be practical for some families, for example, where the spouse is a homemaker or is interested to do part time work in the neighbourhood.

We should also promote the concept of working from home. Some types of work are suitable to be done at home, such as call center work, design work, data entry and forms processing. These types of work can be done using a personal computer connected to the internet. The workers can receive and submit the completed work through the internet and be paid on a piece rate based on the actual work that is completed.

A coordinated national effort needed

We need a coordinated national effort to implement the “work from home” or “work near home” idea, including incentives for the pioneering businesses to make this possible. Incentives always help to achieve the desired outcomes.

To make this dream possible, and to reduce the commuting demand, we need the following policy actions:

1. Waive the stamp duty and reduce the agency and legal fees on property purchases for people who want to move to be close to their places of work

2. Give the same tax incentives for people to rent their place of residence, as is now extended to home ownership.

3. Encourage businesses to set up their offices and workplaces in the residential towns. Give incentives to cover the relocation costs or to have a lower starting cost.

4. Give incentives to businesses to promote working from home.

I hope that Singapore can take the lead in finding a solution to this challenge which is also faced by big cities all over the world. We can also contribute to the reduction in energy consumption and reduce global warming.



11 Responses to “Reducing commuting time – national effort needed”

  1. blackfeline said

    a rather long quite sure it’s well thought out..but hor a bit tien zhen lor…

  2. Honestly the easiest solution would be to allow employees to work from home. This would cut out commuting totally and drastically reduce human traffic. In this day and age, with instant messaging, teleconferencing and widespread broadband usage the only obstacle is management’s dinosaurian mindset. If bosses were to trust their employees enough to allow them to work from home, not only will this reduce road traffic, but also fuel consumption and over reliance on foreign maids. Most white collar jobs really don’t require the employee to be physically at their desk except perhaps once or twice a week for job updates and work in progress meetings.

  3. Mun Kit said

    Well, I tot the solution is to make public transport … well, public (I.e no profit making objective.) + MOT/LTA doing their job to run this ‘public transport’.

  4. Jackson said

    I think the best idea is to first know which type of people do what jobs and where they stay. For eg, build all the industries in the west, all the people working in industries also stay in the west.

  5. good suggestion said

    Mr Tan,

    good suggestions you have there. so now please put in more action since you are former CEO of NTUC, sure got some power when you talk to the authority. i counting on you to save some transport fee use for communting to work everyday.

  6. tiredman said

    I believe it might take a long time for this suggestion to come true. 😦

    If there is no competition, likely there will be no improvement. I work very hard for a million dollar pay. I do not work hard; I also get a million dollar pay. Hence, why should I work so hard? As long as I show my boss that I am working, the result is not important.
    Perhaps, it is not a bad idea to have more opposition in the parliament. 🙂

  7. loop said

    Will HDB consider building more flats near Shenton Way?

  8. wheregotfree2 said

    nice share, thanks a lot

    Lucky Draw

  9. Are we this dumb? said

    The building of business parks are good, but most HQs still want to be in the city. Maybe the government should relocate their own buildings and spread them throughout. Currently, all the ministries are in the city, why not move them to the business parks or some other areas?

    Even there is a need to create another orchard right? Why only orchard, scotts and bugis? How about a big one in Punggol or Sembawang? How about moving the red light districts to next to the IR?

    Finally, Singapore does not have 5M jobs, so unless we have 5M jobs, we should not take in too many FTs.

  10. Urban Planning said

    Good suggestions, but I feel that we have to keep in mind the type of commercial areas to bring into the residential areas – pure commercial/business areas become ghost towns after office hours and during the weekends, and residential buildings built right next to them without the buffer of a main road or a hawker center et al. will be less desirable places to live in. This creates a kind of “dead zone” within the residential areas. Perhaps we can utilize a combination of office space with malls.

    Also, not everyone wants to live in a neighborhood full of colleagues – in a way it is a blurring of a person’s public life and his/her private life. Just my 2 cents.

  11. choonway said

    short term solutions:
    ERP/ COEs/ raising fares for buses, MRT, taxis. Painting more bus lanes. (this is what the current government is doing now).

    middle term solutions (3-5yrs):
    Building more MRT lines / infrastructure. (which is what the current govt is doing now, but this takes time). Improving worker productivity (so you need less people to do the job, but goes contrary to govt FT policy).

    long term solutions (5yrs and beyond):
    Invest R+D into new forms of transportation in ultra dense populated areas. Currently nobody is looking at other technologies than what is available in other western countries which are less densely populated than us and have options to expand into their rural areas. The current govt initiative in this area is non-existent.

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