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Another Wayang From Our Fake News Government

khaw bluesg

Two days ago the State Times, our Government Fake News Mouthpiece, announced proudly that Singapore was rolling out its first  electric car-sharing programme in conjunction with the Bollore Group. Khaw Boon Wan, never one to miss an opportunity for publicity, was at the Singapore Flyer, hardly an auspicious location,  to launch the programme.

The only problem was that, for a supposedly smart nation, Singapore is well behind the curve here. Electric car-sharing programmes have been up and running since at least 2013 in Paris and other cities in France. In 2015 they were launched in Indianapolis in the US and in 2016 in Turin, Italy. It has already been up and running in London since 2016 with hundreds of locations.

While Bollore is planning to expand the network to 110 cars by the end of the year London will have 200 cars by early  2018. Singapore is aiming to have 1,000 cars by 2020 whereas Paris already has 4,000 cars.

In any case the costs are hardly designed to encourage take-up at 50 cents per minute without paying a monthly fee or 33 cents with a monthly fee of $15.  It will be more expensive than taxis or Uber with the inconvenience of having to drive yourself and return the cars to the limited number of charging stations. By contrast in London the monthly fee is £5 or around $9 and the cost per mile is 17p per minute.  Taxi fares in London are more than twice Singapore taxi fares.

Like everything the PAP Government does this seems more like a wayang exercise designed to convince the world that Singapore is a smart global city.  The Government is also presumably concerned not to undercut the revenue it earns from car taxes and COEs and from its control of the taxi companies and public transport. With this pricing structure electric car-sharing is not going to take off.

Meanwhile there are bigger technology threats on the horizon. GM has already announced it will start autonomous taxi services across several US cities by 2019. Uber also plans to start on-demand robotaxi services in the US around the same date and there are a host of other companies waiting in the wings.

What will the Government’s response be? Given that taxi driving is used as a way to mask Singapore’s unemployment problems, particularly for older PMETs displaced by cheaper foreign workers, the PAP Government is unlikely to want to see a rapid rollout of self-driving taxis in Singapore.  Taxi driving or driving for Uber or Grab is a safety valve for those who would otherwise be unemployed in a country with no unemployment insurance.

While the number of taxis fell to an eight year low of 26,000 as of June 2017, the number of rental cars used by Uber of Grab drivers is estimated to be around 50,000. Assuming two drivers for each taxi and 1.5 for each rental vehicle, that would suggest a total of around 125,000 Singaporeans whose jobs could be vulnerable to the introduction of self-driving taxis. While some new jobs would be created as a result, such as software programmers or in vehicle or infrastructure maintenance  lets assume that ultimately 100,000 jobs are lost.  This amounts to about 4.4% of the resident labour force of 2,258,000 as of end 2016.

Singaporeans have demonstrated time and time again their unwillingness to vote against the PAP despite clear evidence that the Government has failed to raise standards of living to levels seen in countries with significantly lower GDPs per capita. However it is unlikely the PAP would be able to survive such a large rise in unemployment.  For this reason the Government is likely to pay lip service only to the new job displacing and revenue destroying technologies like autonomous driving and electric cars , ensuring that we fall further and further behind other global cities that are more open to the introduction of new technologies.

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