Image courtesy of TODAY Newspaper
Do you REALLY need to have a car in Singapore? Can you live well without the convenience and air-conditioned comfort of a personal vehicle?
Those are the questions that I will attempt to answer after living a year without a car in Singapore.
About this time last year, I scrapped my family’s 10-year-old Nissan Sunny. I chronicled our journey in The Day I Said Goodbye to My Car. Somehow or other, that post resonated strongly with many of you.
We were photographed and interviewed by TODAY newspaper for a cover story, participated in a focus group discussion organised by LTA, and singled out by Going Places for an article on cycling for our views on car-free living. I believe that I have also influenced a fair number of friends to give up their wheels.
So how has our journey been like so far? Especially since I’ve been driven/ drove cars for much of my life (my family have always has cars since I was born)?
Recline your seat, unbuckle your seat belt, pull your hand brake, and read on…
When you lose your vehicle, getting from point A to point B requires more planning. Spontaneous spur-of-the-moment decisions take a back seat in view of the additional time needed to travel.
This forces me to slow down. As somebody who is highly driven (pardon the pun), I had an unhealthy tendency in the past to pile on too much on my plate. Now that I have to think more carefully about how I should spend my time, I have learned to say “no” more often – be it for work or social reasons.
Prior to us giving up our car, my 12 year old son Ethan (he is in secondary one this year) have been chauffeured now and then to different venues for his activities. Now that we no longer have a car, he is forced to find his way to different places by public transport.
Although it may take him a longer time to get from place to place, I’ve hardly heard Ethan complain about this. Instead, I believe that he cherishes his new found “freedom” and the “independence” of traveling on his own away from the clutches of his parents. 🙂
(Of course, we still monitor his whereabouts now and then, by making phone calls or texting him during his SBS or SMRT sojourns.)
After a year of trading our Nissan Sunny for “BMW” (Bus, MRT and Walking), we have increased our daily “mileage” on foot.
Our average pace of walking have also increased. Brisk walks are now the norm for us as we make haste to catch arriving buses and trains. This added exercise helps to keep our blood pumping, our cheeks rosy, and our faces young.
When you no longer need to drive, you can afford to day dream. As I’ve alluded to in my previous post, I love to be “set adrift on memory bliss…” while stoning on buses and trains.
Beyond the fact that you can “empty your mind, and be like water, my friend”, being a passenger also makes you more sensitive to the needs of others around you. You offer your seat to somebody in greater need, move to the interior of the train to allow new passengers to board, or put your haversack on the floor to make space for others.
This, my dear friends, is my personal favourite.
Now that I no longer have a car, I do not have to worry about my parking costs. Gone are the days of peering repeatedly at my smart phone to “check” the time, or glance furtively out the window to make sure that a “summon auntie” did not give my car a ticket.
Beyond that, I can stay as long as I wish at my favourite shopping centres in Orchard Road (which thankfully are more empty and serene these days). We can shop, eat and “lepak” as long as we wish without worrying about paying exorbitant car park costs.
Oh yes, I nearly forgot to mention this.
Relieved of my car, I no longer feel that pinch in my heart whenever I pass beneath an Electronic Road Pricing (ERP) gantry. Instead, I use them to help me tell the time (there is a big clock in front of each). Hey, this could be Singapore’s version of Big Ben! OK, I’m kidding.
Before you think that giving up our car is sugar and spice and everything nice, let me be honest in sharing some sacrifices we’ve made.
Perhaps the biggest negative outcome of not having a car is that we spend less time exploring nature parks in Singapore. While we hike up neighbouring Mount Faber park pretty often, and make occasional jaunts across the “causeway” to Sentosa island, we have cut down our visits to other nature reserves.
Maybe the excuse isn’t so much the absence of a car than the absence of time? Which brings me to my next point…
Call me a public transport apologist if you may, but I find that I generally enjoy the experience of traveling on buses and trains.
However, there will be occasions where you need to rush from point to point, or when time is not on your side. During those (thankfully) rare occasions, I would be muttering/ cursing under my breath while frantically trying to wave a cab. I do not do well in queues, and I hate to play the waiting game.
Thankfully, those moments are few and far between.
Beyond waiting, not having a vehicle also meant that we need to find alternative ways to shop for groceries and daily items. I tried hauling an 11 kg bag of rice home on piblic transport before – it was quite a workout!
Fortunately we have services like Honest Bee which allows us to order heavy and regular items. We have also used taxis occasionally to haul our purchases from the supermarket, and opted to make more regular trips downstairs to our friendly neighbourhood convenience stores.
The greatest social benefit of giving up our car? Allowing us to accept the generosity and kindness from friends and acquaintances.
While I do feel a little awkward about asking rides from my friends, that feeling dissipates when we engage in lively banter along the way. Riding with friends brings a new dimension to your relationships with them. It also makes the journey more fun both for me and (dare I say) my kind benefactor?
How many of you have also given up your four-wheeled rides in favour of public transport? What have your experiences been like? I’d love to hear them!