Delivered in Parliament on 10 May 2021
Mr Speaker sir, a few months ago, this House voted to recognize the global climate change emergency. The LTA Amendment Bill before us today is brief but significant in marking a milestone in our embrace of Electric Vehicles (Evs) as a country. Electric mobility brings a host of benefits, including lower carbon emissions, air pollution, and noise pollution.
This Bill is thus a step in the right direction. My speech today will raise questions and suggestions relating to our approach towards EVs.
The climate emergency rolls on and the government should move on the EV front with ambition, speed and transparency in setting out regulations and executive actions. Our local conditions are some of the best in the world for an EV rollout: distances are short, funding is available and we have the capacity in both the civil service and private sector to do this.
Thanks to market forces, with investment from governments and people across the world, battery prices have been driven down to as low as $130/kWh today, with the average at about $180. Battery prices and EVs will only get cheaper with scale and improvements in technology.
The question is how our move to embrace EVs can be made as well-planned, ambitious, fair and sustainable as we can get it.
Before I proceed, I declare my interest as the CEO of a research consultancy that undertakes work in greentech and other sectors.
High usage drivers
Sir, first of all, I suggest that our incentives be tweaked to better nudge specific demographics that use their vehicles more to switch to EVs.
Sir, commercial drivers, be they of taxis, private hire cars or commercial vehicles, are mostly part of the gig work community, and these are people we must get onboard,
because they play an outsize role in decarbonising transport: private hire and taxi vehicles have much higher utilisation rates than the casual weekend driver. To some extent, families with young children are another high-usage segment that could use stronger incentives to switch.
The city of Shenzhen in China, for instance, was early to the game in providing direct and indirect subsidies to encourage taxi drivers to go electric. This encourages network effects where the industry becomes more willing to install charging and maintenance facilities because the city now has a minimum market of 22,000 electric vehicles via taxis.
Such additional incentives are not without precedent because we already giving some support to some groups in Singapore for vehicles on the basis that they need to use their vehicles for work, such as in the case of the Disabled Persons Scheme where exemptions are provided from paying COE and ARF, provided the vehicle meets certain conditions.
Enhancing incentives for high-use drivers to switch to EVs would get us disproportionate traction in achieving our environmental outcomes while buying more time for the development of new public transport infrastructure to attract transitioning drivers of low-utilization vehicles to switch to EVs.
Next, we should welcome the reduction in the Additional Registration Fee (ARF) floor and the revision in the road tax framework which would come into effect next year for EVs. This is a good first step and will reduce the green premiums EV users have to pay.
As per the latest EV incentives announced in Budget ‘21:
- From January 2022 to December 2023, the minimum ARF of $5,000 will be lowered to $0 for all EVs.
- Also, EVs do not pay fuel excise duties. Given this, EV owners will be made to pay an additional $700 road tax from 2023, with a phase-in period from 2021.
This lump sum tax negates some of the savings derived from the reduced ARF, but there will probably still be net savings from these measures for EV owners.
However, the presence and uncertainty of fuel excise duty rebates makes this
cost-benefit calculation for switching to EVs more complicated and less predictable going forward. The Workers’ Party has argued for a phasing in of the fuel duty hike and I shall not repeat those arguments here.
To ensure that our incentives are having the desired effect, would the government consider setting yearly targets for and publicly keep track of EV charging infrastructure – for instance chargers per car and chargers per region – and the corresponding number of EVs on the road.
Government vehicles and motorcycles
Next, sir we need more clarity on what the government’s electrification plans are for the government’s own fleet.
In her reply to my Parliamentary Question in March, Minister Grace Fu said that “all new purchases for Government-owned fleets will be cleaner and greener where feasible, with effect from 2023”.
I would urge the government to set clear targets for the electrification of government-owned vehicles, to be in line with targets set for the building of charging infrastructure.
I would also call on the government to develop a strategy to nudge motorcycle users towards electric motorcycles, as these are also high-use vehicles in many cases as these are heavily used in delivery work.
Batteries and e-waste
Next, Mr Speaker sir, I would like to talk about the e-waste that EVs will generate. EVs produce considerable e-waste with the higher battery and semiconductor content. An EPR or Extended producer responsibility scheme for e-waste will be in place from 1 July 2021.
But EV batteries are considered “non-consumer goods” and all producers of batteries are only required to use a licensed waste disposer or e-waste recycling provider. There does not appear to be any clear mandate to recycle, but only rules on responsible handling of end-of-life to prevent illegal dumping and so on.
Since EV batteries are goods that can be leased out and returned to the original producer, either through car dealerships or PHC/taxi fleet owners, it might be cost effective for these organizations to reuse and recover materials from batteries rather than dispose of them. We should encourage circularity in our battery production and use.
My Parliamentary colleague Ms He Ting Ru, in her subsequent speech, will draw our attention to the importance of early forward planning in creating an eco-system for e-waste recycling for EV batteries.
This thrust can be married to the support of our locally-rooted recycling and material recovery companies in Singapore, since Singapore already has businesses that can do this. In fact, promoting e-waste recovery from batteries could be a competence we could nurture in Singapore so that such Singapore-based companies can invest in the region to export this know-how.
Hence, I would like to ask if there are targets to increase EV battery recycling and material recovery. Is the government looking to legislate the end-of-life management of EV batteries to mandate reuse and material recovery rather than disposal?
Advocating for other low-carbon transport modalities
Next sir, while we push for our EV transition, it is important to note that better
low-carbon forms of transport such as public transport and bike-riding are still far better
alternatives in terms of emissions and waste and it behoves us to not lose sight of this fact in any discussion about promoting EVs.
Now is the right time to ask if our current public transport goals are ambitious enough. One of the key goals in the Land Transport Master Plan 2040 announced in 2019 was to increase the peak hour public transport mode share to 75%. We are on track to meet this target as we appear to have crossed 67% very recently. I would like to ask the government to review this.
Next, the Government has a commendable commitment to doubling cycling paths to 800km by 2023, with a 1,320km target for 2030. We should try to front-load our cycling targets in this way in light of the recent reports of bicycle accidents. The cycling boom during COVID has created an opportunity to foster a cycling culture for health, recreation and climate benefits. We should strike while the iron is hot.
Such an expansion of cycling paths should, of course, take into account nature conservation and there should be safeguards to deter cyclists from going off-path in nature areas like in the Dairy Farm area.
My Parliamentary colleague Mr Dennis Tan has been a passionate advocate for responsible cycling in this House over the years and is an avid cyclist himself. I urge members to review the suggestions he has made and continues to make. My colleague Ms He Ting Ru will also speak on this theme in her speech on this Bill.
The role of Public Consultation
Lastly, we must be humble and transparent in consultation.
LTA recently said it was in the midst of an industry consultation regarding private sector participation in public charger deployment, but can it do more public consultations regarding other aspects of the EV rollout? For instance, it can do more to engage those whose COEs are near expiry. It should also engage members of the public who are about to buy their next car, or are about to rent a car for private hire driving.
Can the government also commit to publishing more of its consultations, unless there are specific business sensitivity reasons not to do so? I note that in the reply to one of my recent Parliamentary Questions, only 39% of 126 consultations on REACH over the past 5 years had their findings or summary of responses published in full.
In conclusion, Mr Speaker sir, at Singapore’s first climate rally in 2019, despite the haze and the Formula One race that was going on nearby, nearly 2,000 people turned up – many of whom were young adults, young parents and students – to make a statement: that this green transition represents our future, and that this green transition is people-powered and people-centred. EVs are an important part of what needs to be done, which makes this debate and this Bill important.