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​Debate on ministries' budgets: Transport; All new public buses will be electric or hybrid

Published on: 06-Mar-2020

Singapore will eventually ditch public buses which run solely on diesel power. 

Senior Minister of State for Transport Janil Puthucheary said the Government will buy either electric or hybrid buses from now on, adding that this is in line with its goal to have its fleet of public buses - numbering around 5,400 now - run on cleaner energy by 2040.

The Straits Times understands the hybrids are likely to be diesel-electric models, as these are most widely available. Both types will cost more than conventional buses. Dr Janil said Singapore has deployed 50 diesel-electric buses on the road since March last year.

"We have also bought 60 fully-electric buses and will be deploying them progressively this year," he told the House yesterday, adding that new bus depots will be designed to support electric buses. He also encouraged taxi operators to switch to electric cabs.

Mass market electric taxis will require "the minimum Additional Registration Fee of $5,000", he noted. As at end-January, only 133 out of 18,528 cabs were electric.

Nanyang Business School Adjunct Associate Professor Zafar Momin said bus operators will need to make adjustments to accommodate such changes in their fleet. 
"Other than training more drivers for handling new bus types in the fleet, they will need to adjust the infrastructure and technical skills of their maintenance and repair staff," he said.

While electric buses may be easier to maintain as they have fewer parts, hybrids "may be more complicated than conventional buses and perhaps as costly to maintain".

Beyond buses and taxis, Singapore plans to phase out all vehicles which are solely powered by combustion engines by 2040, a move Dr Janil described as ambitious." This means that after 2030, we should see no new purchases of internal combustion engine vehicles," he noted.

With around 900,000 combustion engine vehicles on the road now, he said "this will require an extensive transformation of the fleet, significant changes in commuting and consumer behaviour and the development of the necessary supporting infrastructure".

Senior Minister of State for Transport Janil Puthucheary said "we hope that somewhere around 2030 we will have the last sale of an internal combustion engine (vehicle), and then over a 10-year cycle, by 2040, we will have an entire cleaner and greener fleet here".

On infrastructure, the Government will work with the private sector to roll out more electric vehicle (EV) charging points, notably in public carparks. By 2030, there will be 28,000 points, up from 1,600 now.

To pave the way for more electric vehicles to be imported, Dr Janil announced that the Japanese Chademo fast-charging standard will be allowed here. This 120kW system can charge an electric car in about 30  minutes, and is compatible with the Nissan Leaf, the world's top-selling electric car, which was launched here last year.

He also outlined steps to cope with the increase in electricity demand arising from EV adoption. He said Singapore will ramp up its power generation capacity, reinforce its grid network, and apply smart charging and energy storage solutions "that store energy from the grid during off-peak periods".

New tax incentives announced during the Budget will kick in next year, to nudge consumers towards EVs. Valid till 2023 and estimated to cost $71 million, they are meant to close the wide price gap between combustion engine cars and EVs.

Dr Janil expects EVs "to reach cost parity with internal combustion engine vehicles by the mid-2020s". As existing EV owners did not benefit from the new tax rebates, they will not have to pay a new annual lump sum tax up till end-2023.

Mr Yee Chia Hsing (Chua Chu Kang GRC) asked if the 2030 target to have no more new combustion engine vehicle sales was realistic.

"In 10 years' time, almost 100 per cent of the new cars sold will be EVs or clean energy vehicles, but now we are at 0.1 per cent," Mr Yee said. "How do we move from 0.1 to 100 per cent in 10 years' time?"

Dr Janil replied that with the new incentives, more will be encouraged to switch.

"We hope that over the next 10 years, there are increasing reasons for Singaporeans...to choose to buy an electric car. We hope that somewhere around 2030 we will have the last sale of an internal combustion engine (vehicle), and then over a 10-year cycle, by 2040, we will have an entire cleaner and greener fleet
here."

Asked if combustion engine vehicles will be banned in 2040, a Transport Ministry spokesman said talk of a ban is "premature".

Source: The Straits Times, 6 March 2020

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