Singapore is quite a weird country. I know. I have lived here for more than 20 years now.
But is its parking weird too? And is Singapore a parking reform model to copy?
These are important questions, since Singapore is often held up as a policy-making model, especially in middle-income countries.
So this edition of Reinventing Parking takes a look.
The episode and article below are light but, if you want the gory details, look up the chapter I wrote about Singapore parking for the 2020 book, “Parking: An International Perspective”.
First, a quick reminder that Reinventing Parking is the official podcast of the Parking Reform Network.
There has been a lot of really encouraging news from PRN in the last month or two. Please do visit the PRN website or follow PRN on social media to catch up.
Singapore has an unusual approach to many policy areas.
About 40% of the water we drink here is recycled water and a lot of urban land is actually part of the catchment area for drinking water. Famously, you can’t buy chewing gum here. The main languages spoken by most Singaporeans changed drastically over just two generations. Public housing, known as HDB, houses an astonishing 79% of the resident households.
And in transport Singapore famously pioneered congestion pricing (since the mid-1970s). Buying a car has been made very expensive. Right now in late 2022, even the cheapest new cars in Singapore cost more than 90 thousand US dollars. This is a rich city but only about one third of households own a car.
So let's agree that Singapore is weird.
But it is also successful in many ways. So cities in middle-income countries have often been keen to learn from Singapore.
But what about parking?
What is unusual or interesting about Singapore’s approach to parking? Is Singapore a pioneer or innovator on parking? Should other cities be trying to learn from Singapore parking?
At first glance, the answer is no
Parking and parking policies in Singapore look rather conventional.
However, the longer story is more interesting with various quirky parking practices and a few things worth emulating.
For example, despite having parking mandates, most parking in Singapore is priced and most areas are park-once-and-walk areas.
There is not very much on-street parking in Singapore
Singapore has only 14,533 explicitly marked on-street car parking spaces. Which is not very many in a city of almost 6 million people and almost 700,000 cars.
Parking in streets is almost always a small proportion of total parking. In Singapore it’s an even smaller proportion than usual.
Singapore has never had parking meters
Even though Singapore has had paid on-street parking since 1965, there have never been any parking meters here.
Initially, uniformed attendants collected fees and issued receipts.
Rising labour costs prompted a change in the 1980s. The government considered parking meters but changed its mid after a study tour to Israel.
It decided that pre-purchased paper coupons would be just as good and much cheaper to implement.
Using coupons is much like displaying tickets from pay-and-display machines except it’s do-it-yourself.
The coupon system is gradually being phased out. Most motorists now pay with the Parking.sg mobile app. This has various advantages, both for the motorists and for the government.
Singapore looks like it may soon join the club of cities where street parking payments are via mobile payments alone, with no parking meters and almost no in-street infrastructure. Other examples include Tel Aviv, Shenzhen, Penang, and Sao Paulo. These are all cities that skipped parking meters altogether.
the way, Singapore never uses on-street parking time limits. And that’s
probably a good thing. Parking management always involves fees.
I won’t say much about parking enforcement. It’s reasonably efficient in the managed parking areas.
A nice innovation since 2015, that Prof Donald Shoup would approve of, is tiered fines so that a second offence within 12 months now attracts a higher tier of fines.
No sign of demand-based on-street parking fees yet
Singapore’s street parking rates themselves are not unusual or any kind of international best practice.
There is very little variation in the street parking fees from place to place. And it is usually many years between fee adjustments. There is no sign of demand-responsive price setting yet.
On-street parking costs 60 Singapore cents for half an hour except in the central area in the daytime where it is a dollar twenty per half hour. One Singapore dollar is currently worth about 73 US cents.
One result of this lack of price-variation is that certain areas have full on-street parking at busy times, with the usual results such as illegal parking, circling and double parking. This might come as a surprise given Singapore’s reputation for order and excellent management of most things.
Parking-related conflict in "landed property" areas
Singapore is mostly a high-rise city but ironically some of the most serious parking conflicts are in the low-rise private residential areas, especially those with row houses and those located near commercial areas.
There is little or no official management of the on-street parking in these single-family housing areas where only about 5% of Singapore’s households live.
Residents often try to reserve parking in front of their homes using pot plants and rubbish bins.
Despite the conflicts, the affluent residents of these areas usually oppose formal parking management since marking out the spaces would reduce parking capacity and would require them to pay for permits (called season parking here).
Singapore’s early parking mandates
The city state still has minimum parking requirements. Parking reformers like me prefer to call them parking mandates.
It is something of a surprise that Singapore, which is famous for promoting mass transit and limiting car use, is not in the vanguard of cities that are abolishing their parking mandates. It still requires parking to be provided on-site with new buildings.
What’s going on?
Singapore adopted parking minimums in the 1960s, which was a time of rapid car ownership growth.
Those old parking mandates were much lower than suburban north American standards. For example, one parking space for every 200 square meters of office floor space (or thereabouts).
But they were applied everywhere, including the central area and in what became MRT station vicinities.
Car ownership in the late 1960s was less than 70 cars per 1000 people, so even these moderate parking mandates were higher than was really necessary at the time. They seemed to be looking ahead to future higher car ownership.
By the mid 1970s, the parking mandates already contradicted wider transport policy
But Singapore’s transport policies changed in the early and mid 1970s.
So by the late 1970s, the parking mandates clearly contradicted the government’s new efforts to limit traffic to and from the central area and to limit car ownership.
In the 1980s, the government tried to remedy that contradiction without getting rid of the mandates. It brought in a CBD Parking Levy which was a monthly parking levy of S$60 imposed on owners of each non-residential parking space in the city centre. It was intended to increase the cost of parking for motorists but in fact many parking owners responded by closing parts of their parking facilities. This was unintended apparently, but it made it clear that the levy and the parking mandates contradicted each other and that there was a problem with the parking mandates.
Parking mandate reductions for the central area and rail station zones
So, in 1990 a more useful action was taken. The parking standards for non-residential land-uses in the central area & near rail were lowered by ~50%.
And in 2002, city centre parking mandates were lowered again.
Then in 2005 the option to provide 20% less parking was introduced for most buildings under the so-called ‘Range-based Standards’.
Meanwhile, outside the city centre and rail-station zones, the mandates mostly stayed about the same. Some even increased a little. For example, in 2012 large supermarkets outside the central area were given a higher parking standard than other retail (at 1 car space per 50 or 60 m2 of floor space).
2019 reforms: further reductions and maximums for the first time
Things changed again quite recently with bigger reforms to the parking standards in February 2019.
These reforms continued the main themes from earlier reforms. For example, the government AGAIN lowered the parking mandates in the city centre and near rail. Some have been halved again.
But the 2019 changes included some new things too.
For the first time, Singapore now has parking maximums, which it calls the “upper bound” parking provision standards. The minimums are called the “lower bound”.
These new maximums are not very restrictive in the sense that they are the same as or just 20% lower than the old minimums, depending on location and land-use.
Here are some examples of the parking standards in Singapore that have resulted from these 2019 reforms.
An office building in the city centre or close to a rail station must now provide between 1 space per 900 square metres (which is the lower bound or minimum) and 1 space per 540 square metres of floor space (which is the upper bound or maximum).
To give you a sense of those numbers, let’s use an example. London’s famous office building known as
The Gherkin wasn’t required to have any parking in London. If the same building with its 41 stories and 48,000 square meters of floor space were built today in Singapore’s city centre, it would need at least 53 parking spaces and would be allowed a maximum of 89 parking spaces.
An office building anywhere else must provide between 1 parking space per 540 and 1 space per 450 square metres of floor space.
For private residential condominiums or apartments in the city centre or near rail, the minimum is 0.5 spaces per residential unit and the maximum is 0.8 spaces per unit.
Everywhere else these residential land uses must provide between 0.8 and 1 parking spaces per residential unit.
Keep in mind that in Singapore, these kinds of private sector housing typically have affluent residents. Working class and middle-class people are generally in public housing.
The February 2019 also introduced new requirements to provide both motorcycle and bicycle parking in new developments.
An area approach to new car-lite precincts
Another significant change in February 2019 was the introduction of an entirely new approach to planning parking for certain areas designated as “car-lite precincts”.
Four soon-to-be-developed areas in Singapore have been gazetted as car lite precincts. In these zones, the Land Transport Authority can now determine the parking provision on a case-by-case basis.
The idea seems to be to enable shared or public parking without requiring parking on every site. It will be very interesting to watch as these four areas are planned.
Surprise! The old minimums FELT like maximums to developers in Singapore
None of this is especially surprising. Many cities have reduced their city centre parking mandates in similar cautious ways like Singapore.
I would have liked to see a bolder reform: abolish the parking mandates! But reducing parking mandates is certainly better than increasing them as many cities in various countries have kept doing.
However, here is something that IS surprising about Singapore’s parking provision standards.
Even before the new Maximums, developers of offices and retail treated Singapore’s minimums as if they were maximums.
When the government lowered the city-centre parking mandates in 2002, various developers complained about this new restriction on parking.
But wait a minute! They were minimums! Developers could still provide more parking than the standards, if they wished.
So why were they talking as if parking maximums had been made more restrictive?
Parking reformers: pay more attention to whether parking counts as floor area or not!
The answer lies in an esoteric detail about whether parking counts as floor area. It is something we should all pay more attention to.
For Singapore offices, malls, hotels among others, ONLY parking space up to the relevant parking provision standard was exempt from counting towards the Gross Floor Area (GFA) allowed under the master plan.
In other words, if a developer provided more parking, over and above the parking mandate then that parking DID count towards the floor area calculation. So, any such extra parking had a much higher opportunity cost. Building such parking would force the developers to build less leasable commercial floor space.
This made Singapore’s parking minimums FEEL like maximums to the developers.
This is not such a big deal now that there are actual maximums. But a similar rule is still in place. If a development gets a waiver to build more parking than the maximum, that extra parking will count towards the floor area allowed in the plan. They would have to really really want that extra parking, since its opportunity cost is high.
OK. Enough about parking mandates.
How motorists pay for off-street parking in Singapore
The interesting thing here is that paying for most off-street parking in Singapore has been very frictionless and easy for much longer than in most other parts of the world.
Because of the Electronic Road Pricing system, all Singapore-registered vehicles have a device on the dashboard just inside their windscreen that uses microwave signals to talk with the pricing gantries and deduct the right amount from the motorist’s bank account or from a contactless card inserted into the device.
Since the early 1990s, more and more of Singapore’s off-street parking has adopted the same system for deducting parking payments. So Singapore motorists almost never have to wind down their window to pay for paying as they exit a parking facility.
Parking in Singapore’s Public Housing Areas (or HDB towns)
This also has some surprising and interesting quirks that are worth a minute or two.
About 30% of the households living in public housing own a car. Car ownership is higher among the other 20%, who are mostly very affluent.
Public housing neighbourhoods have open lot parking between buildings, marked spaces along the internal streets within the estates, as well as parking in Multi-Storey Car Parks (MCPs).
HDB housing is not subject to the mainstream Land Transport Authority parking provision standards. HDB has its own guidelines on how much parking to build but it does not make them public.
But we do know HDB has a HUGE stock of parking. When I checked in 2016 for that book chapter,
HDB owned and managed almost 616,000 car parking spaces. That’s more than the total number of cars in the country that year. There were also almost 164,000 motorcycle parking spaces.
Parking in HDB housing is unbundled from the housing.
That is a very good thing.
All HDB residents who own motor vehicles have for decades had to pay for season permits to park their cars.
This costs at least 80 Singapore dollars (or at least 58 US dollars per month or almost 700 US dollars per year).
HDB parking is mostly open to the public.
This is also a good thing.
Public housing parking is intended mostly for residents but HDB parking is nevertheless mostly open to the public.
Spaces that are open to all are marked with white lines.
Spaces for season-permit holders (mostly that means residents) are marked with red lines. These red spaces are for any vehicle with a permit for that neighbourhood. There are no individually reserved slots.
A third category is spaces that are public most of the time, but which are season-parking only at night and on Sundays. These are marked with dashed red and white lines.
An important result of this open-to-the-public feature is that places in and around HDB estates are all park-once-and-walk areas or examples of Walkable Parking. Look it up in the Reinventing Parking website if that doesn’t mean anything to you.
URA public parking
In addition to all the HDB parking mentioned before, some areas in Singapore have some public parking owned and run by the planning authority, the Urban Redevelopment Authority (the URA). But the numbers are small: only 17,026 off-street parking spaces altogether. Most of this is surface parking on vacant state land in locations that are deemed to be short of parking. They are supposedly temporary, although some have been in place for decades.
About 16% of Singapore households live in condominium-style apartments. What is parking like in these complexes?
By contrast with HDB, these are almost never open to the public. Visitors can park but need to register with the guards at the gate.
And unlike HDB, Singapore’s private multi-family housing developments generally DO bundle parking permits with housing unit costs. However, some developments at least seek an extra payment for the second and subsequent cars of multi-car households.
Something that is a little unusual about Singapore’s condominium parking is that the on-site parking is legally part of the common property of each complex.
So condominium parking spaces in Singapore cannot be individually leased or bought and sold as they can in some countries. So we never read headlines about sky high parking resale prices in Singapore.
And, like in HDB, there are usually no individually reserved parking spaces in Singapore condominiums. Resident parking permits allow for parking anywhere within the common parking area.
What is interesting about Singapore Workplace Parking?
A large proportion of employee parking at workplaces is priced. My guess is that well over half of motorists who drive to work, pay for their parking.
This is almost always paid on a long-term ‘season parking’ basis with no discounts for days not used, so once they have the permit, they have an incentive to drive every day.
Government policy encourages paid employee parking by making workplace parking subsidies taxable as a non-wage benefit-in-kind.
The government itself also charges for employee parking at almost all public-sector workplaces. In 2018, this was extended even to military bases and to schools, which caused some hot debate briefly.
Another unusual thing about workplace parking in Singapore, is that it usually includes some paid public parking. For example, at many (perhaps most) office buildings in Singapore anyone can park there, even if you are not heading to that building. You can park in the paid parking and walk to some nearby destination if you want.
Shopping Centre Parking
Retail outlets and shopping malls that were built since the early 1960s have on-site parking. That is not unusual.
But Singapore is unusual in that the parking with retail is almost universally paid parking. Free-of-charge retail parking is a rarity in Singapore.
The price levels for retail parking tend to be close to the prices in other buildings nearby, such as the HDB parking areas, which are often next door or nearby.
Ubiquitous Park-Once-and-Walk Districts
Why do shopping centres and workplaces usually have paid parking open to the general public.
In both cases part of the answer is probably that the parking mandates in Singapore are not too excessively high. Pricing makes sense to ration the parking.
But, perhaps more importantly, it reflects the dense and mixed-use landscapes surrounding most workplaces and most retail buildings in Singapore. Free parking would be a magnet for free riding from people working in the area or visiting other buildings in the area. Instead of spending money to enforce against such free riding, it is easier to just allow public parking but to price it. Fortunately, it seems that there were no significant regulatory barriers to this.
So, a tradition of public parking within private buildings emerged.
So we have seen a pattern as we looked into HDB parking, URA public parking, retail parking and workplace parking. A large proportion of the parking in Singapore is open to the public and priced.
In other words, much of the urban landscape consists of ‘park-once-and-walk’ areas.
And we have also seen some reasons for this.
Parking mandates usually work against the emergence of park-once-and-walk. But Singapore’s parking mandates are moderate enough that paid parking is still possible.
And in a dense urban landscape with mixed land-uses, building managers often decide it is too hard to prevent free-riding on their parking. They just manage it using fees.
Voila! Park-once-and-walk districts.
Why was Singapore’s Park-and-Ride program abolished?
The first interesting thing about this is that it was abolished in 2016.
Is that a surprise? Singapore is a very transit oriented metropolitan area. Why did it drop its park-and-ride program that enabled motorists to park near MRT stations at a discounted daily rate?
Several reasons were given for getting rid of this scheme.
One reason was a low take-up rate with only 40 percent of the available parking spaces being used.
Another was that park-and-ride users were a TINY fraction of riders on the rail system! Fewer than 0.1% of MRT trips.
And finally, fewer than half of those who parked in the park and ride spaces and grabbed the discount ever actually rode the trains. The system was being scammed.
So stopping it was really no loss.
Something GOOD about Singapore's Park-and-Ride scheme
The second interesting thing about Singapore’s park-and-ride program, was that, while it lasted from 1993 to 2016, it didn’t build any new parking.
Instead it used existing HDB or URA parking areas that had spare capacity in work hours. Examples included parking at sports facilities and in HDB residential areas be near MRT stations.
Singapore park-and-rides were NOT purpose-built park-and-ride lots. So this was a good example of NOT wasting money to build dedicated park-and-ride parking facilities.
So, if you MUST have park-and-ride car parking near rail stations (and you probably shouldn’t), then at least don’t waste money.
Use existing parking that is empty enough in work hours, like Singapore did.
I hope you enjoyed my little tour of Singapore parking highlights. Listen to the audio episode here:
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