Driving in Singapore. Madness or a necessity?
Wide, well maintained roads and traffic that – although busy – is more often than not flowing, means driving in Singapore is a breeze right? Errr, no not necessarily. With major roads all given anagrams for names, very few roundabouts and a, shall we say, interesting take on road rules, driving can be a bit of a headache. Which is why I thought you might like a few handy hints to help you along the way.
Around and about
In Singapore we drive on the left side, just as any sane, normal person would want to. (Oh, I’m kidding, I know you Aussies and Americans hate the left but hey, what can I do?!) The roads are wide and generally well maintained. However, they do get busy. What’s strange though, is even when there’s a traffic jam, things very rarely come to a complete stop. Cars do undertake and overtake (although I’m pretty sure this is NOT in the rule book) so make sure you check both sides before pulling over.
There are not many roundabouts in Singapore, instead, we make U-turns at designated points. It is clearly* marked where you can make a U-turn. If you’re not sure, just look out for the screeching brakes as someone decides they want to go back from whence they came. Sorry, I must also have a little word about roundabouts. I don’t think I’m being unfair when I say the ‘use’ of roundabouts in Singapore is a little sketchy. I guess as there are so few – I’d say less than 10 on the whole island – it’s fair enough that a lot of people don’t know what the hell to do when they approach one. So, be warned. When you find yourself at a roundabout be prepared for anything. Don’t make any silly assumptions like the person on the inside is going round to the next exit, or that the person joining the roundabout will give way to those already on it. No, don’t be daft.
* ‘clearly’ if you’re looking for the blue U sign that is.
It is well worth reading the highway code before you start driving as there are a number of rules and regulations that differ to say, Britain. Especially regarding white lines, yellow lines, red lines. There are a lot of lines.
In fact, if you’re driving in Singapore and are going to be here for more than 12 months, you do – according to most people* – need a Singapore driving licence. You can convert your existing driving licence and this should be done within a year of being here. This involves taking the basic theory test. For more information see www.ecitizen.gov.sg.
*This proves to be a contentious issue amongst expats. But, my take on it is, if you’re driving in another country other than the one you took your test in, get yourself sorted.
To buy or to let?
The Government, in a bid to lower the number of cars on the road, have put in place a number of measures to manage car ownership. These include high taxes, a Certificate of Entitlement and high registration fees. All of which can make owning a car pretty expensive. More information can be found at www.ita.gov.sg.
The majority of expats in Singapore lease a car and there are a plethora of companies that can offer you everything from a sports car to a mini bus. Look out for a reputable leasing company and be careful of paying too much up front. Keep records of what you pay and make sure you know if insurance is included. Also check if you can travel across to Malaysia in the car if that’s something that is on your agenda (it only takes a few hours to get there and is a popular jaunt for expats).
Box of tricks
Every car is fitted with a little device in the front window. This is called an IU device (an In Vehicle unit) and it will be your best friend. It will get you in and out of car parks and around the roads of Singapore. Across some of the roads are gantries which will charge you automatically as you drive under them. The charge is deducted from your IU device automatically. However, it does need a ‘cash card’ in it and this needs ‘topping up’ regularly.
To do this is easy — once you know how and where. You can do it at most ATM machines — just pop your bank card in and follow the instructions. A lot of shopping centres have ‘Top Up machines’ usually situated by the walkway to car parks or outside lifts. They can be pretty hard to spot at first, but once you’ve noticed them you’ll see they are all over the place. For your info, they look like this:
You can also top up at 7/11 stores and some petrol stations. Always make sure you’ve got at least $20 on your card as it can be easy to go through it in a day, especially if you’re parking in the CBD (Central Business District). However, once you know where you’re going you’ll find the money on it lasts longer.
If you go in to a car park without a barrier, or want to park in a road (check you can first), it’s likely you’ll need ‘coupons‘ to park. These coupons can be bought at 7/11 stores and a number of garages and cost 50c or $1 each and are bought in books of ten or so. Check the colour of the parking bays and read the back of the coupon book to see how many coupons you should display for the time you’ll be there. Pop out the little round tags for time and date and you’re good to go. It is always worth keeping a book of them in the glove compartment.
When the car needs petrol you will find a number of petrol stations to choose from. Some offer a discount to certain bank users, most offer you a loyalty card. The loyalty cards are worth getting as they give them away free (you have to register online usually) and you are then given at least 10% off your petrol. For nothing! Some people have a preference as to what ‘brand’ of petrol station they use, but there’s no big difference that I can see.
When you drive in to a petrol station you will see people by the pumps ready to help. Their job is to fill your tank for you. Tell them what type of petrol you want and how much and that’s it, all you have to do is pay. Tip them if you feel you want to. Maybe buy a bottle of cold water as well if it’s a really hot day to give them on your way out as a thank you? Or just a couple of dollars is appreciated. But it is NOT compulsory or expected.
Get a good SatNav. In my experience and the experience of many others I’ve met, the roads can be a little confusing for the first six months (ahem, six years) or so and you will get lost – a lot! The roads do not run on a grid system like New York and err, Milton Keynes (yes, ok, it’s not quite New York, but you know what I mean). There are a lot of one way streets and motorways that cross through major roads. So, to save your sanity, invest in an up to date SatNav. Oh, but also, don’t assume the SatNav is right or will take you where you want it to. Like I say, the roads here confuse everyone – even the clever little guy who sits inside your SatNav.
Motorbikes. They are popular mode of transport in Singapore – with the cost of cars the way they are, it’s not surprise. Just be very aware of them when driving on the roads as they do pass on both sides. Often in a kind of double fly-by I find. Check your blind spot – then check again – before moving into a new lane.
And finally, if you’re having a bad morning and you need a pick me up just turn on the traffic news. Seriously, it’s like a mix between a game show question, tongue twister and someone speaking in tongues.
“Traffic is slow on the AYE, PIE, KPE and CTE with a vehicle breakdown on the outside of the TPE which is also affecting traffic on the PIE/ECP to Changi.”
Seriously – wth?