Wheels

With a young child and a baby, I have fairly limited transportation options in Singapore that don’t involve me losing my mind-buses want me to fold/take apart the stroller and the MRT is a 20 minute walk at adult pace (aka 40 minutes at glacial toddler pace).  At some point I threw up my hands in irritation and just started using cabs about 99% of the time.

Cabs are fairly affordable and relatively easy to get.  There are exceptions-the 50% after-midnight surcharge (which, granted doesn’t affect us often), the absolute paucity of cabs the second water begins to fall from the sky, the dreaded shift-change where cab drivers never want to go to the part of the island where I’m going, and rush hour(s).  Considering the times I’m around, I’m most affected by rainstorms and the 5pm(ish) shift change.

However, when you are taking upwards of 20 cabs a week at approximately 10 bucks a pop, cabs start to look like a poor value.  When a friend shares that her monthly leased car costs about the same or less than your projected cab budget for the next month, the appropriate response is to ask for the number of her leasing agent.

Today I dropped Ellie off at school and took a cab to the Hyundai showroom to meet with their leasing department.  I was escorted to the car, and I gave it a test drive around the block.  Before I knew it, I had the keys and was driving it off the lot for a 4 day trial.

Sorry for the glare–phone pic

Why only a 4 day trial?  The Matrix is a very different kind of car than I’m used to.  It feels much more like an SUV, even though it is technically a “compact” car, in that the driver is fairly high up off the ground, and the entire back opens up.  The “trunk” space is fairly small compared to our Accord in the US-I can fit my stroller in there, but I’m not sure if I could go for a spree at Fair Price and still have room in the car for the stroller and the kids.  I’m not crazy about the lack of “isofix/LATCH” for securing car seats (although I’ve mostly been told to buck up-Asian cars in Asia don’t tend to have them-which means we’ll be securing the car seats with seat belts).

Perhaps the biggest x-factor is getting used to everything being “backwards.”  I have driven on the “wrong” side of the road before, when we were in Scotland in 2009.  But that was only a few day rental, I had GPS, and once out of Edinburgh, I was primarily doing highway driving, as opposed to city driving.  Today I managed to repeatedly piss myself off when attempting to hit the turn signal, I instead turned on my windshield wipers.  It also feels very wrong to look to the left for my mirror.  I’m reasonably confident it’s something I’d get used to quickly, and then driving at home will be the experience that feels “wrong”, but I want a few days to be sure before committing.

What was driving in Singapore like for me today?

It’s the wrong side of the road.  My brain hurts and I have to really focus while driving, far more than I do back home.

I don’t yet have GPS, so I got lost trying to pick up Ravi.  Thankfully google maps saved the day and I eventually picked him up from work.  Getting lost when you “sort-of” know where you’re going is frustrating.  Apparently I wasn’t paying as much attention as I thought I was to the cab driver’s routes.

I had to get a cash card.  Certain roads cost money to drive upon at certain times of the day, and all the parking garages cost money.  However, Singapore has streamlined the process by requiring each car to have a transponder by the driver’s side.  You go to 7-11 to buy a “cash card” that you assign value to, and then insert into your transponder.  When you drive on the roads, you pay “ERP” (electronic road pricing).  When you go to the mall or what have you, your transponder is scanned when you enter and exit and you’re charged the appropriate rate (90-120 minutes at United Square was 4.20 SGD, for example).

Transponder

The Parking Garages are AWESOME (or at least the one at United Square is).  There are signs on each level telling you how many spots are open, and above each spot is a light that is either red (occupied) or green (available).  This is pretty damn cool to me.

  Above our car, red…in the distance green

The Parking Garage ramps SUCK.  To be fair, it was just a misjudgment on my part, but my growing confidence was shattered when I was leaving United Square.  I was going down the exit ramp that spirals through the levels of the garage, and as I turned a corner, I misjudged the angle and cut my wheel too soon.  The back wheel scraped the curb, and damaged the hubcap.  Not five hours, and I damaged the car.  It was definitely a body blow to my confidence.

I need a bluetooth headset if we keep the car (and GPS).  I need to be able to call Ravi when I’m approaching his work as they don’t allow lingering.  After having gotten lost several times on the way over, I was not thrilled at the 20 minute detour I had to take to try and find my way back to his work after being shooed away.  I don’t know Singapore half as well as I apparently thought I did.  The repeatedly getting lost did not help my confidence.

Right now I’m about 50/50 or 60/40 on the car.  It has been SO NICE to know I can leave on my schedule, to not feel rushed as I’m trying to get gear and kids in and out of the car, and being in control of my destiny (vehicularly speaking).  However, it’s definitely a challenge and stressful.  I’m glad that right now we’re only trying it for 4 days, and then I can make an informed decision on Monday about whether I want to try a 2 month rental (after which we’d sign a long term lease agreement).

Any advice you might have about driving in SG is very welcome in comments below…

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23 Responses to Wheels

  1. Maria says:

    You’ll get used to driving on the “wrong” side of the road, but those car park ramps are killers. If it helps, all you have to do is take a look at all the paint streaks along the walls, and you’ll know you’re not the only one who has trouble navigating them. 🙂

    • Crystal says:

      After 4 days, I’ve (mostly) stopped turning on my wiper blades instead of my directional, so I feel like I’m getting the hang of it. I’ve mostly started going down the ramps V-e-e-e-e-r-y slowly and cautiously.

  2. Karen says:

    The first day I drove our new right hand-drive car in Bangkok (when Tonya was in grade school), I misjudged the width of the car and scraped the side of a parked car in a narrow side-street — right in front of the tailor’s shop that was my destination. How embarrassing! I had to go into the shop and ask if anyone there was the owner of the damaged car. I found him, and he accompanied me wobbily back to see what had happened. He had been drinking quite heavily and spent at least 20 minutes apologizing profusely to me for parking where he had. First time I had ever heard of “drunken parking!” Made me feel better that he wasn’t angry (but I can’t say the same for my husband later).

    It will get better, I promise!

    • Crystal says:

      Thanks for sharing that story, Karen. Yours (and others I’ve heard on facebook as well) help me feel a little less stupid. I’ll email you, but maybe you’d like to do a guest post or several about your time in Bangkok and elsewhere–from what Tonya has told me, it sounds really exciting. I’d love to hear the stories from you.

      Every day I’ve felt a little more secure behind the wheel.

  3. Dawn says:

    I do not envy you the ordeal of it all, but it does seem like you’re better off with the car than without, and you’ll get used to driving it and driving in Singapore after a few weeks…months at the most. I dinged my car HERE several times in the first few months I had my own car and was driving regularly.

    My only suggestion for you, should you still need to take public transportation and walk to stations, is to get a stroller that Ellie can stand on (they have such things, with a little platform for the toddler right in front of you as you push it) so that you won’t be relegated to “glacial toddler pace.” (You could also get a full double stroller so she can sit in it, if she would even tolerate that, but my guess is that’d make the stroller much more unwieldy).

    • Crystal says:

      We have a boogie board for the Bee, and it comes in handy, but E has a tendency to jump off.

      You have a point-probably my most embarrassing car ding happened at Best Buy in Nashua (I misjudged a pole and scraped the entire side of Ravi’s car).

  4. KJ says:

    The parking ramps here were a shock to me to, and United Square is a good one! Takashimiya and Novena Square leave my head spinning.

    That is an excellent idea to try it out, and a two-month trial sounds great! My only other advice for parking is to buy some parking coupons from 7-11 as well for on street parking, as the cash card doesn’t work at all places.

    Have fun!

    • Crystal says:

      I got super dizzy at Orchard Central a few nights ago…we just went up and up and up. I bet Ion is another one along with Taka and Novena.

      Thanks!

  5. KJ says:

    Oh, and don’t drive politely by slowing down to let other people merge in front of you. This throws their “Kiasu” system of driving way off and will just confuse them!

  6. Robin says:

    Congrats on your first mobile day! 🙂 It sounds exciting. I’m wondering if you would mind sharing a bit about leasing? I had not thought of it until you mentioned it. Do you have to pay a COE? Pros/cons? Anyway, have fun driving! Maybe now you will have more chances to play music the way you like. 😉

    • Crystal says:

      I absolutely will! I sign the paperwork tomorrow (Tuesday Feb 7th) and I can talk a little more about it after I do so, as I still have a few questions.

      I’m loving my own mix cd’s, but every so often I like to turn on Singapore radio for the wacky random music I haven’t heard in ages…for about 10 minutes and then I’m back to my own music 🙂

  7. DT says:

    Congrats. you should be able to lower the rear passenger seats of your “hatch-back” partially or fully, creating extra boot space. Perfect for those runs to Ikea.

    Top up your cash-card with at least $100 each time. Now that ERP can be up to $3 in the evening (e.g. North/South Bridge Roads) + the exorbitant city parking, the value in the card can be wiped out easily.

    Familiarize yourself with the boundaries of the ERP zones. Roads such as Oxley Rise, Scotts and Paterson Roads along the fringe allow you to bypass the CBD area. Conversely, some roads within it such as Victoria Street towards Little India area are one-way only and you may unwittingly exit the CBD and having to pay for the ERP again for re-entry.

    Parking rates varies WIDELY. Go to gothere.sg and click on the P icons for details. Flat, per entry parking are mostly available from weekday evenings and throughout weekends. In Raffles Place, Golden Shoe Car Park is good while Shaw Centre, Cairnhill is cheaper within Orchard area.

    Local credit cards offer significant discounts on petrol… some up to 18%. UOB for Shell, OCBC for Caltex and CitiBank for Esso/Mobil. Use them, gas is expensive here in SG.

    Lastly, enjoy your midnight suppers (Newton, Lau Pa Sat, Geylang) AND shopping (Fairprice Extra, Mustafa). Less people, no queues and ample parking.

    • singaporean says:

      yes. benefits of the car in sg is you can go to many other places which public transport is a real pain…. like the zoo and night safari, jurong bird park, sentosa, east coast park… etcc etcc…. my fav activity is to read food blogs and drive down just to try the food around the island…

    • Crystal says:

      Wow, I feel like I need to print out your comment and keep it in my glove box. So much helpful information, thank you.

  8. Pingback: Daily SG: 3 Feb 2012 « The Singapore Daily

  9. singaporean says:

    1) official site for all drivers –> onemotoring.com.sg

    you can find EVERYTHING here – from car ownership processes in sg, car parking rates in all the carparks in town, real-time traffic information including picture snapshots of traffic situations at various locations in sg etcc etccc..

    2) long term car leasing in sg –> you can google: hertz or ComfortDelGro Rent-A-Car or avis rental… lots of options.. (do note that the monthly cost of renting a car is usually higher than owning a car..)

    3) car-sharing schemes –> http://www.carcoop.com.sg/
    http://www.whizzcar.com/

    thats about all the options on this tiny island….

    oh yes, some other tips…
    we singaporeans are very impatient drivers. so if you drive slow and/or learning, keep to the left most lane..
    ALWAYS signal before you change lanes, and always be alert and assertive….
    do not road hog on the faster lanes.. coz if you do, you’ll definitely get tailgated, i promise you….
    driving in sg is a MAN’s thing…. so female drivers will always get looked down and picked upon…. the key is to observe the “rules” and be assertive.. you will earn the respect of male drivers…
    dont drink and drive… police roadblocks are usually set up around watering joints at around 2am to 5am (closing time)… especially on weekends/public holidays… the penalties are harsh (just for eg: second offender gets jail time…)

    finally, even the nicest person in the world will turn into a short tempered person behind the wheel in sg…its only a matter of time… (trust me on this)… so when you get frustrated or angry, let it all out behind closed windows for 3 secs, then let it go, calm down and carry on… its the way to stay sane… =)

    enjoy and be safe.

    • Crystal says:

      This is another comment I feel like I should print out and keep handy. Thank you!

      I have noticed that having cut my driving teeth in Boston and New York (notorious for aggressive “bad” drivers) has helped me manage on the roads. I’ve noticed that many drivers seem to think turn signals are for amateurs…as in, they don’t use them.

  10. When my brother migrated to Vancouver in Canada he also had this feeling of driving on the “wrong” side of the road. He has got used to it. You will soon get over it.

    I have always wondered why there are 2 systems of road orientation ie right hand or left hand drive? Why we made life so complicating for ourselves when it’s already complicating? Who started this idea of left hand drive in the 1st place?

    Hope you enjoy your stay here. Cheers.

    BRW, don’t get the Matrix. It is a big drinker. Look around you. Is there anymore Matrix around. It’s rare and you’re lucky if u can find one.

    • Crystal says:

      There’s a great article on Wikipedia about right versus left hand driving. Seems to be that most of the countries that drive on the left are former British colonies (although obviously not all…the US and Canada being among the exceptions). I think it must be very confusing to cross a border from a country that drives on the left to one that drives on the right.

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Right-_and_left-hand_traffic

  11. Niki says:

    With three teenagers participating in sports, we didn’t stick to our no car plan for very long. I think we really only made it 3.5 months before we caved and bought a used car.

    I don’t really have any helpful hints but I can attest to the fact that it does get easier. My first few times driving on the “wrong” side of the road, I was in a near panic but now I’m fine. I’m not sure it’s ever as comfortable as driving back home with everything being instinctual but I have stopped turning on the wipers when I want the turn signal. It took a while but it’s progress! 😀

    • Crystal says:

      I think we might have considered buying if we knew how long we’d be here or were convinced that we would stay here super long term. Because it’s effectively a decision we make year to year, leasing felt like the easier course of action.

      I only turned on my wipers twice today and that felt like a huge improvement!

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