Electric Car Sharing in Singapore is the Future, just not the Present

Chai Jia Xun
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Car Sharing has a lot of promise. It supposedly provides the convenience of having a car without owning a car. In Singapore, we have BlueSG, a car-sharing platform that allows you to book electric cars near you and drive them before returning them to a charging point. There are quite a few charging points around the country (just under 400 locations) and there should be stations in most of the frequented locations.

How BlueSG works

For those who don't know how BlueSG works, here's a quick overview.

  • You need to register a physical ez-link card to the system. This will be your key.
  • You use the app to locate an available vehicle near you, and a parking spot at your destination. You can reserve these in the app so no one else takes them.
  • When you reach the car, you tap your card on the charging point, which will allow you to remove the charging cable. Then you tap again on the car to unlock it.
  • After driving to your destination, you tap the card on the charging point, plug in the charger then tap your card on the door to lock it and end your rental.
  • You will be charged by the minute in the app. (currently $0.36 per minute or $10.8 per 30 mins).

Overall it's a relatively straightforward system that shouldn't cause too many problems. But as you can tell by the title, this is contrary to my personal experience. But first, let's talk about the vehicle itself.

The vehicle

This is a pretty no-frills electric car. It gets you from point to point. It's a coupe (2 doors) but can fit 4 passengers inside. It's surprisingly spacious inside considering its small size, and the battery could likely last me for a few laps around Singapore. For the 3 times I've driven, it's only drained less than 10%.

Accessing the back
Control panel is pretty old school, if you ignore the touchscreen above

There are some things that I find are lacking or strange about the car. It doesn't have a phone holder. In this age where everyone uses Google maps, that seems like a must to have.

The brake and accelerator pedals have their stiffness swapped. In a regular car, the brake pedal is harder to press than the accelerator pedal. In a BlueSG car, the accelerator pedal is the stiffer one, while the brake pedal is super easy to press. This caused some confusion where I have pressed the accelerator pedal a few times thinking it was the brake. To their credit, since it's so stiff it didn't actually jerk forward and I managed to correct my mistake in time.

The signal lever is on the wrong* side. Most cars I've driven have had their signal lever on the right side, but this one is on the left side. I heard this is a weird European car thing but it's still irritating.

*authors opinion

There's no rearview camera. The car has a touchscreen with the radio, and even maps displayed on that screen, seems like they could have put a reverse camera as well.

Inside of the car

For all the complaints I've had, they don't really take away from the usefulness of the overall concept. I'm sure they'll improve these things in a future update.

Pricing and Cost Analysis

$0.36 per minute with a 15 minute minimum ($5.4)

You have to pay for a monthly subscription which is $8/mo per month but you get your first month free. There is a premium tier costing $18/mo that gives you 45 mins of free rental time each month. This amounts to $0.22 per minute for the first 45 mins per month.

Assuming you take the basic plan, and you do 30-minute rentals, each rental is $10.8

Rentals/Mo Cost of rentals Amortised cost
Including subscription fee
1 $10.80 $18.80/rental
2 $21.60 $14.80/rental
3 $32.40 $13.46/rental
5 $54.00 $12.40/rental
10 $108.00 $11.60/rental
20 $216.00 $11.20/rental
30 $324.00 $11.60/rental
60 $648.00 $10.93/rental


If you needed to drive around a lot, this is looking to be a very feasible stand in for owning a car. In the worst case, driving the car twice daily, it'll cost you $648/month. Over 10 years (the time for a regular COE to expire), it'll be 77k.

648 * 12 * 10 = 77000

This is the all-inclusive price, no additional road taxes, no additional fuel costs, no parking costs. You don't have to get a loan or put in any down payment. And you'll never have to drive around looking for parking and paying through the nose for parking in the city.

In all likelihood, the 77k figure is an upper limit over 10 years. But while these numbers look really good, these are all theoretical and are based on a few assumptions.

The company will continue to exist for 10 years
I can't really comment on this, it depends on a lot of factors, but there was an acquisition announced recently and the government seems to be in support of electrification overall.

The prices will not change over 10 years
I think it's still much cheaper than having to pay for petrol, road taxes, and parking so even if prices change it'll likely still easily beat the ownership alternative.

You can find a car and parking
This is not happening which brings me to my next point.

How does anyone even get a car?

No cars, no parking.

That about sums up most of the rental experience. This is what it looks like near my office during the evening rush hour. There are no cars to rent anywhere nearby.

The left number is available cars, the right number is available lots.

To be fair, that is during the rush hour. What about if I'm not trying to drive during that time. For example, if I want to head to the office after lunch. Well, in that case, it’s the exact opposite problem where the cars are there to rent but there aren’t any lots available to drop off the cars.

Honestly, it looks like if you want to use a BlueSG you need to leave super early to work and from work before the cars are taken. Also in that whole area, there are a total of 20 lots, meaning a maximum of 20 cars within a 15-minute walking distance. It doesn't take that many people to snap it all up.

For all my inability to get a car, I do have some friends who swear that they're able to get a car every time they need to. So I guess it boils down to if you happen to live on the exact route that it works.

Three attempts, three misses

Even if you do actually get a car, the problems don't just end there. The first three times I rented a BlueSG did not go very well for me.

Attempt 1, technical issues

The first time was late at night, where I wanted to go for a joy ride and drive around. You need a code to activate your card, but I realised I never received the code. So I had to call customer support. After I was done, I plugged in the charger and then there was an error and the car refused to release the charger nor end my rental. Turns out I need to tap my card first before plugging in the charger. Since I couldn't end my rental, I had to call customer support to fix it. All this while I was still being charged for the rental. To their credit, both times the wait time was less than 5 minutes. But having to call customer support twice in my first rental was not a great start.

  • Rental UX could use some work
  • Had to contact customer support twice

Attempt 2, not that worth it after all

The second time was not really a disaster. But I had to walk fairly far to the nearest available car, and then I had to walk another 10 minutes to my office from the parking spot.

It also took me longer than I would have liked to realise that you need to manually turn on the A/C each time you start. So I spent 10 minutes roasting in the car.

Overall the driving experience was alright, but if I had gotten a grab, it would have cost maybe a dollar or two more and would have saved me all the sweat and having to drive myself there.

Train Taxi BlueSG
Cost ~ $2 ~ $12 ~ $10*
Time ~ 45 mins ~ 30 mins ~ 40 mins

* does not include the amortised monthly subscription fee


Attempt 3, third time’s the charm, right? Wrong
I missed my parking reservation by 2 mins and ended up having to drive somewhere else.

This was in the afternoon and I was headed to work, I saw that there was an open parking spot near my office which was rare at that time. I paid $1 to reserve it for the next 45 minutes and reserved a car near me.

It took me about 10 minutes to walk to the car, and another few minutes getting lost and looking for the parking space. Then I drove to the destination. During this time there was a traffic jam. When I was 2 mins away from the destination, my reservation expired and I suddenly had nowhere to park. Since that location was rather popular the lot was taken immediately and I was left stranded in the CBD in rush hour fumbling with my app to look for a nearby parking space. It was a 15 min drive away. And even after that, I had to take a train back to my workplace.

In the end, what was meant to be a 30-minute commute took me 1.5 hours total and cost me $18. If I had taken a train it would have taken 1 hour at most and cost $2.

Train Taxi BlueSG
Cost ~ $2 ~ $12 ~ $18*
Time ~ 45 mins ~ 30 mins ~ 90 mins

Conclusion

I can't personally recommend this. If I'm paying a subscription and I only get to use the vehicle a couple of times a month, that adds an additional 3 to 4 dollars per ride amortised. If your journey is more than 45 minutes, you can't reserve a lot so there's no guarantee you won’t be forced to go for a joy ride somewhere else. To top it off, it's not even that much cheaper than getting someone to drive you around.

I guess this works for people who need to rent a car to run errands but are okay with parking anywhere. Or maybe they might be lucky to have a car and available parking for the specific route they take to work. But with the limited number of cars and charging points now, it’s not a feasible option for everyone.

Don’t get me wrong, I am very much for the future of not having to own a car and being able to drive everywhere at my convenience. But until they add way more cars, or figure out some way to move the cars to areas where there is high demand, this system only works for select people. They do provide a 1-month free trial that you can use to see if it works for you though, so at least there’s that.

Maybe sometime in the future, when we have self-driving cars, they can drive to you when you order the car. Then drive to a parking spot when you’re done with it. But at that point, we might as well just have self-driving taxis.



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Chai Jia Xun
Chai Jia Xun

Jia Xun speaks of himself in the third person when writing his bio. He thinks he's being cute but we all know that's just cliche. Being meta is so passe. Why do people still do it?