Uber can 'help cut car ownership and meet demand for last-mile travel'

Uber can help reduce private-car ownership in Singapore, and function as a viable alternative for last-mile connections for commuters, the ride-hailing app's new general manager in Singapore Warren Tseng has said.

In an hour-long interview with reporters on Monday, he sought to portray Uber as a helpful stakeholder in Singapore's public transport ecosystem, rather than as a disruptor, in that its bids for certificates of entitlement (COEs) can ultimately lower private-car ownership, and that it can provide commuters with last-mile connections.

Recent reports stated that the Uber-owned Lion City Rental had put in - and won - a large number of COE bids, thus helping to drive up COE premiums.

Singapore's Land Transport Authority (LTA) said then that the growth of the private-hire car sector can help reduce the demand for private cars over time. It added that COE premiums should reflect market demand and supply.

Responding on Monday to questions about Uber's COE bids, Mr Tseng said: "Getting more of these cars on the road means there are more ways for people to get around the city, and it complements public transport; ultimately, it'll reduce private-car ownership."

He said that Lion City Rental's successful bids for COEs were a part of Uber's "supply-growth initiative" which would enable Uber to grow its fleet, while providing more rental options for its drivers.

He added that the company was in touch with the LTA on some of its business plans, including those of Lion City Rental: "We work with LTA on some of these things, and they're pretty comfortable with Lion City Rental as well."

Mr Tseng noted that a quarter of all trips on Uber "start or end at an MRT station", indicating that commuters "typically use Uber for the last mile of that journey".

Public officials and experts have identified last-mile connectivity - the distance one has to travel to reach a transport system or one's destination after a bus or train ride - as a hallmark of a good public-transportation system.

Efforts have been made by government agencies and even a public transport operator here in recent years to improve this leg of a commuter's journey. Ideas include launching bicycle-sharing schemes, building more sheltered walkways, and even SMRT's plans to use driverless pods to cover this stretch.

Yang Nan, assistant strategy and policy professor at the National University of Singapore Business School, was hesitant about lauding the benefits of Uber as a last-mile connectivity option in Singapore's public-transportation system:

"If the Uber ride is a substitute for a ride that the commuter would have taken with mass public transit ... it shows that we should step up the efforts to add more feeder buses or bike-sharing."

However, he added: "If the added last-mile convenience encourages some commuters to leave their private cars athomeandride public transit, then Uber is doing good here."

This article was first published on April 26, 2016.
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