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The cost of a new motorcycle permit in Singapore has increased more than 200 per cent over the past four years. Permits for entry-level cars are nearly triple what they cost in 2018. Photo: Roy Issa

As Singapore’s cost of living soars, permits to ride outpace price of cheapest motorbikes

  • Motorcycle permit prices have jumped more than 200 per cent in the past four years, but the land-scarce city state isn’t only targeting bikes
  • Permits for entry-level cars cost nearly triple what they did in 2018 – adding to widening inequality, as it gets costlier to have fun and relax, too
Singapore’s reputation as one of the world’s most expensive cities now extends to one of its cheapest modes of transport: motorcycles.

The cost of a 10-year motorcycle permit in the city state hit a record S$12,801 (US$9,012) this month according to data from the Land Transport Authority, up more than 200 per cent in four years and more than the cost of a new, entry-level bike in the Southeast Asian nation.

Singapore controls the number of permits, called certificates of entitlement, as a way to limit the number of motorcycles and cars on the road. As of September, the city caps its motorcycle fleet at around 142,000. The number of cars is limited to about 650,000.

Cars for sale are seen parked at a used car dealership in Singapore this month. The city state limits the number of cars allowed on the roads. Photo: Reuters

At current permit prices, drivers would need nearly S$20,000 to own and ride an entry-level motorcycle worth S$5,000.

That’ll eventually trickle down to delivery riders who zigzag the island on low-end bikes, according to Nathan Peng, a political science lecturer at the Singapore Management University. As of now, renewing an existing permit costs more than S$11,000 – less than a new one, but almost six times more than the price a decade ago.

Those who own their bikes will pay the increased fees directly, and those who rent are likely to see their fees go up. Many delivery drivers rent their vehicles, either from an independent operator or from a food delivery company like Grab.

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Several motorcycle leasing companies in Singapore are considering rate increases to make up for the higher permit costs, local newspaper The Straits Times reported. One company, GigaRider, said it is likely to raise rent by 10 per cent in the first quarter of 2023 for its corporate clients. Grab notes on its website that rental charges may rise because of COE price increases.

Singapore isn’t only targeting motorcycles. The land-scarce country is also limiting cars on the road – permits for entry-level cars now cost more than S$80,000, nearly triple their 2018 price.

Higher prices will add to the already-widening inequality among residents, though it’s difficult to predict the extent of the impact with limited data available, said Peng. For many low-income workers, a motorcycle is one of the very few cost-effective ways to meet work or family responsibilities.

“I don’t think motorcycles, for most, are a lifestyle choice,” said Peng. “If they could afford to take a Grab to work, they may not buy a motorcycle because of concerns like safety and comfort. Why would they take on the extra risk if they had a choice?”

Lawrence Wong, Singapore’s prime minister-in waiting, has warned that social stratification is becoming more entrenched in the city state. Photo: Reuters

Singapore has been trying to narrow its wealth gap, even as the cost of living rises. At an event on October 10, the city state’s prime minister-in-waiting Lawrence Wong pointed to the housing market as a sign that social stratification is becoming more entrenched, with more families with young children staying in rental flats.

It’s getting costlier to have fun and relax too.

Prices of recreational and cultural activities in Singapore in September soared the most in 40 years, according to the Department of Statistics on Tuesday. Keeping that pet puppy or turtle now costs 5.2 per cent more than a year earlier while holiday expenses rose by 8.4 per cent.

Concerns about the rising cost of living has prompted four rounds of monetary policy tightening this year, as the city contends with the fastest inflation in 14 years. Singapore unveiled a S$1.5 billion (US$1.06 billion) inflation-relief package earlier this month.

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Food staples like flour and noodles also saw all-time highs. Chilled poultry prices jumped by a record 39 per cent after a chicken export ban by neighbouring Malaysia. The curb was lifted this month.

Dining out at hawker centres, which serves local street food such as chicken rice, is 7.9 per cent pricier – the biggest increase on record since the data was published in 2020.