Luckily, Singapore has one of the greatest public transport systems in the world – but it’s not the only way to get around this island nation.
Singapore public transport is inexpensive in comparison to other developed cities. It’s also incredibly safe – there’s no need for women-only cars on the underground and buses are safe to use, day and night.
Other ways to get around Singapore includes good ol’ walking, cycling, scootering, taxi and private hire cars. electric hire cars and driving your own car.
But all these modes of transport have pros and cons. Which is more cost-effective? Which is the most safe? Can you take dogs onto the MRT? What fares do children pay?
This guide gives you an overview of all the different transport options here, so you can choose your best ways to get around Singapore. The guide includes:
- Cheap + easy ways to get around Singapore
- How to stay safe when you travel around Singapore
- How to travel by car in Singapore without owning one
- Taxi tips in Singapore
- How to buy a car in Singapore, and is it worth it?
- Road laws in Singapore
Cheap + easy ways to get around Singapore
1. Bicycles in Singapore
The city-state’s Park Connector Network (PCN) and cycling paths are growing every day, and not only connect neighbourhoods to nearby public parks, but also let you get from one neighbourhood to another. Besides the PCN, you can legally cycle on both roads and footpaths in Singapore – and frankly sometimes footpaths are safer. Singapore car drivers have an ambivalent attitude to cyclists, at best.
If you don’t have your own bicycle, you can use bike sharing networks such as SG Bike, Anywheel and Moov Technology. To do so, download the bike sharing operator’s app and set up an account. Then, simply scan a QR code on one of its bikes to unlock it. Prices start from about 50 cents for a half-hour ride.
The downside of bike sharing schemes in Singapore is that there are not lockable places to store bicycles – you have to scan the immediate area with your app to find a bicycle, which could be anywhere.
Plus, you cannot take any bicycle onto pubic transport unless it’s a foldable bicycle. Foldable bicycles/personal mobility devices must not exceed 120cm by 70cm by 40cm when folded. Foldable bicycles/personal mobility devices must be folded at all times in the MRT/LRT stations, bus interchanges/terminals and on trains and buses.
2. Using a scooter in Singapore
Electric and manual kick scooters (a.k.a., personal mobility devices, or PMDs) are a fast, nimble way to traverse Singapore’s urban landscape. But, if you’re on an e-scooter, take note: You are only allowed to scoot on park connectors or cycling paths – roads and footpaths are off limits. There were some nasty crashes between pedestrians and e-scooters, so people feel pretty strongly about this.
You have to register your e-scooter with the Land Transport Authority (LTA) if you’re over 16, too.
Manual kick scooters, on the other hand, are allowed to scoot on both park connectors and footpaths, and there is no registration requirement. Fun fact: Hoverboards and unicycles are also considered PMDs by the LTA.
Did you know: Singapore aims to create a continuous loop of park connecters (the 150km Round Island Route). Now, you can already go from Changi to Marina Bay or Pungol to Kallang. Check out park connecters here.
You can take your scooter on pubic transport as long as it does not exceed 120cm by 70cm by 40cm when folded. Foldable bicycles/personal mobility devices must be folded at all times in the MRT/LRT stations, bus interchanges/terminals and on trains and buses.
3. How to figure out bus routes in Singapore
Singapore’s public buses run from about 5:30 a.m. to 12:30 a.m. daily, and take you to nearly every corner of the island, including places not served by the MRT.
Missed the last bus? There are a few Night Rider services running from the city core to various neighbourhoods from 11:30 p.m. to 2 a.m. on Fridays, Saturdays and the
eves of public holidays.
You’ll want to get your hands on an EZ-Link card, as regular bus fares are cheaper when you pay by EZ-Link rather than in cash. (No card? Prep small bills or coins to pay, as change won’t be given.) Fares start at under $1, and are distance-based in combination with MRT fares. Night Rider rides cost $4.50 each.
Tip: Using a bus is much easier if you download the app Moovit which features “live” bus routes that guide you as you go. To find your best bus route, just enter where you are, and wher eyou want to go, and the app gives you the nearest bus stop, number and route.
4. How to use the MRT underground trains
Singapore’s Mass Rapid Transit, or MRT, network is probably the most popular way to get around the island – and for good reason! The MRT is quick, cheap, and new stations pop up like mushrooms, every few years.
The MRT currently consists of six lines, with several more in the works. There are also two Light Rapid Transit (LRT) lines in the network serving the Bukit Panjang neighbourhood in the northwest, and Punggol and Sengkang in the northeast. You should be able to reach about 80 percent of Singapore by MRT, and the rest by combining MRT rides with buses.
If you’ve travelling with pets in Singapore, public transport is hard work. Unlike in Europe, buses and trains in Singapore do not allow pets onboard. So, pet parents without cars have to take a taxi. But even then, many taxi drivers either do not take passengers with pets or are unwelcoming of them. It is a lot of harder if you have big dogs or more than one pet.
Expect to pay about $1 to just under $2 per ride. Get an EZ-Link card so you can tap your way in and out like a pro, and enjoy lower fares while you’re at it.
Tip: Download the SBS Transit app which gives you bus and MRT travel information, including which buses connect to each MRT station.
EZ-Link Hacks to save you transport money in Singapore:
- If you have an adult EZ-Link card and your transfer between stations (bus/MRT) is within 45 minutes, the rides count as one journey, so your fare is cheaper.
- Top up the EX-Link card via the app and skip the queue to top up your card using machines at MRT stations. You can can even use your phone as a card reader to load your card.
- Even better: If you have a card linked to your Apple Pay, you don’t need to bring your card along. Just tap your phone on the reader. Ditto if you have a bank account with DBS, POSB or OCBC. You can sync it with your EZ-Link card.
- If you like getting to work early, you get a discount of up to 50 cents when you tap in at any MRT or LRT station before 7.45am on weekdays (excluding public holidays).
How to stay safe while getting around Singapore:
1. Safety on foot in Singapore
As a pedestrian, you’ll be sharing the footpath with bicycles, manual kick scooters, motorised wheelchairs, mobility scooters and sometimes e-bikes. And some of them will be driven by people in a big hurry – food delivery riders, for instance. So be alert when using the footpaths. Singaporeans are not as heavy-handed on the horn as some countries, so you can turn around to find a bicycle has silently swished up behind you.
2. Staying safe when you are biking in Singapore
You’ve got free rein to ride your bicycle on roads, footpaths, park connectors and cycling paths in Singapore. Expressways are off limits.
Keep to the left of the road, and remember that you are expected to stop at traffic lights. You can dismount and cross the road at traffic light junctions. Familiarise yourself with the appropriate hand signals to warn other road users when you’re about to stop, slow down or make a turn.
Wearing a helmet is compulsory when riding on roads. Make sure you have a set of lights so you’ll be more visible at night.
Tip: Download the app CityMapper which tells you how to get wherever you want to go via bike, bus, MRT, LRT and even the river ferry system – technically the river taxis on the Singapore River are part of the bus system.
3. Rules to use e-scooters in Singapore
After some nasy crashes with pedestrians, electric scooters are now subject to quite a lot of restrictions in Singapore. Read more below to see what sort of fine you may be looking at if you, say, scoot on a sidewalk. It is not mandatory to wear a helmet and knee-pads, but it’s a good idea to do so anyway.
4. Smart ways to get around Singapore with kids
You can take a stroller or a pram onto a bus or MRT. It’s best if the stroller is less than 1.2 metres long and 70 centimetres wide, so it can fit on the bus without being folded. Otherwise, you’ll need to fold it before getting on. If your stroller doesn’t need to be folded, park it in the space for wheelchairs close to the bus’ back door and put on the brakes.
Tip: Open strollers are allowed on the MRT, and all MRT stations are equipped with lifts.
When travelling in private hire cars from, say, Grab or Gojek, kids under 1.35 metres tall must be strapped into child safety seats, but not all drivers have one (and the driver can reject your trip if you have a child with you). To be safe, call for a car through GrabFamily to be sure that an appropriate child seat is provided.
Taxis are not obliged to provide car seats for children, but child safety seats can significantly reduce fatal injury in the event of an accident, so BYO as needed. Tip: Find great safety gear and services at TaxiBaby.
Ways to travel by car in Singapore, without owning one:
Outside of peak hours, a car is still the fastest way to get around in most situations. But you don’t have to fork out the cash for a vehicle to enjoy the convenience of using one.
To rent a car, use an e-car or car-sharing services, you must make sure you can legally drive in Singapore. During your first 12 months here, you’re free to drive with a licence from your home country (if it’s in English), or use an international driving permit. If not, you’ll have to get your passport and driver’s licence translated.
You should convert your licence to a Singapore permit within the first year of your stay here. Miss the deadline, and you’ll have to go through the process of getting a Singapore licence, which you can find out more about on the Singapore Police Force website’s Qualified Driving Licence page.
1. Taxi apps work for ride-sharing
Taking taxis is relatively inexpensive in Singapore. You can hail them off the street or use a taxi app to book one. Many ride-sharing apps (including GrabTaxi, Gojek and Ryde) allow you to also book taxis. Big cab companies ComfortDelGro, Transcab and SMRT also maintain their own apps.
While convenient, taxis tend to be pricier than ride sharing, and are subject to various surcharges.
If you are transporting an animal on GrabTaxi, book via GrabPet, which will send a car that can fit up to two dogs, and a driver who is able to handle dogs in the car. As for taxis, many taxi drivers either do not take passengers with pets or make it clear they do not welcome animals. It’s a little easier if you are transporting a cat in a carrier, but many taxi drivers will refuse to take you if you have a dog.
You’ll probably have to book a rental car or a specialised pet taxi service.
Tip: Fares for ride-sharing apps go up at night – and then it can work out cheaper to use a regular taxi. You can check the fares on the apps, before you decide what to book.
2. Private Car Services
Ride sharing – in privately owned cars – has boomed in Singapore. Just book a car on the app and wait for your driver to arrive. While private hire cars are subject to dynamic pricing, which makes them more expensive to use during peak hours, they’re also free of the many taxi surcharges. Commonly used apps include Grab, Gojek and Ryde.
Singapore’s government requires drivers for services such as Grab to be licensed, a process that includes a background check, medical screening, classroom instruction, and a written test. They also do 10 hours of study on road rules and service quality. Taxi drivers do 25 hours.
3. Carpooling apps in Singapore
Carpooling is a fantastic way to get around if you want to save money, and don’t mind having to wait for the driver to drop others off before you.
Singapore’s most popular ridesharing apps (see previous) have a carpooling option that lets you search for cars going your way. The most widely used is Grab Hitch, followed by the Ryde app’s carpooling system. While cheaper, carpooled trips are also harder to get as availability depends on whether there are others going your way.
4. Car sharing
Many cars here are underused and car sharing lets owners make a bit of
cash by renting out their vehicles. Drive Lah is an Airbnb-style online platform that lets you search for available cars in your area. Simply indicate the date and time you’d like to pick it up, make your booking, and show up at the host’s place to collect your ride. Prices tend to range from about $50 to $80 a day.
5. Renting electric cars in Singapore
Driving an electric car might be cheaper than calling for a Grab car to get home. For a monthly fee of as little as $8 a month, BlueSG lets you use its electric cars for $0.36 a minute. A premium membership costs $18 a month, with six months committment, which gives you 45 free rental minutes per month. There are also rental packages of three hours at $45.90 while four hours is $55.90.
It’s easy to pick up a car, you simply reserve a car using the app and pick it up at the nearest charging point. The patented electric batteries have enough charge to get you all over Singpore, with plenty of power tospare.
Returning the car is not always so easy – you have to use the app to find and reserve an empty parking spot with a charging station. You can only reserve your spot for 45 minutes, so if you get stuck in traffic on your way back, your spot may be filled by the time you get there. You have no choice but to find another charging station and head off there – you’ll be charged by the minute until you plug the car into the charging station, and tap out with your credit card.
Luckily, the network of charging points has expanded in recent years and there are now ports everywhere. Warning: The cars are small compact models that fit two adults in the front and two children (or slim adults) in the back. If there are four passengers in the car, you have boot space for 4 shopping bags. If you have two adults, you can fold the back seats down and fit 10 shopping bags, or a bulky office chair on wheels. We know, because we tried!
6. Car rental in Singapore
Going on a road trip to Malaysia? Or you need the car for a weekend, say, for a wedding celebration? You might want to rent a car the traditional way: through a car rental company. There are many options, from big players like Budget, Hertz and Avis to smaller ones like Asia Express Car Rental and TribeCar.
7. Van transport apps
Sometimes a simple car is not enough. Whether you’re buying a new couch, or want to transport a big group, you can turn to van-hire services in Singapore. You can choose to hire just a van, or you can also hire a driver.
GetVan: GetVan is a convenient option, whether you’re picking up a dresser, or going on a big day trip, or even delivering items to your customers. Most other can hire services only do one or the other. It offers three main services: Goods for moving items, Ride to comfortably chauffeur multiple passengers (up to 13 pax!) and Business to deliver items for business clients. The Goods van rental service comes with drivers who can help you move your items in and out of the van for a small additional fee (from $15).
Gogox: This app lets you hire a van with a driver at the touch of a button. Your order will instantly be matched to the nearest available driver. You can also hire movers if you have heavy items to carry and need a few pairs of extra hands to help.
Lalamove: This is an on-demand delivery service that connects you with delivery drivers through an online platform and mobile app. You can also hire a personal shopper to buy and deliver any item to your doorstep.
Man With the Van: This moving and delivery service has vans and rivers that’ll help you get your items from one place to another. Just let them know where to pick up and drop off the items, and the team will take care of the rest.
TheLorry: As its name suggests, TheLorry offers lorry rentals and drivers for when you’ve got some really heavy items to move. You can also book additional manpower, shrink wrapping services and assembly services.
Taxi tips to get around Singapore:
1. How to hail a cab
- Wait at a taxi stand. Taxis cannot stop in the middle of a busy road or at intersections. If you see a taxi stand, your best bet is to get in line.
- Know when shift changes are. Drivers typically change shifts between 3:30 and 5 p.m. It can be very ough to get a taxi at thi stime, unless you are being dropped off near their depot. Likewise, ride sharing services tend to experience surge prices during shift changes.
- Have the postal code of your destination. This lets drivers with GPD find directions instantly, as every house and building in Singapore has a unique six-digit postal code. Otherwise, provide the street name, plus a landmark or intersection with another street.
Be familiar with surcharges. Additional surcharges apply after midnight, during peak hours and for pick-ups from certain locations. For all fees, check them out here.
3. Other taxi customs in Singaapore
You might forget this tip, but always ask for a receipt. It makes life easier should you forget something in the cab or need to a lodge a complaint.
Finally, you don’t need to tip. It’s not done here and your driver won’t expect it.
What goes into buying a car in Singapore:
Singapore is one of the world’s most expensive places to own a car because of high taxes, congestion pricing, and rules that require owners to dispose of their cars after 10 years, by either scrapping them or selling them overseas.
You also have to pay for a Certificate of Entitlement (COE), a 10-year quota licence that must be purchased before a car can legally be driven on the roads. CEO prices change from year to year, because only a few are released every year by the government and people have to bid for them at auction.
TIP: If you’re not staying in Singapore for long, you can consider buying a second hand car. A second-hand car with COE with many years left on it will raise the price of the car, while cars being sold at bargain basement prices tend to have COEs that are about to expire – which might work out well for you.
Here’s what to know if you’re thinking of leasing a car, or buying a car in Singapore.
1. Leasing a car in Singapore to get around
Renting, or leasing, a car can be a more affordable alternative to buying it outright, since you only have to pay for a small portion of the car’s value. However, you’ll still have to foot the bill for petrol, road tax, Electronic Road Pricing (ERP), and any irregular wear and tear on the car, as well as for any extra mileage if you surpass the limits in your contract. In addition, driving across the causeway to Malaysia (post-Covid) will incur extra costs.
The following companies provide long-term leasing:
2. Buying a car to get around in Singapore
Insider tip: Most people in Singapore purchase second-hand, rather buying a brand new car – yep, even some of those flashy Porches and Lambos. Used cars usually work out to be much cheaper than brand new cars. Due to the 10-year COE, the value of a car tends to plummet sharply in the first few years of its life.
There’s no need to be afraid that the car will die on you, as all cars in Singapore have to pass a physical inspection to guarantee that they are roadworthy. Furthermore, you pay the same amount of road tax no matter how old your car is. Already confused? Then engage a car dealer, who can explain the process and handle all the paperwork for you. Or DIY your hunt on SGCarMart or ST Cars.
3. How to buy a car, step-by-step
As noted, you can cushion the blow by buying a pre-owned car rather than a new one. But what can you actually afford? Let’s do the math, using a five-year-old Toyota Corolla Altis 1.6A – one of the most popular car models in Singapore. At publication, the total cost was about $55,000.
1. Taking out a loan.
Unless you’ve got an extra $55,000 lying around, you’ll probably want to take out a loan for the car. While the Toyota Corolla might cost $55,000 upfront, its Open Market Value (OVM) is actually lower. Meaning? The value of the car minus the COE is just $19,598.
In theory, the maximum you can borrow is 70 percent of the price if the car’s OMV is under $20,000. But there are other factors the bank will take into account that can lower the amount you can actually get to borrow.
To take out the maximum loan of 70 percent of the car price, you should go for the maximum tenure of five years. (The maximum tenure is dependent on the number of months left on the COE, capped at five years.) Assuming you do, you will be able to borrow $36.500. Car loan interest rates these days hover around 2.28 percent. Monthly expenditure: $656.39.
2. Down payment for a car in Singapore
In this example, you will have to cough up a down payment worth at least 30 percent of the car’s selling price. That works out to be $16,500. You will also have to pay a LTA transfer fee worth $25. Upfront expenditure: $16,525.
Insurance with third-party coverage is mandatory in Singapore. Car insurance plans vary in price, so compare them thoroughly. Expect to pay at least $1,200 for your first year. This has to be paid upfront and in full. Happily, your premium amounts should decrease over the next few years if you don’t make any claims. Upfront expenditure: $1,200.
4. Road tax
For a 1,598 cubic centimetre, five-year-old Toyota Corolla Altis, 12 months’ worth of road tax should cost $742. Upfront expenditure: $742.
5. Maintenance Fund
How much you need to pay to maintain your car depends in part on how well the previous owner maintained it, as well as your own usage patterns. Even the most optimistic driver should expect maintenance and servicing costs to be at least $360 a year. Monthly expenditure: $30.
6. Petrol costs in Singapore
Follow the advice on the facing page and get a credit card that offers a discount, and you might be able to keep the cost down to about $180 a month. Monthly expenditure: $180.
How to save on petrol: Credit cards, when used together with a petrol station’s loyalty card, can earn you a more than 20 percent discount on the sticker price of petrol.
Some of the most popular cards are: Citi Cash Back Card (Enjoy up to 20.88 percent savings at Esso and Shell, and 8 percent cashback at other petrol stations worldwide), OCBC 365 Credit Card (Save up to 22.1 percent on petrol at Caltex), and UOB One Card ( Get up to 24 percent petrol discount at Shell or SPC, and up to 5 percent cashback at other petrol stations).
7. Bottom line?
To own a five-year-old Toyota Corolla Altis, you’ll need to pay $18,467 upfront, while each month’s expenditure will cost you $866.39.
Road laws in Singapore:
Here’s what to avoid… so that you don’t have to reach deep into your pockets:
1. Eating or drinking on public transport
Since the Rapid Transit Systems (RTS) Act was established in 1987, it’s been against the rules to consume any food or drink (yes, including water) in MRT trains or stations – lest you get slapped with a $500 fine. The one exception: Mothers are allowed to breastfeed their children. Need to take your meds? SMRT recommends you do so before entering the station.
2. Pedestrian offences
General offences such as jaywalking may incur a fine of up to $50 – a heavy price to pay just because you couldn’t be bothered to wait at a traffic light.
3. Cyclist and motorists offences
As a cyclist, offences such as careless riding, not wearing a helmet while riding on the road, or beating a red light can mean a fine of up to $75. Drivers who disobey road rules can face fines ranging from $70 to $200 and up to 12 demerit points.
4. Riding PMDs on sidewalks or grass
If you’re wondering why e-scooters vanished from footpaths in late 2019, it’s because of a few nasty crashes. After some public outcry, the government decided that riding a PMD on the sidewalk can get you fined up to $2,000, while riding on the grass can get you fined up to $5,000.
5. Littering and spitting
Don’t flick that cigarette butt into the gutter as you drive along, as littering can get you fined $300. Caught a second time? You’ll not only get fined, but could also get issued a Corrective Work Order, which requires you to clean up public areas for three to 12 hours. Likewise, spitting in public can earn you a fine of $300.
Fun fact: It’s not actually illegal to chew gum in Singapore. Just don’t import it for sale, or you can face a potential $10,000 fine. And no, people don’t find it restrictive. less chewing gum means cleaner pavements.
6. Other road rules to consider
Whether you’re cycling or scooting, it pays to know where you can legally ride. Cycling paths and park connectors allow bicycles, electric bicycles, motorised and non-motorised PMDs and Personal Mobility Aids (PMAs), whereas only bicycles, and non-motorised PMDs and PMAs are allowed on footpaths. Want to ride on the road? Only bicycles and e-bikes get the green light.
By Joanne Poh, for The Finder Issue 304, October 2020