By Ginnette Ng
How do people around the world celebrate their children’s passage into adulthood?
For the Jewish, boys celebrate Bar Mitzvah when they turn 13, a common birthday ritual to signify that they are now recognised as adults and are responsible for themselves.
In many Latin American families, girls celebrate their transition into womanhood with a birthday bash known as Quinceañera (Spanish for “15-year-old girl”).
In the United States, “sweet 16” birthday parties are popular, particularly because it also marks the age at which one can get their driver’s license.
For Singaporeans, this is age 18 — we are seen to enter into adulthood when we are old enough to drive.
So, after my 18th birthday, it became a common conversation at many family dinners and Chinese New Year gatherings: “When are you going to get your license?”
To which I would respond: “I don’t want to drive.”
My family had expected me to jump at the chance of exercising the latest legal right I had earned as a young adult. My uncle thought my decision to not want to drive was a foolish and lazy one.
Similarly, my friends were surprised at how firmly I was objecting to driving. A few of them had signed up for driving lessons after turning 18; some even started lessons while in the middle of their GCE A-level examination revision. Now in university, most of them would have been driving for at least two years.
They were excited about this rite of passage that gave them greater independence, and perhaps, even symbolised another step into adulthood. The convenience of being able to go anywhere quickly and comfortably was another appeal.
Too much of a pretty penny
But even with a driving license, it will be several years before most of us can afford a car. When we graduate, between our other daily expenses and paying off tuition loans, buying a car will be out of the question for many.
The starting pay of fresh graduates pales in comparison to the cost of a Certificate of Entitlement (COE) alone. The median starting pay was $3,360 in 2016, according to a survey conducted by the National University of Singapore, Nanyang Technological University and Singapore Management University.
Meanwhile, the cost of a COE for small cars was around $50,000 in the first half of 2017. This is more than the total tuition cost of around $40,000 for a four-year undergraduate degree, after factoring in the subsidies for Singaporeans.
For those who are allowed to take their parents’ cars out for a spin, it is usually on days that their parents do not drive to work and this may not be a daily privilege.
Watch your carbon footprint
Also, the environmental implications of motor vehicles cannot be denied. Private vehicles contribute to the largest share of carbon emissions by the transport sector in Singapore, according to the Ministry of Transport. It is twice that of emissions from public transportation like buses and the Mass Rapid Transit.
Despite the availability of electrical cars and hybrid cars, these make up less than 2 per cent of cars on the road, according to the Land Transport Authority’s annual statistics from 2016.
While the effects of climate change can already be felt, lifestyle changes that may seem small still play a part in slowing it down.
The road ahead
Fortunately, more Singaporeans are choosing not to drive at all. There is a falling trend in the number of people who see the need to learn how to drive. According to government findings, approximately 11,000 driving licenses were issued in 2016, almost a seventh of the number in 2008.
This is no surprise considering the popularity of ride-sharing and taxi services like Uber and Grab in recent years. Expanded and added bus routes around residential areas have also made public transportation highly accessible and convenient.
This trend will likely continue, with the introduction of bike-sharing schemes in Singapore, which make short commutes simpler and more efficient.
Nevertheless, my parents are still unconvinced by my unyielding position. My mother tells me I will change my mind in due time, once I have children.
But I have also seen some incredible and resilient mothers in my daily commute — one handled her newborn, the pram and her groceries all at once on the moving bus. Not to mention, many old folks get around their neighbourhoods via public transportation.
If they can do it, so can I.
Perhaps I will change my mind in the years ahead, when my parents are older and less mobile. But while I am still young, I do not mind toughing it out with many other Singaporeans on the buses and trains.