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'Not as if we're riding luxury motorcycles': High COE premiums impact riders who rely on two-wheelers for livelihood

SINGAPORE — To Mr Johnny Tan, 50, a motorcycle is an indispensable part of his life. From the moment he turns on the ignition, he is constantly plying the roads — rain or shine — to fulfil delivery orders, as he has done for the past two years.

'Not as if we're riding luxury motorcycles': High COE premiums impact riders who rely on two-wheelers for livelihood
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  • Several food delivery riders said they were unhappy with the latest motorcycle COE premiums
  • But as they rely on their motorcycles for work, they said they have no choice but to accept it
  • Some reasoned that they would not be able to earn as much as they do currently, if they were to take on another job 

SINGAPORE — To Mr Johnny Tan, 50, a motorcycle is an indispensable part of his life. From the moment he turns on the ignition, he is constantly plying the roads — rain or shine — to fulfil delivery orders, as he has done for the past two years.

So, he had little options after the Certificate of Entitlement (COE) for the trusty motorcycle that helped him earn a regular wage expired last month. He bought a brand new motorcycle for around S$20,000, including a new S$11,100 COE.

“It’s not as if I ride for a short while, then keep it in the carpark for the rest of the day,” said Mr Tan on Monday (Oct 25). His heart ached at having to throw such a huge sum of money “down the drain” for a certificate that will last him for only 10 years.

Still, Mr Tan forked out a premium that was about 14 per cent cheaper than the latest COE prices last week, when premiums for motorcycles hit a new record S$12,801 on Oct 19.

The jump in COE prices for motorcycles was a case of motorcycle dealers anticipating a further price hike when the COE quota is cut next month, TODAY quoted industry insiders as saying last week.

For the November to January period, the supply of COEs for all vehicle types, including motorcycles, will shrink by 13.7 per cent.

To circumvent this, dealers often buy COEs for motorcycles in advance, and sell them together with motorcycles as a package deal. This is unlike the sales of cars, as motorcycle dealerships tend to bid for a COE before securing a buyer.

In any case, the idea of dealers driving up premiums rubbed some food delivery riders the wrong way.

“What choice do I have? We delivery riders need our motorcycles for work,” said Mr Tan in Mandarin. “I’m not well-educated. It will be hard for me to find another job that pays as well.”

COE 'MORE THAN 5 TIMES' MY MONTHLY EARNINGS: RIDER

On Monday, seven food delivery riders whom TODAY spoke to shrugged and sighed when asked about last week’s record-breaking motorcycle COE premiums.

Some of the riders said the timing of the COE increase is inopportune, as they are also dealing with a drop in their earnings since Covid-related restrictions have been lifted, which saw workers returning to their offices.

One food delivery rider, who only wanted to be known as Yaw Wooi, said that when Singaporeans were still largely working from home due to the Covid-19 movement restrictions, it would be easy to earn between S$200 and S$300 for just three hours of work.

These days, the 43-year-old said he would be lucky if he could even earn that much after 10 hours of work.

Another food delivery rider, Mr Roy Hudson, added that it is "not fair" that he now has to face the possibility of paying a hefty COE premium once his expires next year.

“It’s not as if we are riding luxury motorcycles,” said the 56-year-old, who pointed out that the current motorcycle COE premiums are more than five times of his average monthly earnings of S$2,500.

Mr Hudson said he is still mulling over whether he would continue to renew his COE next year, but said he may consider leaving the industry for a career in security instead.

Even riders whose COEs are not due to be renewed soon were concerned they may never see the premiums go down.

Mr Justin Goh, 35, who paid about S$3,000 for his motorcycle’s COE about six years ago, said it would be “quite unsustainable” if it remains at this month’s level in four years’ time.

“I don’t really know what I’ll do then…but for now I’ll just continue doing my deliveries,” he said.

However, for Mr Zulkifli Yusof, he said he may throw in the towel and look for a new job if he has to pay more than S$12,000 to renew his COE in two months’ time.

With an average daily earning of S$100 a day, the 32-year-old felt it would not be worthwhile paying for the COE as he would still have other costs to foot, such as fuel, daily expenses, and the occasional trip to the motorcycle workshop.

He is also considering the idea of riding a bicycle instead of a motorcycle for his food delivery job.

Nevertheless, he said he would appreciate it if the authorities could find ways to bring down the motorcycle premiums.

“Maybe there could be different categories of COEs based on the capacity of the motorcycle, just like cars,” said Mr Zulkifli, who rides a 155cc engine scooter.

DOES MOTORCYCLE COE QUOTA MEET DEMAND? 

Such a suggestion has previously been raised in Parliament before, but several transport experts pointed out that it may not work given the fact that most motorcycles in Singapore are not likely to be luxury ones.

Hence, having differing COE types for motorcycles based on their engine capacity and power, like in the case of cars, may not make much difference.

Most motorcycles are "workhorses", said Singapore University of Social Sciences transport economist Walter Theseira. "Of course, luxury motorcycles will put some pressure upwards, but they're not the (main reason) for it."

Instead, he said it may be useful for policymakers to rethink whether the COE quota for motorcycles is sufficient to meet the demand for it.

The Land Transport Authority (LTA) told TODAY previously that it had "not observed any anomalous bidding behaviour and will continue to monitor the situation on the ground closely".

It added that around 99 per cent of Category D temporary COEs obtained from July 2021 to June this year had been utilised to register motorcycles, and this suggested a genuine sustained high demand for motorcycles. 

Another suggestion, put forth by Associate Professor Michael Li from Nanyang Technological University, a transport researcher, is to have separate COE pricing for two kinds of motorcyclists — those who need it for commercial reasons, and those who just use it to commute.

However, transport analyst Terence Fan from the Singapore Management University disagreed, and said it would be both “harsh and difficult” to scrutinise applications this way.

Rather, he said the bidding of motorcycle COEs should be left to the motorcyclists themselves, and there should be measures in place to make it easier for them to do so.

However, while this would prevent speculation, Assoc Prof Theseira pointed out that the average motorcycle buyer might be “financially tight” and have trouble putting down the deposit required.

In March this year, LTA raised the bid deposit for motorcycle COE from S$200 to S$800.

Separately, TODAY has sought comments from the various food delivery companies, as well as courier services, on whether they are extending any help to the motorcycle riders working for them.

As of Monday, only courier company UParcel responded.

Its chief operations officer, Mr Ng Wee Leong, said his company has almost a thousand motorcycle riders on its platform, and he is aware that the “escalating bike COEs is causing high operating cost” for the riders.

“We have increased our delivery prices to better support our riders,” he said. “Since August we have adjusted our rates upwards by 10 to 30 per cent. We are also providing them with a 2 per cent rebate on their delivery earnings to increase their take home earnings.”

This means that a delivery rider who used to take home S$4,000 is now able to earn S$80 more, he said.

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motorcycle COE food delivery

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