Tesla electric car penalised with $15000 carbon surcharge

From ‘Electric car Tesla slapped with $15000 tax surcharge’, 5 March 2016, article by Christopher Tan, ST

An electric car which attracts tax breaks in several countries has been slapped with a tax surcharge in Singapore. The Model S – a sedan made by California-based Tesla Motors – is the first tailpipe emission-free car to be penalised this way here.

Mr Joe Nguyen, 44, registered a used Model S he sourced from Hong Kong just before Chinese New Year. He was shocked that the car – for which he paid close to $400,000 – was liable for a $15,000 carbon surcharge.

“Honestly, it’s stupid,” said the senior vice-president with an Internet research firm. “I went back to them (Land Transport Authority), and they cited a UN emission test regulation. They also factored in carbon emissions at the power station. We don’t apply a carbon penalty to people charging their iPhones, do we?”

According to LTA, the Tesla uses 444 watt/hr per km, equivalent to 222g/km of carbon. You will only get rebates if your carbon emission is below 136g/km. In comparison, if you use the ICAO carbon footprint calculator to determine the amount spewed from a round trip between Singapore and Bangkok, you get a figure that is roughly a 1000 fold increase – 240kg of carbon per passenger. That’s excluding the taxi ride to and fro the airport. In other words, you need to drive a Tesla for 1000km before you can clock the same amount chugged out over a short holiday. How much carbon did we emit over the SG50 long weekend last year, I wonder. Alas, policy decisions made on the basis of CO2 emissions are never simple. You could avoid taking the car out on the weekend but end up guzzling electricity at home Netflixing on your giant 48 inch Smart TV, snacking on smoked salmon flown all the way from Norway to your coffee table. Your very mundane existence is itself a strain on the carbon budget.

Before we saw carbon in a different light, beyond its presence in fizzy drinks and the fact that we excrete it out and trees suck it back in, electric cars were seen as the panacea to our oil dependence problem. If we’re not able to witness solar-powered flying cars in this lifetime, then electric seemed to be the way to go. We imagined these vehicles as sleek, Zen-quiet machines which naturally smell of fresh pine, guided along by a GPS equipped with the voice of Sir David Attenborough. It was the future of transportation, not MRT lines underneath Macritchie reservoir, not car-free days, not bicycles or hoverboards. Instead, our government bans electric scooters in parks, slaps penalties on supposedly ‘green’ cars that happen to be gluttons for electricity, and the public asks for zero emission bicycles to be regulated. No, we’re still not going to emulate the Jetsons in another 50 years.

But this isn’t the first time that anyone who tried to promote clean tech got into a tangle with the authorities. James Diebley couldn’t register his battery-operated three-wheeled Corbin Sparrow as a motorcycle as the LTA deemed it to be more ‘car-like’. Although the LTA explained that it would have granted the rebate , Diebley eventually gave up the EV, but only because being a solo vehicle, he couldn’t use it to send his kids to school. On one hand, we want to encourage families and pledge to cut emissions, on the other it seems that the prerequisites of driving a cool electric car around Singapore include being 1) bloody rich and 2) single. Yes, try picking up girls with a gadget that looks like a character out of Pixar’s Cars.

Somehow, people have this perception that being small and compact, Singapore would be ideal for an electric revolution. Yet at the same time we have one of the highest ownership of modified supercars in the region, despite the roads being notoriously race-unfriendly. Bureaucracy is often blamed as the final nail in the coffin of any hopes of us becoming a car-lite, low-carbon nation, but without the right mindset and behaviorial changes in all of us to ‘heal the world, make it a better place’, or we continue to have billionaires who can afford to be penalised even if their EV is a grid vampire, our future generations will still inherit the scum we leave behind, with or without electric cars and their rebates and charges.

All bicycles need to be regulated

From ‘All bicycles, not just electric ones, need to be regulated’, 26 Nov 2015, Voices, Today

(Alfred Lim): I support the suggestions in the letter “Greater regulation needed for electric bicycles, riders” (Nov 24). I would state further that every means of transport used on the roads, including regular bicycles, should be regulated. The growth in bicycle usage is unprecedented. Since the cost of motorcycle Certificates of Entitlement (COE) went up substantially, many have switched to bicycles, power-assisted or otherwise.

In land-scarce Singapore, car and motorcycle ownership is regulated in part by the COE system: There is a limit on the number allowed. Cars and motorcycles are required to be tested and insured, and are subject to ownership and usage laws. However, few regulations apply to bicycles, which were once few in number and hardly infringed on other road users’ rights. But this is no longer so. To be fair to all, the cost of bicycle usage cannot be zero or negligible.

Cyclists are not required to pass any test, which perhaps explains the unsafe behaviour seen regularly when they speed at pedestrian crossings, ignore the red light and disregard traffic laws. Being unregistered, they are rarely caught.

Bicycles require other road users to keep a safe distance; one occupies as much space on the roads as a motorcycle. They can cause accidents; hence, insurance is necessary.

Bicycles were once slow and cumbersome, but the new, lighter ones are capable of speeds nearing 50km an hour. Accidents could prove injurious to riders and other road users.

It is time to revisit the premise that we need not regulate bicycle ownership and usage. Accountability and regulation in this regard would be to the benefit and protection of all road users and pedestrians.

The call to issue licences to anyone who owns a bicycle is a case of backpedalling into the early 20th century, a time when bicycles were ‘slow and cumbersome’ and yet it was still dangerous to cycle one-handed while doffing your hat when a lady walks by.

In 1933, such measures were lauded as revenue-generating for the Government, in addition to deterring theft. Licensing did eventually come into play in 1936, with nearly 100,000 bikes being registered with the authority, and naturally, the Government took credit for  the subsequent reduction in traffic offences. I’m not sure if baby tricycles were spared, and whether it was your civic duty to report to the Police if you caught someone’s kid on an unauthorised vehicle blazing down the pavement without having to pass any sort of ‘test’ whatsoever.

In 1981, the Registry of Vehicles decided to scrap bicycle registration as they thought it was no longer sustainable to continue producing number plates and that it involved too much paperwork. The fee then was a measly $5. The very thought of applying for a licence for bicycle-riding today would turn many budding riders off, even if the fee is in the low double-digits. All this runs contrary to our vision of a cyclist-friendly nation. If roads do eventually appear to be safer following bicycle registration, it could merely mean that there are less cyclists on the streets, not because errant cyclists suddenly begin behaving more responsibly. You could register your killer pitbull with AVA, but if you don’t leash him in public there’s still the risk that it would bite someone’s face off.

Perhaps we should be thankful, for now, that the Government doesn’t already mandate bicycles to install ERP gantry readers. ‘To be fair to all’, as the writer suggests, maybe it’s not just cyclists who need to ‘pay’ for running riot on our streets. How about that oblivious jogger with earphones on, or those trolley-pushing cardboard collecting aunties? Or the uncle on a motorised wheelchair? Not every nail that sticks out needs to be hammered down.

The blunt instrument of regulation is not the answer to harmonious commuting. For cyclists, motorists and pedestrians to get around seamlessly requires creative rejigging of the current infrastructure given our space constraints. It requires smart policies coupled with enforcement, not slapping on another bureaucratic hoop that echoes the days when Mamasans rode around in trishaws.

Uber and Grabtaxi drivers requiring a vocational licence

From ‘Uber, Grabtaxi drivers may need vocational licence’, 10 June 15, article by Zachary Soh, My Paper

DRIVERS who run chauffeur services under ride-booking apps such as Uber could be required to obtain a vocational licence in the future.  While they are currently free from this requirement, the Land Transport Authority (LTA) said yesterday that it is looking into removing this exemption, as a way to ensure the safety of passengers taking private-hire rides.

In a forum letter published in The Straits Times, LTA noted that chauffeured vehicle services have become more accessible to the public with technology and given the industry’s recent growth, it is studying possible measures to safeguard commuter interest. The cab community has cried foul recently, following news of ride-matching apps and rental companies working together to run their own fleet of “taxis”.

The rental firms lease out cars to drivers at a rate cheaper than taxis. The drivers then use the vehicles to fulfil bookings from apps like Uber and GrabTaxi. These companies and drivers, however, do not have to meet the stringent requirements imposed on the taxi industry, such as vocational training.

…Meanwhile, Uber drivers have told The Straits Times that the time and money required to take a vocational course will be an extra burden for them. One driver, Yu Kim Reed, 30, asked why vocational licences have to be implemented now, given that chauffeur services have been around for so long. “The only difference is that a (car hire) call centre has been replaced by the Internet,” Mr Yu said.

According to the Sunday Times (Are ride-matching apps an UBER problem, 14 June 2015, ST), some Uber drivers do in fact ply their trade like ‘chauffeurs’. One subscriber known as ‘Marcus’ supplies mints, newspapers, water, even a socket for phone charging for his customers. Uber also has a strict rating system whereby any score below an average of 4.3 (out of 5) warrants a suspension or total ban, so drivers are forced to go the extra mile, sometimes literally.

Other requirements before becoming a full-fledged Uber driver include a 2 hour training session, online lessons, up to $5000 commercial insurance, and setting up your own company and registering your car for commercial use should you choose to drive your own vehicle. All that, however, doesn’t ensure passenger ‘safety’ as what LTA is hung up about. Then again, your safety isn’t guaranteed even if you’re in the backseat of a ‘proper’ taxi anyway, especially if you’re drunk and vulnerable.

One ride-sharing/matching app supporter explained in a letter to the ST that the business model satisfies a genuine need among frustrated passengers who have tried calling call centres and forced to ‘listen to their holding music’ (Ensure licensing doesn’t stifle progress, 12 June 2015, ST Forum). He also hinted at an element of ‘protectionism’ given that main players like Comfort Delgro, having tremendous ‘economies of scale’, still reap profits despite their high rental costs. As the occasional app-user myself, I tend to agree that there is a market for such services, more so if my Uber ride includes complementary perks like an iPhone charger or a bottle of champagne.  It is also a wake up call for regular cabbies not to disappear just before midnight charges kick in, not to rely on the customer for directions, or drive like demented road warriors in Mad Max.

Financial factors like app companies taking a cut from your earnings aside, 3rd party booking apps have their share of problems too. Grab Taxi requires you to exchange handphone numbers with cabbies, for instance. Passengers could screw you over by cancelling last minute or not appearing at the designated pick-up spot. You still risk having someone puke all over your backseat, or rob you with a box-cutter. Someone got duped into paying $97 to a fake Uber driver. But that is how ‘market forces’ work. If you want your privacy, or if you don’t trust private cars, take the train, but bear with the crowd and breakdowns, or fight with other flag-down passengers.

Ride-sharing/matching is still, at the very least, more reassuring than the ‘pirate taxis’ that once roamed the streets.  These flourished as early as the mid fifties, when entrepreneurial drivers capitalised on the bus strikes to perform a public service when people could no longer rely on the main form of public transport. Business was so competitive in fact, pirates were willing to charge 5 CENTS per mile and provide ‘doorstep’ escorting services.  It’s a misuse of the traditional use of the word ‘pirate’, though. These drivers aren’t plundering from anyone. They’re pirates like how people operate ‘pirate radio’ before the Internet. Comfort DelGro is your ‘Top Hits’ station, with the same old songs played to death, while Uber/Grab Taxi is where you get to hear the ‘cool stuff’ without ‘royalties’.

Of course, the Government had to clamp down on these guys and declare all out war, not so much that passengers were harmed by it, but because they had to protect the interests of our taxi-drivers, who were partly the reason why pirates had their supporters in the first place. Taxi drivers then tend to ‘choose’ tourists over locals, and people complained about their ‘attitude’ after an evening at the cinema. Today, taxis choose to wait in queue outside our casinos rather than pick you up when you’re stranded in some godforsaken ulu place past midnight. By the time you get an actual human voice on the Comfort Cab booking line, you would have been assaulted and left to die pants-down by the road.

In 1970, the Government coerced drivers into ‘job conversion’ in a bid to phase out pirate operations, and anyone who continued to go pirate would be fined and have their ride confiscated. In 1971, a man who depended on pirating as his livelihood was driven to suicide by traffic offences slapped by the police, among other debt woes. By 1975, the pirates returned to the new towns, because the waiting time for the only bus on the road was probably longer than that needed to set up your one-man taxi business.  Even if bus frequencies have since improved, we sometimes still watch helplessly as bus after bus zooms by, the captain ignoring your flailing arms, oblivious that there’s a gaping hole in the middle because nobody wants to move in.

Today, the authorities are considering a softer approach in contrast to the ‘Operation Pirate Taxi’ blitz of the past, but the fact that we’re even discussing frameworks and legislation now despite our ‘world class’ transport system, in view of the high demand for these apps (6 companies and counting, the LTA one not included), suggests that not enough is being done to move people around an increasingly crowded city efficiently. Well yes, there are good and bad Comfort drivers, just like there are good and bad Uber/Grab Taxi drivers, but there isn’t enough evidence to say that the one without an official licence is more likely to drive you off a pier and plunge into the river. For the record, regular taxis have driven into condo pools before. At least I know which of the two is more likely to carry a float just in case the unimaginable happens.

Instead of a knee-jerk reaction of mandatory licensing, the first thing LTA should work on is figuring out what’s wrong with the current system, and consider the benefits of these apps not just in terms of moving the public, but as a form of employment, without having their judgement fudged by taxi giants with vested interest in seeing the demise of their hi-tech rivals.  In the meantime, if I want an ‘uber’ chauffeur service at a fraction of the price of an actual limousine, I know who to call.

Singaporean man setting himself on fire in JB

From ‘Singaporean man sets himself on fire in JB’, 13 April 2014, article by Pearl Lee, ST

A Singaporean man was being treated for 95 per cent burns yesterday after setting himself on fire when he was refused petrol at a kiosk in Johor Baru. The 42-year-old had walked to the petrol station at Century Garden at around 9.30am but staff refused to sell him fuel as they are not allowed to serve people who are not driving a vehicle.

Chinese evening daily Lianhe Wanbao reported that the man then threatened the petrol station’s owner, saying that he would set himself on fire if he was not allowed to buy petrol. The owner relented and sold him 4 litres before the man stepped out of the kiosk, poured it over himself, then sparked himself with a lighter.

He lost his footing and fell into a drain before passers-by doused him with a fire extinguisher. He was taken to Sultanah Aminah Hospital in Johor Baru, where he was unconscious as of last night.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs confirmed the incident and added that Singapore’s Consulate-General in Johor Baru is rendering necessary assistance to the man.

In 1969, Ah Hock Keith Morrisson committed suicide ‘Vietnamese style’ by setting himself on fire with a tin of kerosene. His dramatic death happened within a few months of leaving the Singapore Infantry Regimen, during which he exhibited abnormal behaviour such as crying or staring in a daze. The ST described the fiery act as turning himself into a HUMAN TORCH, which is also a Marvel character and part of the Fantastic 4 assemble created in 1961.  A few years later, a Buddhist nun set herself alight ‘Saigon-style’ in a temple, using the same flammable liquid. It is not known if these were in fact inspired by a series of self-immolation protests by Vietnamese monks in the 60’s, or the result of a deadly obsession with a comic book hero whose entire body comes alight at will.

This man is on fire

This man is on fire

A quarrel over suspected infidelity combusted into suicide when 28 year old Madam Kalachelvi set herself on fire after hearing rumours of her husband’s cheating. The distraught husband followed suit. Suicide by self-torching continued into the 90’s, with a case of a 13 year old SCHOOLBOY performing the act after getting a scolding (Schoolboy, 13, set fire to himself after scolding in school, 28 Nov 1992, ST). In 2010, a man, reportedly suffering from mental illness, walked into a Shell petrol kiosk toilet and came out in flames. The most recent incident occurred at the Ceylon Sports Club, Balestier last August, with kerosene again found at the death scene. There’s no record of locals burning themselves to death for political causes as far as I know, though you could get in trouble for setting effigies of our Transport Minister aflame.

Singaporeans are renown petrol guzzlers in JB, some even stocking up petrol in cans in car boots to bring home. One Stomper caught Singaporean drivers attempting to bring these back across the Causeway disguised as engine oil containers (You can import up to 20 Litres without a licence). Other drivers are seen jacking up or shaking their cars  just to load more petrol, to get more bang for their Singaporean buck. With a reputation for such strange, kiasu behaviour, a lone man on foot asking to handcarry 4L of petrol wouldn’t seem too surprising, and the only reason I could think of as to why he had to do it in JB is that you can’t just walk into any shop to buy kerosene as if  it were cooking oil here.

A couple of years ago we were wracked by a spate of copycat suicides by drowning in reservoirs (which may actually be as painful and agonising as burning to death, both falling under the Top 10 Worst Ways to Die). One can only hope that this single act of self-immolation doesn’t, well, spread like wildfire.

Postscript: Stephen Lew Soon Khiang, 42, died of his self-inflicted injuries within a day, with doctors saying that he had just a 1% chance of survival.

A Singaporean man was being treated for 95 per cent burns yesterday after setting himself on fire when he was refused petrol at a kiosk in Johor Baru.

The 42-year-old had walked to the petrol station at Century Garden at around 9.30am but staff refused to sell him fuel as they are not allowed to serve people who are not driving a vehicle.

Chinese evening daily Lianhe Wanbao reported that the man then threatened the petrol station’s owner, saying that he would set himself on fire if he was not allowed to buy petrol.

The owner relented and sold him 4 litres before the man stepped out of the kiosk, poured it over himself, then sparked himself with a lighter.

He lost his footing and fell into a drain before passers-by doused him with a fire extinguisher.

He was taken to Sultanah Aminah Hospital in Johor Baru, where he was unconscious as of last night.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs confirmed the incident and added that Singapore’s Consulate-General in Johor Baru is rendering necessary assistance to the man.

– See more at: http://www.straitstimes.com/news/singapore/more-singapore-stories/story/singaporean-man-sets-himself-fire-jb-20140413#sthash.a38528Iw.dpuf

Woodlands checkpoint breached by 65 year old

From ‘Woodlands checkpoint breach was the first time security barrier failed to stop a car:ICA’, 9 March 2014, article by Toh Yong Chuan, ST

The man who drove his old Mercedes-Benz past the Woodlands Checkpoint on Saturday managed to do so because a security barrier meant to stop unauthorised cars from leaving the checkpoint was ineffective. It was the first time the barrier failed to stop a car, said the Immigration and Checkpoints Authority (ICA) on Sunday.

On Saturday, the man, a 65-year-old Malaysian national, who is also a Singapore permanent resident, drove the Singapore-registered car through the checkpoint at 4.05pm after he was stopped for a boot check. He bolted from the checkpoint and evaded the authorities for more than five hours, before he was arrested by the police at 9.15pm.

The security barrier, installed in 2006, was about knee height and designed to puncture the tyres of vehicles that try to drive over it. It is checked daily and on Saturday punctured one of the tyres of the car, but did not stop it in its tracks. The ICA is investigating why the barrier was ineffective.

According to the ICA Annual Report 2005, crash barriers and cat claws were installed as ‘anti-dash-through’ measures to stop ‘determined’ vehicles from dashing through the checkpoint like how one does it countless times in the movies. The ‘heavy duty’ spike barriers, capable of RIPPING off the tyres and DESTROYING undercarriages, was put to the test in a demo against a mighty ten tonne truck, and passed with flying colours. ICA then concluded that their barriers would ensure that no vehicle, even the most ‘foolhardy and determined’ shall pass unharmed, that includes the risk of severe injury to the dasher. Unfortunately, even the spikiest of cat claws wasn’t enough to stop a 65 year old uncle from foiling the checkpoint boys in blue and eluding capture for FIVE HOURS. With a couple of punctured tyres too. I wonder how long people were waiting for cabs because they were deployed by ICA to manhunt instead of transporting people.

Just last month, there were already signs that the barriers were wonky, with one car bumper being mistakenly devastated by a spike attack for no rhyme or reason. It could have been a horrific disaster if the fuel tank were pierced by this death trap. Alas, the cat claws failed to perform on Saturday, sprung like a kitty swiping at a ball of wool instead of the fearsome killer of vermin that it’s made out to be.

No excuse for this spike in security breaches

Of course even if you had sophisticated electronic weaponry to paralyse any vehicle in its tracks without physical damage, it would still be utterly useless if the officer on duty just wasn’t paying enough attention to sound the damn alarm in the first place. Or took an astounding 2.5 minutes to trigger one after pondering on it, as what happened when Malaysian trespasser Nurul Ruhana Ishak slipped away in Jan this year. That’s half a minute longer than Blur’s entire ‘Song 2’. It’s SO much cheaper to get a troll or Gandalf to stand guard against potential trespassers.

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The clip of the incident (now under the Official Secrets Act, meaning it’s illegal to spread it around) is almost a comedy of errors, with the Merc stalling at the barrier and the guards standing around helpless after the car drove over the spikes, probably too stunned to give chase on foot like what TV cops do. The most badass officer on the scene whipped out his baton, probably threatening to smash the window in, though what was really needed then was someone bold enough to pounce in front of the car, poised to shoot, maybe jump on the bonnet smashing his way into the driver’s compartment with his bare fists if the perpetrator ever attempted to run the officer down as well. I mean, instinctively, if I were to see an old man try to escape from me with two punctured tyres, I’d give chase on at least a bicycle or hijack the nearest scooter, rather than stand around dumbfounded by how the spike barrier cocked up big time.

Or maybe I’ve just been watching one too many action movies.

$4.3 billion MCE congested on second day of opening

From ‘Motorists fume over slow traffic along newly-opened Marina Coastal Expressway’, 30 Dec 2013, article by Kenny Chee, ST

Traffic on the newly-opened Marina Coastal Expressway (MCE) might have been fairly smooth on Sunday when it opened to the public, but it was a different story on Monday.

Travel was slow on several segments of the MCE and surrounding roads. Some motorists said they were stuck on the $4.3 billion expressway for nearly an hour, while some commuters were fuming over having to pay higher than usual taxi fares because they were stuck in jams linked to the expressway.

LTA boasts that the MCE is their ‘most ambitious‘ project to date, flashing earth-shattering statistics like how 1200 Olympic pools’ worth of soil were dug up to create the first of its kind undersea tunnel in Singapore. We all know how expensive this project is (you could build 4 Project Jewels), but here are some other fun facts that LTA might not be so willing to brag about following a nightmarish start to what has been lauded as a marvel of civil engineering. Clearly, in the case of undersea roads, ‘bigger’ and ‘deeper’ doesn’t necessarily mean ‘better’, or ‘faster’.

  • Singapore’s second most expensive expressway is the KPE, costing $1.8 billion.
  • When construction started in 2009, LTA’s Chief Executive declared the work a major engineering challenge, that they had successfully ‘moved a river’ for the KPE and have ‘dammed’ the sea for this Kraken of a road. His name? Yam Ah Mee. Dammed if he do, dammed if he don’t.
  • Early the same year, it was reported that the project busted its budget by almost 2 billion (from its original 2.5 billion) because of higher prices of materials and unexpectedly weak soil. Minister Raymond Lim was questioned if his team had looked to other possibilities before building ‘underground and underwater’, but he said none of these were suitable and that the government takes a ‘stringent financial approach’ to evaluate the cost vs benefit of such massive jobs. Money can’t buy you imagination, I suppose.
  • In 2008, the government appointed global engineering firm Mott MacDonald as design consultant for 3 of the 6 contracts. These are the same people behind the first MRT line in Singapore, and worryingly, the Downtown line as well. Incidentally, the Marina Coastal Expressway has a Mc in its acronym. I doubt an Upsize will do any good.
  • Lastly, we make our transport systems ‘safe and smooth flowing through a suite of advanced traffic systems’ called ITS. Or Intelligent Transport Systems. It’s an acronym as ingenious as our expressways themselves.

We’ve been hit by a series of sloppy planning rearing ugly heads in dramatic fashion. First the Downtown line, then the DNC registry reversal and to cap the year off, a disappointing sluggish scrum through the MCE. We’re so used to agencies employing quick recovery action and offering Band-Aid solutions that we confuse their responsiveness and nervous engagement with social media for competency. Anyone can patch a leak, but you need some form of higher intelligence to prevent one. LTA fines SMRT or SMS for crappy work. Who fines the LTA then?

The LTA may have believed they built the tunnel equivalent of the Colossus, but what we have seen so far from opening day jitters is a choking Goliath, with so much emphasis on making the expressway wide and sturdy that we ignore its relationships with surrounding infrastructure and forget how to direct traffic. LTA was quick to publish a help guide to drivers confused about the MCE exits, which to a non-driver like me looks like a trigonometry problem sum confusing enough to quit driving altogether. AYE to ECP or CBD? WTF MCE.

Orchard Xmas colours similar to traffic lights

From ‘Orchard lights up – in safer colours’, 23 Nov 2013, article by Jermyn Chow, ST

GREEN, red and gold may be traditional Christmas colours, but they are also similar to the ones on traffic lights. Given that this could lead to motorists confusing yuletide decorations with traffic signals, the Orchard Road Business Association (Orba) has decided, from this year, to avoid the use of these colours for the shopping belt’s annual light-up that it organises.

“While we want to create the festive mood, we have to ensure that motorists will not be distracted by the displays,” Orba’s executive director Steven Goh told The Straits Times. He explained that initial plans to use silver and gold – which is similar to the amber signal of traffic lights – for this year’s display were altered.

Instead, the panel of senior Orba and STB representatives which plans and chooses the decorations decided to turn Orchard into a winter wonderland with giant diamonds and snowflakes – all blue and white. Called Christmas on A Great Street, the lights for the 2.2km stretch from Tanglin Mall to Plaza Singapura will be turned on by President Tony Tan Keng Yam tonight in a ceremony at Shaw House Urban Plaza.

…Said marketing executive Lynn Seah, 33, who drives down Orchard Road at least three times a week: “What is Christmas without its iconic colours? Safety is important but which motorist can be so clueless as to mistake fairy lights for traffic lights?”

The Orchard Road Xmas lights are like the Miss Singapore Universe costume; you can never please everyone. Last year’s generous decking of red and gold, the ‘traditional’ colours of Xmas, reminded some shoppers of Chinese New Year instead of a ‘warm Yuletide ambience’ that is supposed to simulate a nostalgic misletoe-draped, pine-scented family gathering by the fireplace.

Cai Shen Night

Cai Shen Night

In 2005, someone complained about a structure that looked like a God of Fortune hat sitting on top of a season’s greetings banner.  And yes, it was in ‘Christmassy’ Red too. I’m not sure if they recycled that for the following CNY celebrations. Not enough red and Singaporeans complain. Too much of it, and we accuse you of defiling tradition.

Huat the halls

It looks like for ‘safety’ reasons, we’ll have to settle for monotonous Winter wonderland blues and silvers for good, though it may not just be the red, gold and green lights of Orchard that causes accidents, but the very distraction of having Xmas lights along ANY road in the first place. This precautionary measure may have been triggered by a video of a car sent flying last Xmas, though it’s impossible to tell if the driver was spellbound by the Christmassy atmosphere, plain reckless, or pissed drunk.

In 2000, a man was killed by a motorcycle while taking photos of the Takashimaya lighting in Orchard Road. (Man killed in Orchard Rd accident, 10 Dec 2000, ST). 9 years later on Xmas eve, a driver responsible for killing an Indonesian maid on pillion along Whitley Road blamed Christmas decor for misleading her into ‘running a red light’.  In 2010, someone ploughed into a Xmas float along Orchard.  But why take it out on Christmas decorations when the yuletide season is known for a more probable cause of accident deaths, drunk driving?

You can judge for yourself how dangerous red Xmas lights are to motorists from this 2012 video below. Note how the amber roadwork beacons are contributing to the kaleidoscopic confusion as well.

If we’re so certain that Xmas decor is confusing to drivers, we should ban the same colours along EVERY street in Singapore, not just our famed shopping district, especially areas where drivers would LEAST EXPECT to be dazzled by Xmas lighting. Or maybe even ban cars from Orchard Road altogether during the festive season, just so that thousands of shoppers can have their fill of iconic Xmas lights in all colours of the rainbow instead of, you know, boring stuff like spending time at home with loved ones.

I’m just wondering what’s to become of CNY, and Cai Shen Ye, now.

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