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6 months with BlueSG electric vehicle car sharing: My driving experience
By PY Ho - on 12 Aug 2018, 7:26pm

Note: The original story published on 29th July 2018 has been updated to reflect that there is no penalty fee for cancellation/failure to reach reserved parking space within 45 minutes. However, there is a penalty fee if the reserved car isn't collected within 30 minutes.

BlueCar

Since the turn of the decade, the Singapore government has been striving for a car-lite society, which explains the insanely high cost of car ownership and therefore why I cannot afford to own a car. So it was to my delight when LTA & BlueSG jointly announced their electric vehicle (EV) Car Sharing services last year. This service is part of LTA’s pilot programme on EV Car Sharing, in which BlueSG, a subsidiary of Bolloré Group, will install 2000 BlueSG charging points at 500 locations by 2020, with 400 points opened for public usage. Bolloré Group has experience establishing car sharing services in other cities, notably Autolib in France.

 

The big Idea

The overall objective of LTA’s car-sharing, as well as BlueSG’s business model, is to provide car-sharing services for one-way of transport (point A to B), for example, picking up the car from near home, driving to and dropping it off near your workplace. Unlike other existing car-sharing services e.g. Tribecar or CarClub, there’s no need to return the car back to its origin. The flip side is that BlueSG is not designed for hourly rentals; the cost of driving (33 cents per minute for 1-year premium members or 50 cents per minute for 1-week usage) discourages drivers from making pit stops when driving from one point to another. You can refer to BlueSG's site for more terms and conditions of their services and membership plans.

 

Costs

As the concept of one-way EV car sharing is rather unique in Singapore, it is hard to identify its competitors to benchmark against. When the prices of renting a BlueCar was announced, some had instinctively scoffed at its high cost (S$19.80 per hour), compared to traditional car rental companies or even car sharing services like the aforementioned. However, as stated in the previous section, those services serve a different need, hence it makes no sense to benchmark against Tribecar, Carclub, or Whizzcar. The only other car-sharing service which allows drivers to drop off at a different location is Smove, and even so, they do not serve the same market as what BlueSG serves. Allow me to illustrate with a comparison chart (the blue line represents BlueSG, while the red line is Smove):-

In the above chart, for a very short drive (<2.5 hours), driving a Blue Car makes much more sense than renting Smove. Things start to get contentious after that, but beyond approximately 270min (~4.5 hours), renting Smove is much cheaper. Still, this chart underscores that the market each service caters to is distinct from each other. (Besides, with only 200km driving range, it’s quite unthinkable to rent a Blue car beyond 2 hours, anyway)

Some comparison articles have attempted benchmarking BlueSG against taxis or ride-sharing services like Grab, since they too focus ferrying riders strictly from point A to B. However, as the number of parking stations for BlueSG is much more limited than the unlimited drop-off points for taxis and ride-sharing services, the inconvenience of travelling to and from a BlueSG station must be taken into account. Not to mention putting up with hassles of driving (some may see it as a perk, though). There’s also a problem of jams and other BlueSG-related problems to content with, all which will risk lengthening the rental period, hence increasing rental costs. Thus, to measure whether driving BlueSG is worth, the savings from driving BlueSG must be significant than if taking either taxi or ride-sharing options. Below is another chart to give a sense of cost of driving BlueSG compared to taking Grab or Comfort Taxi. This assumes one is a Premium Member of BlueSG (so that the usage rate is 33 cents per minute), and during non-surge periods:-

 

BlueSG

Grab

Comfort Taxi

Fusionopolis to Waterway Point

(Park @ Cove, take LRT to Punggol: $0.79)

$11.22

(34min)

$21.00

---

$24.50

---

Fusionopolis to 85 Redhill

(Park @ 73 Redhill, walk 200m to hawker centre)

$6.27

(19min)

$8.00

---

$10.00

---

Shaw to Waterway Point

(Walk to Claymore Road, park @ Cove, and
take LRT to Punggol: $0.79)

$9.90

(30min)

$17.00

---

$17.50

---

Take for example traveling from Fusionopolis to Punggol Waterway Point. On a clear day, without peak surge periods or traffic jams, driving BlueSG will result in savings of about $10 compared to Grab or taking Comfort taxi, hence driving Blue Car could be worthwhile, even if it meant taking one LRT stop from Cove to Punggol to put up with the BlueSG station location and continue my journey home.

However, if it is traveling at a relatively short distance, e.g. from Fusionopolis to my favorite hawker centre at 85 Redhill, it may actually make slightly more sense to Grab, even if I can save about $2 from driving BlueSG. The marginal benefit of $2 does not necessarily justify the need to walk another 200m to the hawker centre, and also all the inconveniences from driving. Not to mention the potential risk of encountering jam - just another 6 minutes delay to the journey and all the savings gained will be lost.

Of course, if there’s a surge in Grab or taxi prices, it may seem that driving Blue Car may make more sense. However, the presence of surge pricing indicates that traffic may be busy, which increases the risk of traffic jams, which in turn increases the rental period and hence cost of driving BlueCar. Being stuck in a jam when in a BlueCar also brings about additional issues, which I will revisit later.

 

Driving experience

The Bolloré BlueCar is an electric car, hence the motor should be quiet. During my first time starting up the car, the ignition was completely silent that for a moment, I thought that the car failed to start. The magic silence of a typical electric car ends here though. When driving, the motor will emit an audible hum, and gets louder during acceleration.

One will expect an electric car to accelerate very quickly from rest since the electric motor can hit maximum torque at zero RPM. However, when driving BlueCar, it takes about 7.5 seconds to hit from 0 to 60 km/h (I can't try the usual 0 to 100km/h in Singapore, sorry). This is rather slow. In fact, it seems that the acceleration profile was changed since the time they first started the service in Singapore. Overtaking cars on the expressway used to be a breeze, but these days it feels much harder to accelerate. I'm not sure if it is due to wear and tear, or that the acceleration profile was electronically tweaked over the months.

Notwithstanding the above, acceleration is mostly smooth. However, whenever I step off the accelerator, the ‘engine brake’ - a mechanism in any electric car to generate electricity whenever the car decelerates - jerks the car greatly, which mars the overall driving experience.

It must be noted that since BlueCar is not powered by a traditional auto transmission system, the car does not creep forward at rest. So remember to use the handbrake when moving off from a slope!

 

Issues

It is implicit that for car-sharing or any car rental service in general, one pays only for the rent and nothing else. However, when driving BlueCar, there are times where after collecting the car, I am asked to pay before exiting the car park. Sometimes, the charges can go as high as $20 or more. Explaining to the car park operator does not always work, if one can even contact the car park operator at all. While it is possible to write to BlueSG for reimbursement, having to write in so often shows that this system needs to be refined in identifying the car in use and waving off charges. Moreover, if the driver has insufficient value in his or her Cash Card, he or she has to face the hassle and embarrassment of reversing the car out of the exit gantry AND motioning the cars behind to do the same. It can be dangerous too with some car parks, especially those with deep slopes.

It will be dangerous for a driver to reverse, with such a steep slope. Also, as at 2 weeks before this article, the intercom was not working.

There is also this problem of having only 45 minutes to race to the destination station after reserving one. What happens thereafter? Your reservation will expire and that means a parking lot may not be available for your car at your destination! Most routes have no problem achieving driving time under that - in clear traffic. What if there is a traffic jam or slow traffic? The driver has to cancel, and then rebook the lot - all while driving, which is arguably much more dangerous than private-hire driver reviewing and accepting bookings. Or how about routes that will last more than 45 minutes, like a drive from Pioneer Mall to Pasir Ris? Must the driver only place the booking halfway while driving, which is also dangerous? Though I’ve not yet encountered such a situation, I had a close shave when driving from Punggol to Fusionopolis where I was nearly late by one minute.

Then there’s also the issue of reserving the car or destination lot. I frequently encounter this situation if I leave home for work after 8am where either no cars are available at the nearby BlueSG stations, or that all the lots in my destination are fully reserved. Similarly, when going back home from the office, if I leave beyond 7pm, there will either be no cars at the BlueSG station near my workplace, or all the parking lots at the destination are reserved. Though this is not a fault of BlueSG, such asymmetrical car distribution pattern is a bane, where only early birds get to drive while the rest still have to rely on other modes of transportation. Lastly, take note that there is an S$5 penalty fee if the reserved car isn't collected within 30 minutes.

 

Conclusion

It is good to see efforts being made by LTA to pilot EV Car Sharing. BlueSG has also expanded its fleet and stations rapidly, with an increase from 30 to 72 charging locations since its inaugural operations last September. However, shortcomings still exist in BlueSG’s implementation. It seems to me that BlueSG just ported their working model used by Autolib in France over to Singapore, without any additional innovation or adaptation to Singapore’s unique environment. Only small tweaks were made to certain numbers, such as reservation time (Paris’s 90 minutes vs. Singapore’s 45minutes for parking lot reservation).

One would assume that since BlueSG is operating in partnership with LTA, they would be receiving ample government support. However, it seems that there is lack of coordination between BlueSG and other government agencies, especially when it comes to getting season parking status for all their cars in all the car parks that their stations reside.

Also, even if BlueSG does a good implementation, I am not sure if the concept of EV car sharing would work on a large scale. As it stands now in my personal use, I would have to leave office before 5pm in order to secure both a BlueCar and a Blue Station lot at my destination. Beyond that, I would still have to rely on public transport – be it to reach my final destination (if the BlueSG station is not near my endpoint) or not being able to reserve a BlueSG car.

With asymmetrical driving patterns across the day, we will reach a scenario where some members will race to be first to reserve the available cars, while other members, not being able to get a BlueCar repeatedly, might just give up on EV car-sharing altogether. Already, back in Paris, Bolloré’s prime market, Autolib faced losses and had their contract to operate in Paris terminated. In lieu of that, it remains to be seen whether they can reverse their fortunes in Singapore, given the government’s ironclad commitment towards a car-lite society.

At this point of time, BlueSG’s appeal is very selective and it really depends if 1) there are stations near your residence and your destination spots, 2) you don’t mind driving and all its related hassles, 3) you don’t mind playing Russian Roulette.

PY Ho

PY Ho / Freelance Writer

Primarily developer. Enthusiastic on new mobile products, especially on the Android ecosystem. Will even pay out of his own pocket to buy and test new products if they are not sold in Singapore.