Commuters may be able to make the remaining-mile journey in a small, two-seater electric car in 2021.
Singapore firm QIQ Global is looking to launch a for-hire microcar, called the QIQ Pod, which will be no bigger than 2.4m long and 1m wide.
He believes that there is demand for such vehicles, especially in towns such as Punggol, where there is still “a lot of inefficiency” in the town’s public transport network.
“For a lot of the residents in Punggol, they are still required to take a feeder service or to walk a long distance to reach the LRT (Light Rail Transit) station,” said Mr Sim.
QIQ Global, which operates about 400 e-bikes and e-scooters in Hanoi, had previously expressed interest in Singapore’s now-suspended shared e-scooter scheme.
Mr Sim hopes that the QIQ Pod will be the company’s flagship product moving forward, and plans to introduce between 300 and 600 microcars in Punggol.
He noted that the company is looking to launch a trial by next year, adding that it is in discussions with two companies in the transportation and logistics industries.
To ensure that the vehicles are used for short trips, Mr Sim stated that there will be geo-fencing, which uses GPS or radio frequency identification technology to create a virtual geographic boundary.
Unlike BlueSG cars which need to be parked at charging stations, QIQ Global plans for its microcars to autonomously direct themselves to park at the nearest charging station.
“It’s so easy to drive you don’t even need to learn how to park the car,” said Mr Sim. “When you end the ride, you leave it by the curbside and it will park by itself.”
QIQ Global also aims to employ a method called platooning, which involves a human-driven car leading a convoy of driverless cars using wireless communications. This would cut down on the number of people needed to distribute the cars to areas where they are needed.
During off-peak hours, drivers would be able to use the QIQ Pods to perform deliveries, maximising the use of these vehicles, said Mr Sim.
It would likely cost S$2 for an ad hoc ride lasting 30 minutes, and between S$30 and S$50 per month to use the QIQ Pod multiple times daily, he added.
Those using it for logistics purposes would have to pay a monthly fee of about S$180 to S$240.
In 2014, a similar microcar by Renault made headlines after the French automaker wanted to get it approved for use in Singapore as a motorcycle.
However, the Land Transport Authority (LTA) said at the time that the Renault Twizy – a two-seater, four-wheeled electric vehicle described as a hybrid between a car and a motorcycle – did not fit into any existing vehicle classification, and had asked the manufacturer for more details.
The Twizy had a top speed of 80kmh and weighed 474kg, but under Singapore’s Road Traffic Act, a motorcycle must have fewer than four wheels and weigh no more than 400kg.
The Twizy was never made commercially available in Singapore.
Mr Sim asserted that he is “pretty confident” that unlike the Twizy, the QIQ Pod will be able to get the approval of local authorities, pointing to the vehicle’s weight of no more than 250kg and top speed of 40kmh.
“Actually we have a lot to thank the Renault Twizy for,” he remarked.
However, transport economist Walter Theseira from the Singapore University of Social Sciences believes that microcars have limited appeal, saying that as these vehicles are likely to take up an entire road lane, they will have little impact on reducing congestion.
Associate Professor Theseira also noted that there are questions surrounding the potential use of the QIQ Pod as a delivery vehicle.
“The question is the productivity gains versus the current alternatives, which range from standard cargo vehicles for larger scale deliveries to human-powered bicycles and just walking for smaller deliveries,” he said.
“This device appears to fit somewhere into the lower end of this, but can it be more efficient than bicycles and motorcycles to justify the cost?”