The Certificate of Entitlement (COE) is the quota licence for owning a vehicle in the city-state of Singapore. The licence is obtained from a successful winning bid in an open bid uniform price auction which grants the legal right of the holder to register, own and use a vehicle in Singapore for a period of 10 years. When demand is high, the cost of a COE can exceed the value of the car itself.
On 1 May 1990, the then transportation unit of Singapore's Public Works Department (PWD) instituted a quota limit to vehicles called the COE when rising affluence in the city-state catapulted land transport network usage and previous measure to curb vehicle ownership by simply increasing road taxes was ineffective in controlling vehicle population growth. The premise was that the small city-state had limited land resources, ie. limited supply of roads and car parks / parking lots, (with scarce land being managed to have a greater emphasis on providing an adequate supply of homes), along with demand for vehicle ownership spiralling out of control, would result in traffic conditions exceeding the criterion of a healthy road network that is sustainable by developments in land transport infrastructure resulting in gridlock. Along with a controversial congestion tax called Electronic Road Pricing, the COE system is one of the key pillars in Singapore's traffic management strategies that aims to provide a sustainable urban quality of life.
Transport costs rose in tandem with the raising of the COE in February 2022.
Before buying a new vehicle, potential vehicle owners in Singapore are required by the Land Transport Authority (LTA) to first place a monetary bid for a Certificate of Entitlement (COE). The number of available COEs is governed by a quota system called the Vehicle Quota System (VQS) and is announced by LTA in April of each year with a review in October for possible adjustments for the period of one year starting from May. Approximately one-twelfth of the yearly quota is auctioned off each month in a sealed-bid, uniform price auction system and successful bidders pay the lowest winning bid.
Vehicle Quota System (VQS)
The number of COEs available to the public is regulated by the Vehicle Quota System (VQS) that is calculated every 6 months based on the following conditions:
- Actual number of vehicles taken off the roads (i.e. number of vehicles de-registered)
- Allowable growth in vehicle population
- Adjustments arising from temporary COEs that have expired or were cancelled.
Since the change in the total motor vehicle population is given by the number of registrations minus the number of de-registrations and any unallocated quota in a given year may be carried over to the following year, the quota formula is as follows:
In the formula above, the subscript denotes calendar year and the subscript denotes quota year (May to April). Initially, projected deregistrations for (calendar) year were simply taken to be equal to actual deregistrations in but from quota year 1999–2000 onwards, a projected number of deregistrations has been used.
Each year, the quota is set to allow for a targeted percent growth in the total motor vehicle population, plus additional quota licenses to cover the number of motor vehicles that will be deregistered during the (calendar) year, plus any unallocated quota licenses from the previous quota year.
The holder of a COE is allowed to own a vehicle for an initial period of 10 years, after which they must scrap or export their vehicle or bid for another COE at the prevailing rate if they wish to continue using their vehicle for an intended remaining lifespan.
At the end of the 10-year COE period, vehicle owners may choose to deregister their vehicle or to revalidate their COEs for another 5-year or 10-year period by paying the Prevailing Quota Premium, which is the three-month moving average of the Quota Premium for the respective vehicle category. You do not need to bid for a new COE to renew the existing COE of your vehicle. A 5-year COE cannot be further renewed, which means that at the end of a 5-year COE, the vehicle will have to be de-registered and either scrapped or exported to another country other than Singapore.
Depending on the value of the COE at the time of renewal vehicle owners are subjected to a somewhat emotional dilemma of whether to pay for a new COE which can amount to more than the market value of the vehicle or to deregister their vehicle. The emotional dilemma is certainly enhanced when the vehicle owner is forced to deregister and scrap an otherwise road worthy vehicle due to lack of time or insufficient funds to afford the COE at the prevailing rate.
For comparison in terms of vehicle value to COE value a Second Hand 2007 Mercedes-Benz C200K with a COE expiring in 2017 was advertised at S$86,800. As of November 2013 for a category B Car with a displacement above 1600cc the COE is priced at S$84,578.
COE biddings starts on the first and third Monday of the month and typically lasts for three days to the following Wednesday. Bidding duration will be pushed further in some circumstances, including public holidays. Bidding results can be obtained through the local media on the same day or on a website.
All COE bids made in the two car categories (Cat A and B COEs) and the motorcycle category (Cat D COEs) must be made in the name of the buyer. Once COE is obtained, the vehicle has to be registered in the name of the bidder, i.e. Cat A, B and D COEs are non-transferable. To provide flexibility, successful COE bids in the Cat C (Goods vehicles and Buses) and Cat E (Open Category) in the name of the individuals are transferable. However these can only be transferred once within the first 3 months, while successful bids by companies are not transferable at all.
An additional restriction on car ownership is the requirement that motor vehicles more than ten years old, known as 'time expired' vehicles, must be either renew the COE for 5 or 10 years or de-register the vehicle for scrapping or exporting from Singapore, usually to neighbouring countries. For vehicles which have a renewed COE for 5 years the owner of the vehicle has to scrap the vehicle at the end of the period with no option to renew the COE.
Some of these vehicles have been exported farther to other right hand drive countries like New Zealand, which has traditionally imported such vehicles from Japan. The result of the peculiarities of the Singapore car market has resulted in Singapore being the second largest exporter of used cars in the world after Japan. Cars are exported to many countries, including Libya and Trinidad.
Owners of such vehicles are given financial incentives to do this, which include a Preferential Additional Registration Fee (PARF). This program was implemented to reduce traffic congestion and it complements other measures to curb road usage such as the Electronic Road Pricing (ERP) program.
COE Category Refinement in 2013
In September 2013, The COE system has been refined to include a new criterion for Category A cars. Under the change, the engine power of Cat A cars should not exceed 97 kilowatts (kW). This is equivalent to about 130 brake horsepower. This is in addition to the previous criterion of engine capacity of Cat A cars not exceeding 1600 cubic centimetres. However, cars with engine power output exceeding 97 kW will be classified under Category B in COE bidding exercises starting February 2014 despite having engine capacity below 1600 cubic centimetres. The review of the COE categories' criteria was because LTA wanted to differentiate and regulate the buying of mass market and premium cars under Cat A in a bid to control COE prices that hovered closer and closer to S$100,000.
Initially, COEs were divided into 8 categories but after many revisions, the system has been simplified to just five categories. Categories A, B & D are non-transferable. Taxis used to be classed under category A but issuance of COEs became unrestricted from August 2012 onwards.
Prior to May 1999
|Cat 1||Cars 1000cc & below|
|Cat 2||Cars 1001-1600cc & Taxis|
|Cat 3||Cars 1601-2000cc|
|Cat 4||Cars above 2000cc|
|Cat 5||Goods Vehicles & Buses|
|Cat 7||"Open" (for any kind of vehicle)|
|Cat A||Cars 1600cc & below, and the engine power should not exceed 97 kilowatts (kW)|
|Cat B||Cars 1600cc & above, or the engine power output exceeds 97 kW|
|Cat C||Goods Vehicles & Buses (including public transport buses)|
|Cat E||"Open" (for any kind of vehicle, in 2017 motorcycles are no longer included in Cat E COE)|
Car growth rate
|May 1990 to May 2009||3.0||3.0% + deregistrations as per last annum|
|Jun 2009 to Jun 2010||1.5||Reduced to 1.5% + deregistrations as per last annum, partly due to low price COE|
|Jul 2010 to Jul 2012||1.5% as per last annum + recent half-yearly deregistrations, rate are extended to July|
|Aug 2012 to Jan 2013||1.0||Taxi are moved to Cat E|
|Feb 2013 to Jan 2014||0.5||Reduced to 0.5% and expected to last till Jan 2015|
|Feb 2014 to Jan 2015||Change to recent quarterly deregistrations|
|Feb 2015 to Jan 2018||0.25||Reduced to 0.25% and the growth of COE is permanently discontinued (only for personal cars and motorbikes)|
|Previous Category||Highest||Lowest1||Current Category||Highest||Lowest||Remarks|
|May 1990 – Apr 1999||SGD||Period||SGD||Period||From May 1999||SGD||Period||SGD||Period|
|Cat 1 (1000 cc & below)||41,008||Jul 1997||210||Feb 1991||Cat A3||92,100||Jan 2013||2||Nov 2008a||a. Major historical plunge partly due to 2008 financial crisis and over-projections of vehicle de-registrations in 2008/09|
b. Major historical plunge partly due to 1997 Asian financial crisis
|Cat 2 (1001 – 1600 cc) & taxi||62,208||Jul 1997||909||Mar 1991|
|Cat 3 (1601 – 2000 cc)||83,500||Dec 1994||50||Jan 1998b||Cat B||115,388||Nov 2022||200||Jan 2009a|
|Cat 4 (2001 cc & above)||110,500||Dec 1994||800||Apr 1991|
|Cat 5 (Goods Vehicle & Bus)||39,000||Dec 1994||1||Apr 1991||Cat C||81,802||Nov 2022||1||Dec 2006–
|c. Partly due to strict emission standards from Oct 2006|
|Cat 6 (Motorcycle)||3,506||Aug 1997||1||Jan 1994,
|Cat D||13,189||Nov 2022||1||Nov 2002–
|d. Mainly due to higher quota and lower than minimum bidders|
|Cat 7 (Open)||95,986||Dec 1994||998||Mar 1991||Cat E||116,577||Nov 2022||3,200||Jan 2009||–|
|Cat 8 (Weekend Car)2||45,300||Sep 1994||1,110||Oct 1991||OPC||COE rebate up to $17,000|
1. Excluded initial quote for first 3 months (May~Jul'90). Previous lowest record due to higher quota for year 1991
2. It was stopped on Sep 1994, the scheme was replaced by the Off-Peak Car rebate
- Grant, Jeremy (4 March 2014). "Singapore overtakes Tokyo as world's most expensive city". FT.com. Retrieved 7 July 2014.
- Singapore, National Library Board. "Certificate of Entitlement - Infopedia". eresources.nlb.gov.sg.
- Auto, Hermes (23 March 2022). "Singapore core inflation eases in February but jump in car prices drive up overall inflation | The Straits Times". www.straitstimes.com. Retrieved 1 June 2022.
- "Overview of a Vehicle Quota System". Land Transport Authority of Singapore. Retrieved 24 January 2013.
- Ling, Hui Tan (September 2001). "Rationing Rules and Outcomes: The Experience of Singapore's Vehicle Quota System" (PDF). IMF Working Paper: 5.
- Farah Abdul Rahim (23 October 2005). "100,000 used Singapore cars expected to be exported this year". Channel NewsAsia.
- COE System to Include Engine Power for Cat A Cars Archived 19 November 2013 at the Wayback Machine
- "Taxis out of COE bidding process from August". Channel News Asia. 27 July 2012. Retrieved 27 February 2013.
- cue (29 December 2022). "COE premiums at all-time highs in 2022; buyers could get slight reprieve in latter half of 2023 | The Straits Times". www.straitstimes.com. Retrieved 30 December 2022.
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