People like to categorize things. They categorize types of plants and animals based on their characteristics (which, according to Charles Darwin, quite incorrectly most of the time). Chemists use weird nomenclature to help those literate in their reading to know what a chemical molecule looks like and its composition.
So like any good systematic zealot, the Land Transport Authority (LTA) of Singapore (or car-authorities, car-lords, whatever you want to call them) combine lettered prefixes, suffixes and numbers seemingly at random to create the Singapore number plate that’s used to categorize every vehicle, big or small, that rolls across the island’s worn asphalt trails.
Now you could hazard a guess as to what it all means – but that probably wouldn’t be very educational or productive. So instead we’ve put together a short, concise list of number plates in Singapore to get you up to speed (pun totally intended) before you unknowingly run a Judge of the Supreme Court off the road. Hoo-boy…
A brief history of the Singapore number plate for privately owned cars – It started with an “S” and it returned to “S”
First up, let’s have a look at the Singapore car plate number that we *should* be most familiar with – the “S” variety. In the early days, a single “S” prefix was attached to the front of a short binary (two-digit number) to denote privately-owned cars. The simplicity of these three character number plates definitely had their appeal (easy to remember!), but I don’t think that’s the reason this Singaporean businessman paid S$335,000 for his vintage plate number.
But as more and more cars started finding their way onto roads, reliance on a single alphabet prefix attached to a double digit made it impossible to provide a unique number plate for new vehicles. This dictated the addition of alphabet suffix to the “S” to increase the number of permutations, which ranged from “SA” to “SY” (not SH, though – that’s reserved for taxis).
When the combinations for that eventually ran out as well, car plates in Singapore started to emblazon an “E” instead of an “S”. Soon, prefixes “A” to “Z” were added to the “E” before finally coming back to the good old “S” – this time with two alphabet suffixes after it, beginning with “SBA”.
But what about all the other car plate numbers I see about?
There’s a multitude of other license and car plate numbers. A few of us might’ve seen them, others might not. Here’s the list we promised:
SBS: Ah, our good friend the public transport services provider, SBS Transit. The “SBS” number plate is reserved solely for their buses.
SEP: Acronym for “Singapore Elected President” and the nation leader’s personal ride. Yes, definitely try to be on your best behaviour you see this one around – and you’ll know it.
SMB: A little less known than its competitor, SMB is the license plate prefix/suffix used by buses owned and operated by SMRT Corporation. If you were wondering, yes, MRTs do have their own unique plate number, which is composed of four numerical digits.
SJ: Reserved for Judges of the Supreme Court of Singapore, with SJ1 denoting the vehicle used by the Chief of Justice. Just be thankful that it’s not Judge Dredd behind the wheel.
SPF: Not just any member of the Singapore Police Force, but the Commissioner himself. Not one that you would see too often. You’re forgiven.
LTA: License plate attachment denoting bikes used by the Enforcement Department of the Land Transport Authority. I’ll be honest, I have NEVER seen these on the road but maybe you have.
MID: Originally an acronym for the Ministry of Interior and Defence, it stuck with the Singapore Armed Forces as a designation for all their vehicles. The prefix “MID” is attached after five-digit numerical number (e.g. 20569MID).
PA, PB, PC, PH, PZ: Used to denote privately owned buses and cars for hire, but eventually was reduced to PA.
PU: An special plate number used only for vehicles registered for Pulau Ubin. Tax exempted, ‘nuff said.
QX: Used by the Singapore Civil Defence Force, Immigration and Checkpoints Authority, Singapore Police Force and other emergency and law enforcement departments.
RD: For cars involved in Research and Development. Typically prototype vehicles (e.g. alternative fuel vehicles including hydrogen-cell and biofuel) that the eggheads are testing.
RU: Restricted Use. As the name implies, vehicles with this number plate are meant to be used only within specially designated zones. Examples include trams at the zoo or shuttle buses at Changi Airport. Tax exempted.
S/CD: Vehicles used by the Diplomatic Corps for the transport of foreign diplomats. Probably has a degree of diplomatic immunity like its passengers.
TP: Traffic Police. The guys in white who patrol our roads to maintain as much order as the law of entropy allows.