SINGAPORE — The government cannot risk a delay in implementing the e-scooter ban on footpaths as safety is of paramount concern, Senior Minister of State for Transport Lam Pin Min was overheard saying during a heated dialogue session with food delivery riders on Tuesday night (12 November).
Behind the closed doors of Anchorvale Community Club’s multipurpose hall, about 300 food delivery riders peppered Lam – who is also the Member of Parliament for Sengkang West SMC – with a flurry of questions, ranging from the ban’s impact on their livelihood, the lack of path infrastructure for e-scooter riders to suggestions like introducing a personal mobility device (PMD) quota on roads.
Some of them had brought along their spouses and young children. Also in attendance was opposition politician Goh Meng Seng, secretary-general of the People’s Power Party, who called for an e-scooter licensing regime.
The session comes after Lam announced last Monday in Parliament that such devices would be banned on footpaths the day after, following a series of accidents involving them.
Reporters who turned up at the venue were not allowed to attend the closed-door session and stood outside the hall. At times, several attendees could be heard cheering on fellow riders who asked questions or heckling loudly during the dialogue, which ended at around 10pm after more than one-and-a-half hours.
At one point, an exasperated Lam could be heard telling the riders, “Because I cherish the lives of Singaporeans. I don’t want Singaporeans to be injured or lose their lives.”
184 off-road accidents involving PMDs occurred from January to September this year, with 64 per cent of them taking place on footpaths.
Lam added that if there were a delay in the implementation of the ban, it would be hard to justify such a move in the event of another serious casualty involving a collision with an e-scooter.
To allow e-scooter users to adjust to the ban, there will be an “advisory period” until the end of the year. While errant users may still be prosecuted, most will likely be let off with a warning.
As of 9am on Sunday, the Land Transport Authority (LTA) has issued more than 760 warnings since the announcement of the ban.
From 1 January, there will be strict enforcement of the ban, with those caught flouting it liable to a fine of up to $2,000 and/or up to three month’s jail.
Last Friday, Lam unveiled a $7 million grant to help approximately 7,000 food delivery riders reliant on e-scooters to switch to other transport devices, including power-assisted bicycles (PABs), bicycles and personal mobility aids.
Lam was heard speaking extensively about the grant at the dialogue, adding that the path infrastructure is being expanded at the same time.
Among the riders who turned up was Tan, a rider for GrabFood who currently delivers orders with an e-scooter. Declining to give his full name, Tan told Yahoo News Singapore that he left the dialogue halfway as it was “useless”.
Pointing to a big wound on his right ankle, Tan said that he sustained the injury after he switched temporarily to riding on a bicycle for his deliveries. He has since switched back to an e-scooter.
Tan, who is considering whether to stay on the job, explained, “Pedestrians don't want to give way (and I fall and get hurt). This has not happened before when I was riding an e-scooter.”
He and other e-scooter food delivery riders who attended the dialogue session Yahoo News Singapore spoke to called on the authorities to allow them to use footpaths until the end of this year.
Without that concessionary period for food delivery riders reliant on e-scooters, those who are looking to switch over to alternatives are stuck in limbo till Friday – when the grant is rolled out – or longer, said a 51-year-old GrabFood delivery rider, who also attended a Meet-the-People session in Ang Mo Kio last week hoping to meet Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.
“What can I do for the next (few days) – not work? I was caught by the LTA on Monday for riding on a footpath. But the truth is, some areas are impossible to cross without using them,” the man, who declined to be named, said in Mandarin.
Ban is a ‘vicious cycle’
Wilson, 22, a part-time student and a Foodpanda food delivery rider for eight months, said that while the grant is “good”, he is not planning to switch to a PAB or a bicycle for now.
Expressing disappointment over the dialogue, Wilson, who did not want to give his full name, said that he and other riders felt that the ban was a “vicious cycle”.
He noted, “PMDs were not allowed on the roads because authorities said they were concerned that we would face bigger opponents like trucks and cars. Why didn't they think that, when we switch to PABs or bicycles, we would be facing the (same) bigger opponents?”
Speaking to reporters outside the hall after the dialogue, Lam replied to a question on the "about-turn" from allowing personal mobility devices on footpaths to banning them.
Loud honking and shouts from disgruntled food delivery riders can be heard in the background shortly before he addressed the media, with one exclaiming, “We’ll continue to fight, okay!”
Calling the ban a "very difficult decision" to make, Lam said the authorities have been pushing for active mobility alongside safety considerations in the past two years.
He added, "But unfortunately, over the past year...the situation doesn't seem to have improved. We've seen quite a significant number of injuries from accidents of PMDs and pedestrians. And we have also seen several fatalities.
After looking at the situation, we know we have to do something to bring safety back to footpaths."
One such fatality included 65-year-old cyclist Ong Bee Eng, who died in September after a rider who was using a non-compliant e-scooter collided with her.
Another attendee of the dialogue session was Eileen Ho, 28, a rider for GrabFood and Foodpanda who uses an e-scooter. She called for the ban to be reversed, saying it was “too sudden and ridiculous".
Ho and her husband, also 28, have been working as food delivery riders since last year and 2016, respectively, with each earning about $3,000 per month.
The mother of two said she brings her young children with her while working, carrying one on a baby carrier and seating the other on the e-scooter seat. Visibly agitated, Ho said, “If I change to a PAB or a bicycle, how I carry the kids and earn money?”
additional reporting by Vernon Lee