PMD retailers, sharing operators frustrated with e-scooters on footpath ban

Delivery riders from Foodpanda (left) and GrabFood spotted travelling along footpaths while riding e-scooters along Jurong East Street 21 on 5 November, 2019. (PHOTOS: Dhany Osman / Yahoo News Singapore)
Delivery riders from Foodpanda (left) and GrabFood spotted travelling along footpaths while riding e-scooters along Jurong East Street 21 on 5 November, 2019. (PHOTOS: Dhany Osman / Yahoo News Singapore)

SINGAPORE —Personal mobile device (PMD) retailers and sharing operators have voiced their frustrations over a ban of e-scooters along footpaths, as signatories for a petition calling for it to be reversed surged to over 14,000.

Senior Minister of State for Transport Lam Pin Min announced the ban of e-scooters on footpaths during Parliament on Monday. The move comes one-and-a-half years after the Active Mobility Act fully kicked in, allowing the use of e-scooters on footpaths.

Lam said, “This ban of e-scooters from footpaths is a difficult decision. But it is a necessary step for pedestrians to feel safe again on public paths, while still allowing e-scooters to grow in tandem with cycling path infrastructure.”

A total of 228 accidents involving PMDs on public paths were reported in 2017 and 2018. Of these, 196 cases involved injuries.

In line with safety concerns regarding the use of e-scooters on footpaths, the Land Transport Authority (LTA) also announced that it will reject existing applications for PMD-sharing licences as well as stop accepting new ones.

The LTA had pushed back the decision to award such licences twice, with the later announcement on 30 September. 14 operators had submitted applications for such licences earlier this year, including Beam Mobility, Grab’s GrabWheel, Telepod, Neuron Mobility, and Omni Sharing.

Two – Chinese firm Mobike and US-based Lime – later withdrew their applications.

Singapore-based Beam told Yahoo News Singapore that it was dissatisfied and frustrated by the ban.

“For the last year, Beam has worked in good faith with the LTA and Singapore authorities to propose viable technological and policy solutions to ensure PMDs are operated safely as an affordable eco-friendly mode of transportation,” said its corporate affairs vice-president Christopher Hilton.

The ban has “essentially eliminated an important transportation option”, he added.

“That it was done without investigating several options that are currently available to make these journeys safe – include moving PMDs to the road, as has been done in most jurisdictions around the world – is frustrating,” said Hilton.

“Beam continues to view Singapore as a viable market for micro-mobility and will speed up our plans to introduce new and diverse modes of transportation. We also plan to engage with the Singapore government to expand PMD use to roads – similar to ebikes.”

Similarly, Neuron Mobility’s co-founder Zachary Wang said, “We believe that in the long term, it is in Singapore’s interest to have licensed shared scooter operators. Compared to privately-owned PMDs, shared e-scooter operators like Neuron have a much higher level of accountability over our devices and operations.”

Wang said Neuron hopes to bring its technology to Singapore to provide riders with an efficient, reliable micro-mobility service and keep pedestrians safe.

Louis Goh, chief operating officer local startup Telepod, called for the use of technology such as a speed tracking mobile to better control reckless user behaviour instead of a ban.

A GrabWheels spokesperson said that the company will commence measures to suspend its shared PMD services progressively from Tuesday, adding that it remains committed to expanding the e-scooter service to the rest of the Southeast Asia region.

“All existing ride-plans will be refunded in the next 30 days to users’ credit cards. Grab remains committed to serving Singapore and will explore other ways to serve our users with alternative active mobility options,” the spokesperson added.

A spokesperson for PMD retailer Falcon PEV said that users need to be given “viable point to point alternatives” given the ban.

2 petitions calling for ban reversal

Just hours after Lam’s announcement, a petition was created by a Siti Binte Rahimat, calling for the ban to be rescinded.

The petition urges the government to reinstate PMD usage on footpaths as well as roads until “which time the Park Connector Networks (PCNs) and bike paths are more accessible and cover a wider area”.

There are currently more than 5,500km of footpaths, compared with 440km of cycling paths.

Describing the ban as “a de facto ban on the use of PMDs”, the description in the petition said, “The bike paths and PCNs are not continuous and it does not connect point to point. Limiting the use of PMDs to bike paths and PCNs is equivalent to letting someone use the bathroom but banning the use of the toilet bowls.”

With the ban and without “viable alternatives”, there would be no practical use of PMDs and many Singaporeans would be denied a source of income, it added.

As of 10pm, the petition has garnered close to 15,000 signatories. Several stated they were supporting the petition for those who rely on the devices for their livelihood or other day-to-day activities.

A petitioner, who signed off as Shirlyn Ang, wrote, “I’m signing on behalf for my brother who is a GrabFood delivery man. He needs to feed his family too! Not all PMD (riders) ride dangerously.”

Another petitioner, who identified as Megat Ibrahim, noted that stiffer regulations and licensing were better alternatives compared to the ban.

“People’s rice bowls depend on it,” wrote Megat. “Singaporeans need to see the bigger picture of exercising empathy and proportionate action.”

A signatory, who signed off as Ridwan Ismail, asked the authorities to prohibit PMD usage for reckless users, but not those reliant on them as their sole form of transport.

“Look at old folks who are riding PMDs to the mosque due to their health problems. Think of those who have difficulties walking and need PMDs to ease their walking. (Parents) who uses them to send their kids to school,” wrote Ridwan.

A separate petition with a similar goal, which started a month ago, has garnered over 5,500 signatories as at 10pm.

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.

From 1 January, there will be strict enforcement of the ban, with those caught flouting it liable to face a fine of up to $2,000 and/or up to three month’s jail.

PMDs, as well as bicycles and the PABs, were earlier banned from void decks and all common areas of 15 housing estates in September, where offenders may be fined up to $5,000. The ban does not apply to personal mobility aids, such as motorised wheelchairs and mobility scooters.

There are currently about 100,000 registered e-scooters in Singapore. About 7,000 food delivery riders from GrabFood, Deliveroo, and Foodpanda use PMDs.

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E-scooters banned from Singapore footpaths from 5 November