Remember when we used to have Ofo and Obikes?
They were such a blessing and provided so much convenience, until we killed them off. Sadly, Singaporeans were just not gracious and civil enough to look after these nice things.
When shared bikes exited Singapore, PMDs took over. It was a great mobility device for its ease of access and price point. You didn’t have to go through the lengthy and expensive procedure of getting a vehicle (and license), and these devices were a great step up from bicycles.
When PMDs became more popular in our society, problems began to arise.
On the ground level, you have the groups of Young Punks that zip around on their modded e-scooters or e-bikes, like they are the kings of the road. Modern day romance for the younger generation now includes standing in tandem on a speeding e-scooter with chroma lights and raucous music to boot. And if you have ever stood in the way of one of these YPs, you will understand what it’s like to be assaulted by the blaring music that almost seems to scream at you to “SIAM LAH”.
PMD riders may also be overzealous to trust in their ability to have full control of their devices and in preventing collisions, because the thing about accidents is that you never really know when an accident will happen. What’s more, when many pedestrians are like digital zombies with their phones.
PMDs had become increasingly problematic as they fall between the cracks—they don’t belong on the roads as it is too dangerous for motorists and PMD riders, but they don’t really belong on the footpaths either because of the potential severity it can cause due to its speed and weight.
Furthermore, with the increasing number of accidents in the past year or so, the ban was something that has been brewing for a long time coming.
The Problem With The E-Scooter Ban
On the surface, it’s a relief that the ban wasn’t a complete one of all PMDs across Singapore. However, restricting e-scooters and e-bikes to cycling paths and park connector network is like removing toilet paper from toilets. Sure, one can still use their devices but it’s going to be very inconvenient.
The biggest problem of all isn’t exactly the ban itself, but how it was introduced so suddenly.
The advisory period allows offenders a chance to be issued warnings before the penalties (fines and jail time) kick in next year, but the end message is still the same: E-scooter and e-bike users are not allowed on footpaths.
It has affected thousands of Singaporeans. Some of whom depended heavily on their PMDs for their livelihood. If my livelihood had been taken away overnight, I would be riled up too.
One day is hardly enough time for anyone to make alternative arrangements, especially for those who had been relying heavily on their devices for a livelihood. And it is for this reason that so food delivery riders have gone on to meet with some of our political leaders to seek help.
People were also upset because it seemed like there are alternatives that wasn’t explored before the ban kicked in. For example, could it not have been a more gradual transition? Why had the possibility of providing at least the food delivery riders the chance to be licensed to ride not been considered? And what about dedicated paths for PMDs?
Subsequently, LTA and the Ministry of Transport have launched an e-scooter Trade-in Grant (eTG) to provide comprehensive assistance to affected food delivery riders. Riders who wish to continue working for food delivery companies will receive $1,000 to switch to Power Assisted Bicycles (PABs) or $600 for bicycles.
Moving forward however, I highly doubt that the future for e-scooters will improve anytime soon. The issue is as with any new disruption. It requires the authorities to come up with new solutions to address the disruption. Any changes to reverse the ban or for e-scooters to be conditionally allowed ‘on the roads’ again is going to involve large-scale work.
Because We Took It For Granted
The ban wasn’t exactly a surprise either. The fact is that we just didn’t know how to coexist on the same footpaths. Most of our footpaths is at a comfortable size to be shared with pedestrians and mobility devices. We’ve had bicycles on our footpaths for so long, and PMDs are essentially its power-assisted counterparts. So in terms of size, I believe it is possible to coexist on the same path.
The issue is that both pedestrians and riders had been taking safety for granted. Should we have been more aware of our surroundings and be more careful on these shared paths, having PMDs around really shouldn’t be that big of a problem.
The reality is that many PMD users did not even regard the speed limit with importance. The Sunday Times once staked out at 2 locations and they found that every single PMD rider from both locations were “travelling at more than twice the speed limit.” Although, as someone who uses food delivery services, I also understand the pressure food delivery riders must have in delivering on time, which is an unconscious motivator for these riders to speed.
It doesn’t help that pedestrians are often glued to their phones since we unconsciously assume that our footpaths are a safe space for us. I’ve even seen people who were so absorbed in whatever’s on their screens that they wouldn’t even notice it if someone was riding straight at them.
Then, there are the black sheep of PMDs riders who are truly a nuisance on the road when they behave like the kings of the road. These are the people who have accelerated the demise of e-scooters.
The ban may have been introduced overnight, but it is one that has been in the making for a long time.
PMDs have posed so many safety risks, from the countless PMD fires that have burned down flats to the increasing number of accidents and the recent death of the elderly woman. If all these risks are not enough to endorse a stricter regulation or structure for the use of the devices, then I question how much more we are willing to risk before we address these risks.
So If We Want Nice Things, We Need To Behave
Nonetheless, it is a very touchy situation because like what Mr Teo Chee Hean said at a meet-the-people-session on Friday, the whole issue is one “of trying to safeguard lives as well as trying to safeguard livelihoods”.
Thousands of people have depended on the ability to ride for their livelihood. But the number of PMD-related accidents have also been increasing. An ST article states that “almost 300 people were treated last year at hospitals for accidents related to personal mobility devices (PMDs).”
Most people are also unaware of how severe PMD accidents can be, but according to an impact mechanics expert Professor Victor P.W. Shim, getting hit by “a 65kg rider on a 10kg PMD travelling at the speed limit of 25kmh would be equivalent to being struck by a 10kg sack of rice dropped from the seventh floor of a Housing Board block.”
Most of all, the unfortunate reality is that on top of our inability to share our footpaths, we simply do not have adequate infrastructure to support the widespread use of mobility devices on our streets, especially when these devices are becoming increasingly popular.
Thus, until the authorities figure out a way to strike a balance between achieving safety and the benefits of having e-scooters around, the ban is probably in the best interests of the majority of Singaporens.
If anything, the only redeeming quality of this sudden disruption is how it has made Singaporeans hyper-aware of safety on footpaths.
If you think about it, it’s also a wise move to introduce the ban. For food delivery riders, licenses to allow users to ride on footpaths is now also seen as the most desired alternative. Had licensing been introduced instead of the ban, it would have been seen as a huge hassle.
With all that said, I empathise with the riders who depended on their e-scooters and e-bikes for a living, as well as the merchants and companies who had been working on introducing PMD-sharing services in Singapore.
Unfortunately (or fortunately), Singapore is a nation that prioritises law and order, and the only way forward is to take safety more seriously. If we don’t know how to behave ourselves and look out for each other, then we can’t complain if we are forced to do so. And if we don’t want to kill of PMDs in Singapore like we did with shared-bikes, then we ought to start being more careful with and around these devices.
(Header Image Credit: Yahoo)