SINGAPORE: Members of Parliament (MPs) welcomed amendments to the Active Mobility Bill on Tuesday (Feb 4), although some raised concerns on issues that could arise with the new law in place.
They also sought clarification on licencing for active mobility device-sharing operators, under the new Shared Mobility Enterprises (Control and Licensing) Bill.
In their speeches, MPs Darryl David and Ong Teng Koon noted that the amendments were “timely”.
“(The amendments are) not so much to stop the use of these devices, but to ensure that our footpaths are once again safe for the significant majority of the population,” said Mr David.
MPs Lee Bee Wah and Alex Yam also expressed their appreciation for the e-scooter ban on footpaths which come into effect last November.
“Since then, I have received fewer complaints from residents about reckless riders, and my residents have generally expressed support for the ban,” said Ms Lee.
While it must have been a "difficult decision to make", Ms Lee said that "something had to be done given the casualties, injuries, near-misses caused by reckless e-scooter users, besides the fire caused during the battery charging".
She added: "Human lives must be prioritised above everything else."
Eleven MPs stood to speak on the two Bills, which were passed in Parliament on Tuesday.
CONCERN OVER LIVELIHOODS
Several MPs raised their misgivings towards last November’s sudden ban on using electric scooters on footpaths, as they affected the livelihood of residents whose livelihood depended on the use of such devices.
Nominated Member of Parliament (NMP) Anthea Ong said that the overnight ban that came into effect on Nov 5 "was seen by many as blunt and rigid and not well supported with an inter-ministry response" and users should have been consulted before the ban was implemented.
MP for Marsiling-Yew Tee Ong Teng Koon said that when the law was announced, about 30 riders went for his Meet-the-People session to ask for help. They were angry and felt their livelihood was taken away “without any warning”, Mr Ong said.
Many of these delivery riders were the sole breadwinners of their families, and some were ex-prisoners marginalised due to their criminal records, he added, presenting policy recommendations to ensure greater gig worker rights, particularly on changes to the Employment Act.
In his closing speech, Senior Minister of State for Transport Janil Puthucheary said that this issue underlying the gig economy is a significant one, but lies outside the scope of the Bills. Instead, Dr Puthucheary said he would convey the suggestions to the Ministry of Manpower
UNDERAGE RIDERS COULD FACE JAIL
Ms Ong and Nee Soon MP Louis Ng raised concerns over a new offence scheme, which could imprison underage riders for riding a personal mobility device (PMD).
“I am deeply disturbed by this and I hope (Minister for Social and Family Development) Desmond Lee is too,” said Ms Ong.
From the second half of 2020, underage e-scooter riders who use their devices on public paths face a S$1,000 fine or three months’ jail, or both, for a first offence.
Subsequent offenders will face a S$2,000 fine or six months’ jail, or both.
She noted that the Children and Young Persons Act has “clear restrictions” on punishing children and young persons, and “they should not be ordered to be imprisoned for any offence”.
“I would like to ask the Minister to consider commensurate measures, other than imprisonment, for a child or young person found guilty of underage riding of PMD on shared paths,” she said.
“Should there not be warnings issued and reformative training actions considered before we impose such inappropriate punitive measures on children?”
In response, Dr Puthucheary said that the penalties “only provide the limit of the possible sentence”, and that the courts “retain the discretion to consider the circumstances of the case”.
To a further clarification by Ms Ong, he added: “We need to give (officers) the operational leeway to deal with the circumstances that are in front of them.”
On another point, Workers’ Party Non-Constituency MP Dennis Tan asked if underage riders were allowed to use mobility devices with supervision, who would be legally liable if the underage rider causes injury or damage to property while riding under supervision.
Dr Puthucheary replied: “If an underage rider commits an offence, it will not fall on the supervisor to be liable for that offence, for example speeding or reckless riding.
“But the supervisor can be held responsible for improper supervision if he or she did not take reasonable and practical measures to ensure that the underage rider would not commit such offences."
THIRD-PARTY LIABILITY INSURANCE SHOULD BE EXTENDED
One matter the MPs approved on was that businesses would need to provide third-party liability insurance - which covers the cost of a victim’s expenses - for their riders from the second half of this year.
However, they asked if the requirement could tightened, such as making all users - not just delivery riders - purchase third-party liability insurance.
MP for Tanjong Pagar GRC Joan Pereira said that this would ensure all victims could "seek recourse and compensation".
“Without insurance, victims can only try for private settlements through mediation or make civil claims,” she said, which had led some of her constituents who were injured to approach her for help.
Ang Mo Kio GRC MP Ang Hin Kee, also an adviser to the National Private Hire Vehicles Association, suggested making it mandatory for operators to provide riders with accident or prolonged medical leave insurance.
Ideally, all users should be covered by some form of insurance, said Dr Puthucheary.
Currently, only businesses have to take out third-party liability insurance on their riders. Individual riders do not need to purchase third-party liability insurance as there are currently few active mobility-related insurance products available, Dr Puthucheary said.
The Government, he said, will work with the Active Mobility Advisory Panel and insurers to ensure users have access to affordable insurance products.
MPs also brought up the need for consistent enforcement, and whether LTA had enough resources and training for their officers to deal with errant riders.
Mr Tan blamed poor cycling culture, lack of enforcement and the lack of political will of past governments to improve the riding culture.
“(This means) that in recent years, with the introduction of e-scooters, we need to create from scratch a new culture of safe and considerate use of bicycles and PMDs,” he said.
He also questioned the effectiveness of getting riders to comply with the footpath ban and suggested that the number of enforcement officers and spot checks were inadequate.
“People may take their chances and continue to use their devices illegally or in unlawful ways if they think that the chances of meeting enforcement officers are slim,” he said.
Ms Ong and Mr David noted an incident in December 2019 where an auxiliary police officer kicked a speeding e-scooter rider.
“We should not condone the use of force by enforcement officers in the course of performing their duty, but I feel there should be proper protocols in place for dealing with errant speeding PMD riders,” said Mr David.
Both Ms Ong and Mr David asked Dr Puthucheary if the Transport Ministry would train enforcement officers to handle errant riders.
LTA has caught more than 130 e-scooter riders who rode on footpaths since Jan 1 this year, Dr Puthucheary said in his closing speech.
It will “continue this approach to deter errant riding”, train its enforcement officers to catch those who try to evade the authorities, and use technology such as mobile closed-circuit television cameras.
USER PERSONAL DATA PROTECTED
Under the Shared Mobility Enterprises (Control and Licensing) Bill, which introduces new rules for shared-device operators, these companies will be allowed to either disclose or request for information about users who persistently park their active mobility devices improperly in order to impose a collective ban on the individual.
Several MPs said they were concerned that this could breach a customer’s data rights.
“The modern business collects huge amounts of private data on its customers, and this data can be worth huge amounts of money,” said Mr Louis Ng.
He added: “Is it possible that some organisations will seek to acquire private user information under the pretense of identifying bad parkers?”
Dr Puthucheary assured that the information shared is limited to making sure that the ban is enforced.
The Personal Data Protection Act will still be applied to all operators and “they are required to comply with existing data protection and privacy standards”, he said.