SINGAPORE: From bringing forward the safety certification deadline for personal mobility devices (PMDs) to trialling pedestrian-only zones, several measures were announced in Parliament on Monday (Aug 5) to improve safety for riders and the public.
During the hour-long debate on the issue, 14 Members of Parliament (MPs) brought up other suggestions such as banning PMDs from footpaths and introducing mandatory third-party insurance for riders.
They also asked about using more technology to help in enforcement efforts, and whether PMDs which are not UL2272 certified can be banned immediately.
The suggestions came after Senior Minister of State for Transport Lam Pin Min announced in his ministerial statement that the deadline for PMDs to comply with the UL2272 safety certification has been brought forward by six months to July 2020.
He also said that from April next year, all e-scooters - both new and currently registered - will have to go through a mandatory inspection that includes checks on a device's width, weight and speed limits.
But MP for Marsiling-Yew Tee GRC Alex Yam asked if the ban on PMDs that are not UL2272 compliant can come immediately, given that such devices have been identified as a fire hazard.
"Indeed, non-UL2272 devices have been identified as one of the possible reasons why we have this spate of fire incidents recently," Dr Lam said.
"But we also understand that there are multiple factors that can lead to a fire incident."
These include overcharging, improper charging practices and the use of incompatible chargers or adaptors, said Dr Lam.
"We also are cognisant of the fact that there are many Singaporeans out there that rely on such devices not only for their daily commuting but also as a way to sustain their livelihood," he added, noting that an immediate ban will "definitely impose a lot of hardship and inconvenience to many Singaporeans".
"So, we are quite careful in not doing that."
Dr Lam said discussions with PMD retailers have also shown that the new deadline is a "reasonable timeline" as it gives them enough time to bring in the certified devices.
COMPLETE BAN FROM FOOTPATHS
Taking things a step further, MP for Mountbatten SMC Lim Biow Chuan suggested banning PMDs from footpaths until safety improvements to infrastructure have been made.
READ: 15 town councils to ban PMDs in void decks and corridors, pedestrian-only zones to be trialled
However, Dr Lam said a complete ban on footpaths would only mean pushing PMDs onto the roads. This would likely lead to more deaths because buses, cars and lorries are travelling at faster speeds on the same road, he said.
"We could have taken the path of least resistance at the beginning to completely ban PMDs on pavements and shared paths," Dr Lam said.
"I think PMDs still have a role to play in providing active mobility options as well as providing the first and last mile connectivity.
"What we have done is to implement a very comprehensive regime to ensure that PMDs are used in a safe and responsible manner."
COMPULSORY COURSE AND LICENSING
Mr Yam and MP for Bukit Panjang SMC Teo Ho Pin suggested making it mandatory for PMD users to attend the Safe Riding Programme (SRP) and go through a licensing regime.
READ: PMD safety certification deadline moved forward to July 2020; all e-scooters to go through mandatory inspection
Dr Lam replied that authorities "strongly encourage" riders to attend the programme, adding that more than 57,000 riders have already done so.
"We have also asked ourselves if we should make it mandatory for all PMD users, but we concluded that at this point in time it may not be necessary to do so," he said.
"To encourage the take up, we have made it free of charge for the first two years until December 2019," he added. "We will continue to work with active mobility interest groups, schools, companies - especially food delivery companies - to encourage all their cyclists and PMD riders to attend the SRP."
As for the licensing regime, Dr Lam said authorities have no intention of implementing it "at this point in time". "But let us bring this back to study and see whether this will be necessary in the future," he added.
MP for Tanjong Pagar GRC Melvin Yong also reiterated his position that PMD users should get compulsory third-party liability insurance, noting that a market study has indicated that costs "may not be exorbitant" - at S$50 to S$80 per year.
In response, Dr Lam said he has asked the Active Mobility Advisory Panel to study the issue, adding that it will submit its recommendations later this year after consulting relevant stakeholders.
"At this point in time, we will likely start off by requiring PMD-sharing operators to have mandatory third-party liability insurance, and major food delivery companies - Deliveroo, GrabFood and Foodpanda - will also provide third party insurance," he stated.
"In the meantime, we are also working with the insurance companies to see whether we can come up with more affordable insurance plans for the individual users so that the cost of the insurance will not be a great barrier for them to purchase one if they want to at this point in time."
TECHNOLOGY FOR ENFORCEMENT
On the issue of enforcement, Fengshan SMC MP Cheryl Chan asked if authorities will consider fixing speed-tracking devices on PMDs to complement ground enforcement.
Dr Lam had earlier announced that the Land Transport Authority will double its enforcement team to about 200 by the end of this year. They will be helped by a new app function which allows the public to report and take a photo of errant PMD riders.
While Dr Lam acknowledged that this technology might have its limitations when it comes to identification, he said it allows authorities to identify potential hotspots and step up enforcement in these areas.
"Whenever there are new technologies that are available in the future, we will consider using technology to enhance our enforcement action," he continued.
"But in the interim, I think it is necessary to have sufficient manpower on the ground, which is one of the many feedback we have received from advisers, that there is very few in the past physical bodies on the ground to do enforcement."
AUTHORITIES BEING REACTIVE?
With that, Mr Lim questioned if authorities were being "reactive" in the introduction of the safety measures, adding that the situation did not seem to be getting better.
Dr Lam responded that the measures showed that authorities understood concerns on the ground, and will not hesitate to take appropriate action when necessary.
Furthermore, he said Singapore remains the only country that has implemented the UL2272 standard for PMDs, calling it "a bold and decisive move" to improve fire safety.
"As with the introduction of any new technology, our regulatory regime has to be nimble and responsive," he continued. "We will have to evolve with the needs according to the situation and feedback on the ground."
Dr Lam noted that irresponsible users make up only a "small number" of the PMD community.
"We don’t want to just ban the use of PMDs just because of this small group of irresponsible users while affecting the rest who are responsible," he added.
"The reason why we promote active mobility is because we believe that it is good for Singaporeans and for Singapore, and that helps with our vision of a car-lite society."