SINGAPORE: The number of electric bicycles in Singapore has soared over the past year, buoyed by increased demand from food delivery services amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
There were 31,660 registered electric bicycles - or e-bikes or power-assisted bicycles (PABs) - as of the end of May, according to figures provided by the Land Transport Authority (LTA).
That is twice the figure of 15,800 registered e-bikes in May last year.
Since it was made mandatory in 2018 for e-bikes to be registered before they can be used on roads and cycling paths, their numbers have hovered at around 13,000. But more people turned to e-bikes after the ban on the use of e-scooters and other personal mobility devices (PMDs) on footpaths in November 2019.
E-scooter numbers tumbled from about 100,000 in 2019 to just 6,671 registered devices as of the end of May this year - a 93 per cent drop.
“These e-scooters have been declared by registered owners to be UL2272-certified, or have undergone inspections by LTA,” said a spokesperson from the agency, referring to a mandatory fire safety certification for PMDs here.
E-bikes sold in Singapore must meet the requirement that a cyclist pedals before the motor kicks in, and it cannot have a throttle that allows them to move without pedalling.
This is unlike e-scooters, which generally do not have such pedals.
DEMAND FROM FOOD DELIVERY RIDERS
Retailers attributed the rise in demand for e-bikes to the increasing popularity of food delivery services following the outbreak of COVID-19, with delivery riders making up the bulk of their customers.
“Sales of PABs have been rising due to COVID-19 as more people are ordering food online, the demand for delivery riders has gone up and hence (there has been a) direct increase in sales of PABs,” said Mr Jay Jin, general manager for Kernel Singapore.
Kernel is one of several companies that have pivoted from selling PMDs to selling bicycles and e-bikes following the footpath ban in 2019.
“We expect the sales of e-bikes to continue to increase as the demand for food deliveries continues to boom,” said Mr Jin.
Mr Chew Boon Hur, the general manager for Mobot, another e-bike retailer, said food delivery riders make up about 80 per cent of e-bike customers.
Of the major food delivery services here, foodpanda said about a third of its delivery riders use e-bikes, adding that it had seen an increase in the number of riders on e-bikes since last year’s COVID-19 “circuit breaker”.
READ: Electric bicycle riders must pass theory test to ride on roads under proposed changes to Road Traffic Act
Deliveroo said it has a fleet of about 9,000 riders, but declined to reveal how many use e-bikes.
Although food delivery riders make up the bulk of those using e-bikes, an increasing number of avid cyclists are turning to such devices, Mobot’s Mr Chew noted.
As such, Mobot has started selling two new models for such cyclists, who make up about 20 per cent of its customers, he said.
Mr Chew noted that e-bike sales have been going up across the world as well.
According to market research firm NPD, e-bike sales increased 145 per cent between 2019 and 2020 in the United States alone.
In Singapore, however, regulations such as restrictions on the weight and speed of e-bikes have limited what models can be sold here and hampered the growth of e-bikes, Mr Chew said.
RISE IN ACCIDENTS
The spike in Singapore’s e-bike population has been accompanied by a rise in the number of traffic accidents involving the two-wheelers.
Figures provided by the Traffic Police showed that the number of accidents involving e-bikes rose from 24 in 2019 to 75 in 2020 - a threefold increase.
Of the 75 accidents last year, three were fatal. There were no fatal accidents involving e-bikes in 2019.
Food delivery companies CNA contacted did not say if any of the accidents involved their riders, although they stressed that the safety of their riders is a priority.
“The safety of our riders is a top priority for us, and we regularly remind our riders to comply with traffic regulations. Riders who are caught riding dangerously or breaking traffic rules will face penalties, including potential blacklist,” said a foodpanda spokesperson.
“At Deliveroo, we don’t impose time limits on riders to complete their deliveries, or provide incentives for fast deliveries, as our priority is safe delivery," said a spokesperson from the company. "Our aim is to deliver food to customers’ doorsteps as efficiently as possible, but never compromising the safety of our riders, pedestrians and other road users."
Grab meanwhile pointed to a new training programme focused on the food delivery sector that it is introducing next month.
“New Grab delivery-partners would be required to complete the course within two months of activating their Grab account, with the module being tailored based on the partners' mode of food delivery,” said a Grab spokesperson.
From Jun 30, it will be mandatory for e-bike and e-scooter riders to pass an online theory test, which will quiz riders on their understanding of the rules and safe riding practices.
This could potentially help reduce the number of accidents, said Mr Saktiandi Supaat, who chairs the Government Parliamentary Committee for Transport.
“I hope as LTA builds more of the cycling paths and dedicated lanes and pedestrians, we could also see reduced accidents,” Mr Saktiandi added.
Urban transport expert Park Byung Joon from the Singapore University of Social Sciences is sceptical about the impact of theory tests.
“I doubt theory tests will be effective. How many drivers signal when they change lanes? They took theory tests too,” said Associate Professor Park.
He believes greater investment in measures such as surveillance equipment and manpower for enforcement purposes will be able to play a greater role in reducing accidents.
Retailers are hopeful the e-bike boom will not lead it to the same fate as the e-scooter.
“Personally, I do not think so,” said Mr Chew, adding most riders are law-abiding.
Kernel’s Mr Jin said he is confident the steps taken by LTA would help to keep roads safe for both riders and motorists.
“We will also do our part to advocate safe riding as a retailer,” he added.
Apart from the food delivery riders, Mr Chew believes that the popularity of e-bikes will continue to rise among cyclists, as conventional bicycle manufacturers such as Trek and Cannondale have begun releasing their own e-bike models.
“In the past, cyclists used to have the perception that e-bike riders are not real cyclists, they are lazy and have an unfair advantage,” said Mr Chew, noting that there has since been a mindset shift.
“Cyclists are now viewing e-bikes as another bicycle they can add to their arsenal.”