PMD retailers worried about impact of footpath ban that came 'without warning'

PMD retailers worried about impact of footpath ban that came 'without warning'

File photo of a man riding an e-scooter
File photo of a man riding an e-scooter. (Photo: AFP/Tobias Schwarz)

SINGAPORE: Personal mobility device (PMD) retailers are concerned that their sales will plunge following the introduction of new rules prohibiting the use of e-scooters on footpaths in Singapore.

E-scooters were banned from footpaths on Tuesday (Nov 5), following an announcement by Senior Minister of State for Transport Lam Pin Min the day before.

The ban applies only to e-scooters - defined by the Land Transport Authority (LTA) as motorised PMDs with handlebars - but is expected to be extended to other PMDs such as hoverboards and electric unicycles by the first quarter of next year. 

READ: Up to S$5,000 fine for PMD users who ride on grass: NParks

The move came after the death of a 65-year-old cyclist following a collision with a PMD rider in September, as well as an increasing number of accidents. 

Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan noted in a written response to a parliamentary question on Tuesday that 299 people were treated at hospitals for PMD-related incidents last year, with 16 per cent of the injuries classified as severe. 

“We expect the e-scooter sales to dip,” said Mobot general manager Chew Boon Hur.

But it is too early to gauge exactly how sales will be hit as customers are still processing the new rules, he said. 

PMD Retailers Association of Singapore president Wilson Seng said he was disappointed by the move, noting retailers here have always sought to adhere to regulations.

“When they introduced the UL2272 (fire safety standard), retailers complied and encouraged users to go with the changes,” he said, referring to the fire safety requirement that came into effect in July. 

Though PMDs can still be used on cycling paths and on park connector networks, these are still not extensive enough to allow riders to travel between towns, said Mr Seng.

“Businesses will be affected,” he said, adding the announcement came “without warning". 

The mood is now gloomy, said PMD enthusiast group Big Wheel Scooters Singapore chairman Denis Koh, noting some retailers he had spoken to were contemplating shutting down altogether as a result of the announcement.

Retailer Mighty Velo - which sells both PMDs and bicycles - has said on its Facebook page that it is working on schemes to allow users to trade in their e-scooters for bicycles.

Banning e-scooters from footpaths does not resolve the issue of errant riders, said Mr Chew, adding the problem instead requires both education and enforcement to address.

“I think we have taken the convenient approach to divert the problem rather than (to) solve it.”

An online petition calling on the authorities to reverse the ban describes the footpath ban as a “de facto ban” on the devices here. It has received almost 20,000 signatures as of Wednesday afternoon.

READ: Ban on personal mobility devices? 'The battle is always against errant use'

READ: E-scooter ban on footpaths: 5 things you need to know​​​​​​​

PMD-SHARING FIRMS DISAPPOINTED

Meanwhile, firms vying for a licence to operate PMD-sharing services also said they were disappointed with the announcement that their applications would be rejected. 

PMD-sharing has taken off worldwide in the last couple of years - with firms such as Bird and Lime expanding worldwide and attracting millions in funding - and in January the LTA opened applications to operate such services here

However on Monday LTA announced that the Transport Minister had issued a safety directive prohibiting such services following recent accidents, adding that it would not invite any new applications until further notice. 

Singapore-based Beam - one of 14 companies that applied for the licence earlier this year - said it was “dissatisfied and frustrated by the decision to effectively ban PMDs in Singapore”.

“For the last year, Beam has worked in good faith with 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 Beam’s corporate affairs vice-president Christopher Hilton. 

He added that it was “frustrating” that alternatives such as restricting the use of the shared scooters to roads, as in other cities, were not considered.

Ride-hailing giant Grab meanwhile said it will progressively suspend its GrabWheels shared-PMD service - which operates in areas such as Joo Chiat and the National University of Singapore campus - from Tuesday.

“All existing ride-plans will be refunded in the next 30 days to users’ credit cards,” said a Grab spokesperson.

READ: Commentary: Can we co-exist with PMDs? Yes, but we need to take a different path

READ: Commentary: E-scooter ban on footpaths – here’s a list of those who got off scot-free

PMDS SHOULD NOT HAVE BEEN ALLOWED ON FOOTPATHS: EXPERTS

Transport experts welcomed the decision to ban e-scooters from footpaths here. 

Professor Lee Der-Horng from the National University of Singapore said PMDs were unnecessary, given Singapore’s extensive public transport network. 

“It is time for us to revisit the basics in first-mile, last-mile connectivity by turning Singapore into a truly walkable city, not just by extending the covered walkways but also by enhancing the walking path with more suitable materials to absorb radiative heat,” he said.

Singapore University of Social Sciences urban transport expert Park Byung Joon said PMDs should not have been allowed on footpaths in the first place.

“It would have been nice if we could find a balance between safety and the use of PMDs, but ultimately the safety of pedestrians comes first,” he said. 

Mr Koh, who also sits on the Active Mobility Advisory Panel, said he hopes for measures such as the expediting of infrastructure development as well as more assistance for affected individuals who use PMDs for work.

He added that exemptions could be introduced, such as the introduction of formal licensing to allow these groups to ride on footpaths or roads.

Mobot’s Mr Chew, however, remains optimistic about the PMDs having a place in Singapore’s transport landscape, pointing to the expansion of Singapore’s cycling network to 750km by 2025.

“This is a clear indication that Singapore is moving towards a car-lite nation with e-scooters and bicycles to complement public transport,” he said.

Source: CNA/az(hm)

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