(Delivered in Parliament on 10 September 2018)
Mr Speaker, earlier this year, an elderly gentleman by the name of Mr Wu Kher said to me that our regime for safe cycling has declined, pointing to the fact that in the earlier years, it was mandatory for bicycle owners to register their bicycles. The irony of what this elderly man had said was not lost on me at all.
Registration of PMDs
Last year, electric bikes, otherwise known in our statutes as Power Assisted Bicycles or PABs, are required to be registered and every legal e-bike must have a number plate. Today we are asked to pass a bill requiring ownership of PMDs to be registered. I hope it will encourage all owners to adopt a more responsible and safe usage of their PMDs, though the extent of it remains to be seen.
I read from the explanatory statement to the Bill that if the registration of a registrable PMD or PAB has been cancelled, the person last registered will be treated as the owner. This differs from vehicle registration and it seems to be at odds with property law principles. If the previous registered owner sells a PMD to another person who registered it under his name but for some reasons the registration was cancelled, it would be odd and illogical for the previous owner to be regarded as the owner again by virtue of this law alone. He would have been paid a fair price by the new owner or buyer. It may also not be fair if such previous owner has to bear any legal consequences arising from the use of the PMD which has nothing to do with him.
Also, assuming that a person has sold his PMD to another person, can the owner de-register himself unilaterally and after that, legally he would have nothing to do with what the new owner does with the PMD, or does the owner have to make sure that the new owner registers himself, which does not seem practicable?
I would like to ask the Minister to clarify the exact position under this provision.
Onus on owners in respect of technical compliance
Mr Speaker, this Bill seems to have put the presumptive onus and burden of proof on owners in respect of their devices’ technical compliance with the requirements of the law. May I ask the minister what recourse is available for owners who have purchased their devices from errant sellers who have wilfully misrepresented the device specifications? Also, are there any agencies or appointed operators or even fact checking websites or apps which owners can approach to seek verification of technical compliance of their devices prior to purchase?
Treatment of underaged PMD user
This Bill does not consider providing an age restriction to the use of PMD. Two months ago, I filed a Parliamentary Question on this but MOT has rejected my suggestion for the use of PMDs to be restricted to those who are 18 and above. May I ask the minister, in practice, how differently does the law treat an under-aged PMD owner or user in breach of any existing provisions of the Active Mobility Act and in the Bill today? Does or will the under-aged offender receive the same punishment as an adult offender?
Use of personal mobility aid on the road
The Bill makes it an offence under the Road Traffic Act to drive a motorised wheelchair or mobility scooter on a road.
While the illegal use of PMDs on roads may have grabbed all the media attention, the use of motorised wheelchair or mobility scooters on roads is not an infrequent occurrence.
During the Committee of Supply debates in 2016, I said in my MOT cut (and I quote): “for the suggested ban on use of PMAs on roads to work effectively and reasonably, there must be user friendly pavements on every road otherwise such a ban will not be practical or fair”.
Personal mobility aids, or, in short, PMAs, were previously the preferred legislative synonyms for motorised wheelchairs or mobility scooters.
Two years down the road, I still see motorised wheelchairs or mobility scooters on the roads. Near where I live, there is an elderly uncle who often rides his mobility scooter on the road. He rides ever so slowly along the road as I wait patiently behind him in my car or sliding to the left to let him pass by. I feel so stressed for him while he rides by, calmly and seemingly oblivious to the risks I see.
While I agree that motorised wheelchairs or mobility scooters should not be allowed on roads for safety reasons, I am quite concerned that many times, such users may be forced to use the roads because of the lack of access or constraints in access on supposed pavements or footpaths along the road.
We should also take care that when there are road works or kerbside works, access must not be limited or be blocked at all. Will contractors be required by all authorities to provide alternative off-road access for motorised wheelchairs or mobility scooters? I would also like to ask the Government that in the case where a motorised wheelchair or mobility scooter user can prove that he was forced to access a road because the pavement or footpath has been obstructed in any way, will that be a complete defence and will he be let off? And what are the authorities’ efforts to ensure that access on footpath or pavement remain unobstructed?
Consistent enforcement and sufficient public education are critical for the creation of a culture of legal, safe and considerate use of bicycles and PMDs
Mr Speaker, I have previously said in Parliament that we need to create a culture of legal, safe and considerate use of bicycles and PMDs and consistent enforcement and adequate public education are two key elements required for creating such a culture.
The Active Mobility Advisory Panel has recommended to reduce the speed limit for bicycles and PMDs on footpaths from 15-10 km/h. This proposal has received much negative response from cyclists. As a cyclist, I can understand why cyclists feel that 10 km/h is too slow for many cyclists.
But let us also not forget that until recently, the law did not even allow bicycles on footpaths but for the fact that this law was never adequately enforced, just as we often see cyclists continue to cycle against the traffic or beating the red light.
The recent change in law allowing bicycles on footpaths also coincided with the proliferation of PMDs. The poor cycling culture coupled by the lack of enforcement by authorities over the years meant that we needed to create from scratch, a new culture of safe and considerate use of bicycles and PMDs. This has proven to be huge challenge; we need to engender this culture not just among cyclists and PMD users but also pedestrians and other footpath users. For example, how do we get people walking on footpaths or connectors to keep left or keep a proper lookout for other users? Public education is therefore paramount for all. Are we doing enough to educate every one and not just cyclists or PMD users?
The Active Mobility Act allowed different usage of different paths by different types of bicycles or mobility devices. However, how many people are actually aware of the restrictions for each type of bicycles and mobility devices and who and what is allowed on which paths?
I am not just referring to cyclists or mobility device owners. Walk around a HDB estate or a public park and try asking residents or park users what are the new rules under the Active Mobility Act or who and what is allowed on which paths. We should not be surprised to find out that many still do not know the answers.
When new rules requiring members of the public to make changes to their behaviour in public, authorities must ensure that information reach members of the public and indeed different type of path users through various means. It should never just be assumed that people must be taken to know the rule change without ensuring that the communication has been successfully done.
Let me give some examples. More than half a year ago, a public connector near my home had its lines re-drawn. Between Kembangan MRT station and the East Coast Parkway by Marine Terrace, most parts of the park connector had a line drawn across one third of the path. At certain intervals along the connector, on the narrow side, there is a diagram of a person walking painted in yellow on the path. On the wider side of the path, it is marked with the initials “PCN”. Before these new lines and markings were added, most people and cyclists kept left when heading one way or the other along the connector. Since the redrawing of lines, some who walk along the connector try to stay on the narrower part of the connector but this part is really narrow and cannot accommodate more than two persons walking abreast. The keep left practice seemed to have been abandoned by many and there is often a spill-over to the PCN part when people walk past each other in the opposite direction. Meanwhile many continue walking on the PCN part including some with their pet dogs or strollers. Cyclists and PMD users are left wading through the traffic on both sides of the line, frequently unsafely and not always through any fault of their own, depending on the traffic flow of those walking or jogging. What is actually the appropriate way for the different users to use a public connector with the lines drawn in this way?
To make things more confusing, between 20-100 metres before a road crossing, the lines and the markings completely disappear. What are people supposed to do when the markings disappear? Pretend that there is an invisible line and similar markings? Or we go back to keeping left? If a change is expected for a short distance, it can be pretty chaotic too.
More importantly, how do the authorities educate the public and ensure that people get used to using such paths according to the law and in a safe and predictable manner?
Since the lines and markings were first painted, I have been looking out for advisories to the public placed along and near the connector. I have yet to see one. Adopting an attitude of ‘ignorance of the law may not be an excuse’ is not going to make things better and safer for all. Those in charge will only be kidding themselves if they do so.
Last month, I filed a PQ to the Minister for Transport asking (a) whether any action is taken to ensure that owners of bicycles with handlebars exceeding 700 mm length are made aware that such bicycles are not allowed on footpaths and walkways; and (b) whether owners are given reasonable opportunity to change their handlebars without their bicycles being impounded immediately when they are found on footpaths and walkways. I filed the PQ after some cyclists wrote to me citing that many are still unaware of the rule change.
In the minister’s answer to my PQ, Mr Khaw said, among other things, that the width limit of 700 mm has been widely publicised by LTA since 2016 through numerous platforms including videos, posters and banners, and that LTA also works with retailers, interest groups and Active Mobility Patrol volunteers to reach out to the public about this width limit. Participants in the Safe Riding Programme developed by LTA and the Singapore Road Safety Council are also informed of this width limit.
It sounds good but has enough been done? Why are people still surprised to hear of the rule change and worse still, had their bicycles confiscated without knowing the rule change?
It is important that not just cyclists and mobility device owners must know the changes in law but also pedestrians and other users of footpaths. This will in turn enable everyone to assert their rights, promote mutual respect and consideration between different users and hopefully in the process, bring about this change in culture. I hope the Government will consider enhancing its efforts in public education beyond its current efforts to reach out to cyclists and PMD users.
Mr Speaker, may I continue in Mandarin please?
我之前在国会中曾经谈到为个人代步工具使用者和脚踏车骑士创造安全骑行文化的重要性。我也说过，这可以通过两方面来实现： 第一，是在执行法律方面要有一致性； 第二，是要通过充分的公众教育。
Mr Speaker, notwithstanding the concerns I have raised. I support this bill.