(Delivered in Parliament on 4 February 2020)
Mr Speaker, sir, on 4 November 2019, in his reply to a few PQs including one from myself, SMS Lam Pin Min announced in this house that e-scooters will be banned from footpaths, a ban that greatly limited the practical use of e-scooters. He had also announced that e-scooters will be allowed on cycling paths and MOT will step up the construction of such cycling paths to provide clear separation between pedestrians and e-scooters, extending the network of cycling paths from 440 km to 750 km latest by 2025 and to 1300km by 2030. While the many unsafe or inconsiderate e-scooter incidents may reduce for now, let us not forget the painful lessons we have learnt in the past few years.
Past lessons and the problems to be eradicated if we expect e-scooters to be a viable PMD device again for first and final mile connectivity
Mr Speaker, sir, in my speeches on e-scooter issues in the second reading of the Active Mobility Bill in January 2017, the second reading of the Land Transport (Enforcement Measures) Bill in September 2018, and the Committee of Supply debates for Ministry of Transport in 2016, 2018 and 2019, I have, among other issues, brought up the following points:
- We have had a poor cycling or riding culture over the years – bicycles beating red lights, cycling against the traffic and until the Active Mobility Act came into force, cycling on footpaths. These acts could be seen on an everyday basis. I am not sure it has improved in the past three years.
- Our poor cycling culture coupled with the lack of enforcement by authorities over the years and the lack of political will of past governments to improve the riding culture meant that in recent years, with the introduction of e-scooters, we needed to create from scratch, a new culture of safe and considerate use of bicycles and PMDs.
- There must be sufficient public education and consistent effective enforcement, especially early on, after the introduction of the new Active Mobility regulations. There must be sufficient resources and a willingness from all authorities responsible for enforcement. The Government must ensure that information is made available not just to people who voluntarily look for it by way of voluntary Safe Riding courses or on LTA website or Facebook page. The Government must think of how to push such information to both riders and non-riders, such as pedestrians, and to people who do not seek it, and such efforts can also be, not just in English, but in other languages such as Chinese, Malay and Tamil.
Mr Speaker, sir, if the Government still expects e-scooters to be used as a viable tool of first and final mile connectivity, the above points will continue to ring true.
While the completion of the extended cycling network may possibly allow PMDs or e-scooters a new leash of life again, we should not be lulled into thinking that the new cycling lanes with a more extensive network alone will avoid all the problems we have seen with e-scooters in the past 3 years leading up to its footpath ban.
Most of these problems, I submit, had to do with a poor riding culture, inadequate public education and even inadequate enforcement. We should resolve these issues or problems before the extended cycling path network is ready for use. Otherwise the Government will just be kicking the can down the road.
For a start, will the cycling paths be directly linked to every HDB block, condominium, private landed house, shophouse, office building and industrial building (and I would like to know whether this will be the case)?
It cannot be a half-hearted attempt e.g. having cycling paths circling a number of HDB blocks but with no direct link from each block or having cycling paths circling around clusters of private residential estates, expecting e-scooter users to alight and push en route to cycling paths. If this seem too expensive, impractical or ambitious, then MOT may have to reconsider e-scooters and other PMDs as a serious option for first and final mile connectivity.
However, if our cycling path network were to become sufficiently extensive such that PMD riders do not need to alight and push, it may in turn do away with the need for cyclists to share the use of footpaths, which is still currently allowed. This prospect may be welcomed by many footpath users who may not think that share footpaths with cyclists is a good idea.
If there is no direct link, the existing footpath ban will mean that e-scooter users technically have to alight and push their e-scooters when on roads or footpaths. How confident are we that all riders will comply accordingly?
On the issue of enforcement, while I appreciate the efforts of LTA enforcement officers since the Active Mobility Act took effect, spot checks on certain days of the week or in selected areas may not be adequate. SMS Lam mentioned on 4 November 2019 that LTA had 174 enforcement officers. I was a little surprised that by that time, the number of officers had remained only at that level. 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.
Even now, I still see e-scooters being ridden on the roads or on footpaths, almost every day. I still see illegal specs e-bikes and e-bikes on footpaths.
On the issue of public education, as I have mentioned earlier, we also need to embark on a public education that pushes the education to people of all ages, riders or otherwise, including for those who do not voluntarily seek the information. Having sufficient public education to inform and ensure all PMD users as well as pedestrians know what is allowed and not allowed will go a long way to ensure that the right riding culture is developed.
I would also like to ask the Government to also reconsider one of the questions I have asked in my PQ on 4 November 2019 namely that the Government should consider mandatory safe riding certification courses with disqualification rights.
I know the SMS answered my question then by saying that a mandatory theory test would be more appropriate than a safe riding course.
While I do not agree that it should be confined to a mere theory test, certainly, some form of mandatory tests should be introduced together with disqualification rights.
In that connection, I am happy that a mandatory competency test will be introduced by this Bill.
In the context of this Active Mobility Amendment Bill and the Shared Mobility Enterprises (Control and Licensing) Bill introducing new regulations for shared mobility services, I hope that shared e-scooter services will only be available to users who have passed a mandatory or competency test.
In November 2019, the SMS did not comment on disqualification rights but I believe that, with disqualification rights, people will take greater care to use their e-scooters safely and considerately, so I would urge MOT to incorporate disqualification rights in the proposed regulations.
Provisions for under-aged e-scooter riders learning with a “supervisor”
Mr Speaker, this Amendment Bill bans under-aged riders from the use of PMDs but also, allows under-aged riders to “ride under escort” i.e. with the supervision of a supervisor.
May I ask the SMS to confirm that these provisions are not just confined to commercial classes?
I would also like to ask the SMS whether there will be clearer requirements to be spelt out in the subsidiary legislation for such supervisors and the conditions for such escorts?
I am also concerned that if there are insufficient LTA enforcement officers in every location, how do we ensure all escorts and supervisors are compliant with the law?
In fact, why don’t we only allow all riders to learn after they have reached the statutory legal age for the use of e-scooters, just like how we do with motor-cycles, cars and other vehicles on the roads?
Finally, who should be legally liable if the under-aged rider causes injury or property damage to a third party due to his own negligence? The under-aged rider or the supervisor? Will insurance be made compulsory for all such riding by under-aged riders?
E- scooter battery replacement
Finally, I would also like to touch on an issue regarding e-scooter battery quality issue. Would MOT consider specifically regulating after-market batteries, sold separately from the devices, including testing and supply, so that access to batteries which do not conform to requisite safety standards is denied completely, thereby avoiding fire risks from their use? In addition to inspections, MOT can work with Singapore Customs to bar import of off-specs batteries including via individual online purchases.
In closing, if the Government still expect e-scooters to be a viable option for final mile connectivity when the cycling path network is expanded, I urge the Government to address the issues and concerns I have highlighted and get things right ahead of the expanding cycling path network. Notwithstanding my concerns, I support the Bill.