Under the ban of e-scooters

By Samuel Chng


On 13 December, I was invited to join Channel News Asia on their podcast series ‘Heart of the Matter,’ hosted by Jaime Ho to discuss the new rules and policy for electric scooters together with Nominated Member of Parliament Walter Theseira from the Singapore University of Social Sciences, and Steven Lim from the Singapore Cycling Federation.

As background, on 4 November 2019, it was announced that electric scooters will be banned from footpaths in Singapore on 5 November 2019, the very next day following the announcement. Now, the use of electric scooters is confined to cycling paths and park connector networks.

This came as a surprise to many, especially those who rely upon electric scooters to get around or for their livelihoods as delivery riders for food delivery companies. The subsequent reaction to this ban dominated the news cycle as those who were most affected by it, largely food delivery riders, approached their member of parliament and even started online petitions urging the authorities to reconsider the ban.

A month later, on 4 December 2019, the government announced their acceptance in full of the recommendations put forward by the Active Mobility Advisory Panel following their review of active mobility regulations for safer path sharing that was submitted to the Mr Khaw Boon Wan, the Coordinating Minister for Infrastructure and Minister for Transport on 27 September 2019.

The five recommendations of the Active Mobility Advisory Panel are:

  1. To mandate, as a start, that businesses procure third-party liability insurance to cover e-scooter riders who are riding in the course of work. In the year ahead, the Panel will actively monitor the situation and prepare the industry and community to move towards mandatory insurance for all e-scooter users.
  2. To impose a minimum age requirement of 16 to use an e-scooter on public paths. Those below the age of 16 can continue to ride under adult supervision.
  3. To mandate a theory test requirement for e-scooter users, prior to being able to ride on public paths.
  4. To disallow the use of mobile phones when riding an active mobility device on public paths, unless the mobile phone is mounted or used in a hands-free manner.
  5. To introduce a Code of Conduct to guide pedestrians on how to share paths safely with other pedestrians and active mobility device users:
    • Keep left: Keep to the left while walking on paths unless overtaking.
    • Keep to footpaths: Walk on footpaths whenever there are footpaths next to cycling/ shared paths.
    • Be alert: Pay attention to your surroundings. Plugging in to audio devices or continuously using mobile devices means that you are less able to detect any oncoming obstacles.

But will this be sufficient?

Amongst the topics that we cover in the podcast, we touch on the need and challenges of developing infrastructure to accommodate new transport modes. As my colleague, Julienne Chen, has highlighted previously, the infrastructure for “car-lite modes” (anything too fast for a footpath but too slow for a road) is still lacking and needs to be better integrated into cities. This is true for Singapore and many other cities. However, developing infrastructure takes time, money and political will.

But surely we can do more than to build new infrastructure. As a social psychologist, I also study the importance of a wide array of socio-cognitive factors (e.g., incentives, comfort, cost) that influence people’s behaviour and mobility choices.

In this vein, we should ask ourselves the following questions:

  1. Is it indeed (im)possible for pedestrians to peacefully co-exist with electric scooter users on the same pathway?
  2. Is more infrastructure or more regulation the only way forward? Are age restrictions and theory tests sufficient to ensure responsible and safe riding of electric scooters?
  3. Relatedly, what would be appropriate mechanisms to develop a culture of responsible and safe sharing of pathways? Have previous efforts to inculcate new behaviours, such as the Keep Singapore Clean Movement and the Singapore Kindness Movement (now 22 years old) been effective as a model for how such culture change can take place?

These questions are relevant not only for electric scooters. I anticipate that we will continue to grapple with these and similar questions as mobility technology continues to evolve (e.g., autonomous vehicles) and we explore the question of what it means for a city to truly be “future ready.”

The full podcast discussing these questions can be found at the Channel News Asia site here.