Is Singapore on the right path with tighter rules for e-scooters and hoverboards?

  • The Lion City says it will tighten rules for personal mobility devices (PMDs) following public outcries over pedestrian safety and fire safety
  • The senior minister for transport says a complete ban is out of the question, but reaction to the stricter laws from retailers and users has been mixed
Dewey Sim

Dewey Sim  

Published: 8:15pm, 5 Aug, 2019

There are more than 90,000 personal mobility devices in Singapore. Photo: AFP

There are more than 90,000 personal mobility devices in Singapore. Photo: AFPSingapore on Monday said it would tighten the rules governing electric scooters and other personal mobility devices (PMDs), joining other major cities around the world that are enacting such measures following public outcries over the gizmos’ potential to trigger fires and endanger pedestrians.

Still, the Lion City said a complete ban of PMDs was out of the question because so many residents had come to rely on the devices for their daily commutes.

Among the stricter rules is a stipulation that all PMDs must comply with the “UL2272 standard” – involving tests on electrical and mechanical components – by July 2020, instead of the previous deadline of January 2021.

Retailers of the devices, of which there are more than 90,000 in the compact island nation, told This Week in Asiathere might be some discontent from PMD users who bought their devices before the enactment of the new rules.

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Lam Pin Min, Singapore’s senior minister of state for transport, said the government had already taken into consideration the interests of existing PMD users.

“As many Singaporeans rely on PMDs for their livelihoods and their commuting needs, we think this is the earliest reasonable deadline,” he said when announcing the new measures in parliament.SUBSCRIBE TO SCMP TODAY: INTL EDITIONGet updates direct to your inboxSUBMITBy registering, you agree to our T&C and Privacy Policy

PMD usage has come into sharp focus in the country because of a spate of fires in public housing blocks arising from the charging of these devices.

I am convinced that Singaporeans can be taught to use PMDs responsibly, as they have with bicyclesLam Pin Min, senior minister of state for transport

Pedestrians have also increasingly complained that some PMD users, operating devices that travel at speeds far beyond the official mandated limit of 25km/h, pose a serious threat to their safety.

“I have asked myself whether we would be better off banning PMDs whenever I read of accidents involving PMDs,” Lam said when asked if the government would consider prohibiting them, according to The Straits Times.

“However, I remember the call to ban bicycles from footpaths a few years ago. After intensive public education efforts and infrastructural improvements, there is now greater acceptance of bicycles in Singapore. I am convinced that Singaporeans can be taught to use PMDs responsibly, as they have with bicycles.”

To enforce the UL2272 safety standard, Lam announced that e-scooters would have to undergo a mandatory inspection from April next year. Only about 10 per cent of PMDs in the country currently met the higher standard, he said.

Lam added that the inspection regime would ensure such devices met fire-safety requirements as well as weight standards, which under the country’s Active Mobility Act stipulate that PMDs cannot weigh more than 20kg or be wider than 70cm.

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He said other initiatives to safeguard the interests of pedestrians include banning PMDs in the common corridors and void decks of public housing blocks in the 15 town councils controlled by the ruling People’s Action Party. PMD users will have to dismount in these areas.

Some S$50 million (US$36.3 million) will also be spent to widen footpaths, install warning signs and add speed-regulating strips on pathways.

Singapore’s move to tighten its regulation of PMDs comes as other cities grapple with policing these devices. Paris, along with other parts of France, is poised to ban e-scooters from pavements from September. Municipal authorities in San Francisco last month made permanent a pilot e-scooter sharing programme – but the move came with a list of new rules.

In Hong Kong, officials have said the introduction of official sanctioned e-scooters on footpaths and less crowded roads depends on the findings of a multi-month study on “enhanced walkability” to conclude by the middle of next year.

Tourists in Zhuhai ride two-wheeled electric scooters. Photo: SCMP Pictures

Tourists in Zhuhai ride two-wheeled electric scooters. Photo: SCMP PicturesShare:

PMD users say the devices are a game changer for last-mile commutes – the trip between home and a person’s nearest train or bus station – especially in tropical locations like Singapore, where a five-minute walk could result in sweat-soaked clothes.

Singaporean transport researcher Walter Theseira welcomed the measures announced on Monday, but questioned whether existing PMD users would be equally laudatory.

“There is a widespread stance that fires are probably linked to unsafe construction or legal modification [of PMDs], and so I think [the measures] would give some assurance that PMDs that pose a fire risk are going to be removed from the market,” said Theseira, who is a transport economist from the Singapore University of Social Sciences (SUSS).

But some existing PMD users whose devices do not meet the stricter standards may have been expecting a long lead time to adapt, he said. Vendors echoed similar sentiments.

Bobby Lai, the marketing manager of PMD retailer Mobot, said with the new July 2020 deadline, the company now had to find new ways to provide scooters for users, including food delivery riders.

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The PMDs it provides to food delivery riders are modified with enhanced batteries – and are likely to fail the new inspection regime.

“Because of this [change], they have to shorten [their use] by six months and we have to find alternatives for them,” he said.

The general manager of Kernel Scooter, Jay Jin, said he hoped Singapore’s transport ministry could come up with a trade-in scheme to allow a smoother transition for users with relatively new scooters that are unlicensed.

Wilson Seng, president of the PMD Retailers Association of Singapore, was also supportive of the government’s decision, saying the checks would ensure greater safety among riders, even if it meant retailers had to meet the increased demand for licensed PMDs.

With mixed sentiment among PMD users and retailers, there is likely to be some “back and forth” on the new regulations, said Theseira from SUSS. “I think it is still very much a work in progress. I think we will not have the final version of what it is that we want to do [with PMDs] for some time.”

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