Can pedestrians and PMDs co-exist?
A recent spate of accidents involving e-scooters has put personal mobility device users in a bad light. THE NEW PAPER speaks to different parties on how footpaths can be shared successfully
On April 17, an e-scooter rider slammed into a woman, 65, in a hit-and-run at an Ang Mo Kio void deck, leaving her with a cut on her nose and multiple bruises on her body.
The police said the suspect, 15, is being investigated in a case of rash act causing hurt.
Personal mobility device (PMDs) include e-scooters and hoverboards. With these becoming popular in recent years, accidents involving them are more common.
Big Wheel Scooter Singapore (BWSS), the largest PMD enthusiast group in Singapore, has more than 25,000 members on Facebook, up from 6,000 members in mid-2015.
BWSS chairman Denis Koh, 46, estimates that there are more than 50,000 PMDs here today.
April was a bad month for PMDs and pedestrians.
There were six reported incidents involving PMDs - three riders, one woman and two children were hurt, with ages ranging from six to 86.
Singapore is not the only country grappling with this problem. The UK, US and China are also struggling with these devices.
So what is the niche for PMD users here?
PEDESTRIANS COME FIRST
When it comes to using footpaths, the authorities stressed pedestrians come first.
Chairman of the Active Mobility Advisory Panel, Associate Professor Muhammad Faishal Ibrahim, told The New Paper last week: "While active mobility users are allowed on footpaths, pedestrians will still have the right of way.
"We hope that active mobility users can be responsible riders and exercise more care and diligence when sharing the footpaths with pedestrians."
A retired physical education teacher, who wanted to be known only as Madam Tan, 76, took comfort in Mr Faishal's words.
In March, she said she was knocked over by a PMD user in Bedok North, leaving her with a bruised thigh and left arm.
She said: "Now, I am quite fearful of any PMDs. I hope that users will be more mindful of the more vulnerable such as the elderly. We try to be careful, but we might not hear well and might move slower. Our reflexes are also not so good."
Graphic designer and food delivery rider Gregory Tham, who uses his e-scooter every day, said: "As riders, we need to have a 'give way mentality' as we pose a greater danger to pedestrians rather than the other way around."
The 14-member expert panel, tasked by Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan to review the rules and regulations of PMD use in January, is expected to publish its recommendations by the year- end.
The review was prompted by figures Mr Khaw revealed in Parliament on Jan 8. He said then there were about 110 accidents involving users of PMDs between January and September last year - an average of about three per week.
Of these, about 30 were on public paths involving pedestrians and PMD users.
Prof Faishal, who is Senior Parliamentary Secretary for Education and Social and Family Development, said the panel noted there were more accidents involving cyclists and PMD users.
The review focuses on specific areas such as speed limits on footpaths, the use of helmets, and the insurance and compensation framework.
Meanwhile, the Land Transport Authority told TNP last week that it adopts a multi-pronged approach to make the roads and paths safer for all.
These efforts include: enforcement of current rules, having a safe riding programme, public education campaigns, registering e-scooters and building more cycling paths.
The Active Mobility Act also took effect on May 1. PMD users who ride dangerously on paths or use non-compliant devices can face fines or even jail time.
HERE TO STAY
In spite of recent accidents, PMDs seem set to remain as Singapore moves towards a car-lite future.
In January last year, then Senior Minister of State for Transport Josephine Teo told Parliament during the second reading of the Active Mobility Bill that cycling and PMDs were an essential part of Singapore's quest to go car-lite.
She had said the growing popularity of PMDs was a positive development, as active mobility was a key pillar of Singapore's vision for transport here.
Mr Gopinath Menon, a senior transport research fellow at Nanyang Technological University, said PMDs provide a vital link for the first mile-last mile journeys to bus stops and train stations.
For some users, PMDs save time and money.
Singapore Armed Forces regular Goh Kar Wei, 28, takes his children, aged five and six, to kindergarten on his e-scooter.
He said having an e-scooter is important as he cannot afford to buy a car. He is the sole breadwinner of a family of five and lives in a three-room HDB flat.
Said Mr Goh: "During peak hour, adults rushing to work might think they walk too slow. The scooter is a big help."
Mr Tham, 37, takes his three-year-old son to childcare on an e-scooter. The trip takes about 10 minutes, half the time if it were on foot.
He used to spend $200 to $300 a month on transport. Since he got his e-scooter last year, his transport costs have fallen by more than 50 per cent.
"I use my e-scooter to do groceries, deliver artwork, earn extra with deliveries," he said.
BWSS' Mr Koh said: "(PMDs) have evolved into a first- to last-mile option, easing transport woes, providing short distance commutes and reducing carbon footprint."
Mr Koh, who is a member on the Active Mobility Advisory Panel, defended e-scooter users.
He said: "A large majority of our members are responsible users. Or else, we would have thousands of complaints and accidents every single day."
BWSS offers advice to members and engages retailers to educate their clients, said Mr Koh.
Mr Menon said: "Some PMD users have not adapted adequately to use shared paths with pedestrians."
On a mission to change negative stereotypes of PMD users is Mr Wilson Seng, 29, who always rides with a helmet.
The managing director of sticker company The Halo Brand has been giving out #pledgetoridesafe stickers to PMD users since February as part of his company's corporate social responsibility campaign.
More than 2,000 pledges have been made so far.
"In every mode of transport, there are always errant users. Most users are safe and responsible," he said.
GRACIOUSNESS IS KEY
Both pedestrians and PMD users agreed that co-existence would require both sides to be more gracious.
Ms Sharon Sim, whose mother was hurt in the Ang Mo Kio incident, told TNP she believes a ban on PMDs, which some have called for, is not the answer.
"Common spaces are for everyone, and there is a shared responsibility from all sides."
April 21: An e-scooter rider, 49, was hurt in a collision with a taxi at a traffic junction in Bukit Timah and was taken to Ng Teng Fong General Hospital.
April 17: A woman, 65, was knocked down by an e-scooter at an Ang Mo Kio void deck and had a cut on her nose with multiple bruises on her body.
April 16: An 86-year-old e-scooter rider was taken conscious to Khoo Teck Puat Hospital after he was involved in an accident with a bus in Yishun.
April 12: An 11-year-old girl needed several stitches to her gums and suffered abrasions on her head, face, elbow and knees after she was hit near Pasir Ris East Community Club. An e-scooter rider, 24, was arrested for a rash act causing hurt.
April 12: A six-year-old boy was hit from the back near Punggol Park by an e-scooter rider, 40.
March 7: A 23-year-old man on an e-scooter allegedly knocked down a woman in Bedok, seriously injuring her. The rider was later arrested for a rash act causing grievous hurt.
Nov 30, 2017: An e-scooter rider, 52, had an accident with a double-decker bus at the junction of Bedok Reservoir Road and Kaki Bukit Avenue 1. He died in hospital a day later.
Sept 17, 2016: A woman, 55, was in a coma for a month after being hit by a 17-year-old boy on an e-scooter. He was charged in October last year with causing grievous hurt.
March 19, 2016: An e-scooter user, 22, was not wearing a helmet when he fell from it in East Coast Park.
He died in hospital the next day. - LIM MIN ZHANG
How other countries deal with PMDs
BEIJING AND SHANGHAI
In August 2016, these Chinese cities banned the use of e-scooters and Segways on public roads. BBC reported many of these devices do not have proper brakes or lights, and they can exceed speed limits of 20kmh.
The San Francisco Board of Supervisors voted to regulate use of e-scooters from this month, requiring operators to apply for a permit before they can put these devices on the roads, reported Business Insider.
E-scooters do not need to be registered in Britain, but they are not allowed for use other than on private land, reported Tech Advisor last December. In France, a personal light electric vehicle (which e-scooters are classified under) can go up to 25kmh in a cycle lane. Austria and Switzerland also allow this speed limit for road use. In France and Germany, an e-scooter can go up to 6kmh on the pavement.
According to the South Australia Department of Planning, Transport and Infrastructure website, motorised wheeled recreational devices are not allowed on roads, footpaths, pedestrian tracks or vehicle parking areas. They can be used only on private property. They are considered motor vehicles, and a user needs to have a driver's licence, registration and compulsory third-party insurance to operate them. - LIM MIN ZHANG