Singapore has an urban administration model that has gretly facilitated decision-making to deliver Smart City solutions. The e-Scooterban decision shows some potential drawbacks to the more authoritarian model. Will there be a popular reaction?
by Stephen Coulter & Krystyna Weston – 6 Nov. 2019
eScooters in Singapore — Everything BUT the first/last mile
Singapore’s Land Transport Authority(LTA) has prohibited electric scooters from footpaths effective November 5 — less than 24 hours after announcing the change.
With virtually no notice, Singapore’s 100,000+ registered electric scooter owners have been left without a legal way home!
At the same time, all share scooter operators have been banned and any pending applications cancelled.
Scooters have become a significant transport option over the last four years in Singapore. With only 509,000 private cars, the privately-owned electric scooter market is 20% of private cars
The decision to remove footpaths as a scooter option, with roads already not allowed, reduces the available paths for escooters from almost 6,000km to only 440km. Unless people live and work on a connected bike path or Park Connector Network(PCN) they will not be able to do journeys by electric scooter.
Let’s unpack this announcement, the background, impact and possible solutions.
The Announcement on November 4
The Ministry of Transport issued a press release announcing:
- Prohibition of electric scooters from footpaths effective November 5, and reinforcing their existing prohibition on any road.
- Electric scooters can only be ridden on cycling paths and PCNs.
- Bicycles and other personal mobility devices will continue to be allowed on footpaths.
- Of the 100,000+ registered escooters, at least 80,000 are not UL2272 certified and cannot be ridden anywhere publicly from 1 July 2020. Any of the other 20,000 which fail the inspection regime from 1 April 2020 will have their registration cancelled.
- The LTA is extending their S$100 Early Disposal Incentive to 31 December 2019 for electric scooter owners to return non-compliant scooters.
- Prohibition of e-scooter sharing services and the LTA will reject all existing licence applications. No invitations for PMD sharing licenses will be issued until further notice.
The changes were announced following concerns regarding “errant behaviour” increasing — leading to anxiety from pedestrians. From 1 January 2020, a “zero-tolerance” approach will be taken with fines up to S$2,000 and/or imprisonment of up to three months.
The announcement came as a surprise to the industry who as recently as mid-September expected new share scooter operators to be announced and operational in 2019.
Singapore has been one of the most progressive countries on transport. As a small island, it can control transport modes and limit the proliferation of vehicles. Just to own a car in Singapore is expensive — you need to bid for a “Certificate of Entitlement” which allows you to own a car for 10 years. The regular auctions have seen these sell for $40,000 and much more. The value is driven by the fixed number of vehicles allowed and the limited number which become available. As of 2018, there were only 509,000 private cars in Singapore out of a population of 5.6 million
Limited cars, good roads and mass transit make Singapore a relatively easy city to get around. The small distances are perfect for micromobility and most people can get to a transit hub or local destination by walking, bike or scooter.
Electric scooters have been used in Singapore for at least five years. Over 100,000 are privately owned, showing their convenience and popularity. New regulations came into force for Personal Mobility Devices from January 2019:
- Scooters must not be more than 70cm wide, weigh no more than 20kg and have a maximum speed of 25kmh
- From 1 July 2020, escooters must comply with the UL2272 fire safety standard and retailers have been banned from selling non-compliant scooters since 1 July 2019.
- All scooters must be registered to a person at least 16 years old at a cost of S$20/year. The registration ensures the scooter is compliant with Singapore specifications regarding maximum weight, dimensions and speed.
- Scooters can only be used on footpaths(prohibited November 4 2019)and shared paths/cycle paths.
- A maximum speed of 25kmh on shared/cycle paths and 10 kmh on footpaths
Food delivery companies are major users of electric scooters as they are more efficient for short journeys, particularly to apartment buildings. Grab has been reported as having 7,000 escooter delivery riders. Deliveroo and FoodPanda were also reported as having as many as 30% of riders using escooters. (source: South China Morning Post)
Singapore’s Electric Scooter Community
Singapore is one of the most “scooterfied” countries in the world. Since July 2019 all electric scooters must be registered and adhere to strict standards. Around 100,000 electric scooters have been registered to display number plates
An Estimated 500,000 eScooter Rides Happen Each Week in Singapore
As 100,000 scooters went through a paid registration/inspection service — and heavy fines exist for non-compliance — it is reasonable to expect they are actively used. If only half are used each day, there are over 500,000 trips a week. Scooters are used by many food delivery companies with more frequent journeys likely to increase this estimate further.
Accidents occur with any mode of transport and micromobility is no different. More accidents occur early in the lifecycle of new devices as they are new, less evolved and the operating environment less adapted to their use.
Cities have also increasingly been designed for cars. This has led to an increase in pedestrian and cyclist deaths around the world, while car fatalities decrease. More vulnerable users are being killed as not enough separation is provided between cars, micromobility and pedestrians.
While escooters and motorbikes have almost reached parity in numbers, motorbikes are by far the most dangerous vehicles in Singapore.
Interestingly, of the 299 escooter hospital incidents, only 8 were related to pedestrians being the victim. In most cases, the rider is the injured party, either in a rider only crash or with a heavy vehicle — car, truck, bus.
The most unfortunate impact of the prohibition of escooters on footpaths is it will make most scooter journeys impossible.
The law change has resulted in 92.5% of scooter friendly paths last week now being illegal to ride on.
Only 440km of last week’s 5,940 scooter friendly pathways remain available. Most cycle paths and PNC’s are on major thoroughfares and do not connect directly to secondary and other streets. This will result in escooter riders not being able to get to a cycle path or PCN without breaking the law doing so.
Or, is an electric scooter a kick scooter when it is powered off? If so, can I kick scoot home on a footpath (but not a road)
As with most cities, Singapore’s cycle paths and PCN’s are a collection of disconnected paths with large gaps between them and thin coverage in local areas. While Singapore has plans to expand cycle paths, it will still only reach around 1,000 km in 2030.
Cycling routes from the LTA’s My Transport App.
Park Connector Network is blue and Cycling Paths are red.
PCN’s follow main routes connecting residential areas with transit and local hubs.
Large gaps exist — coverage to the downtown core is limited.
Another likely impact is an increase in eBikes as they are allowed on roads which connect to cycle paths and shared pathways.
Bikes may also increase in number as, despite their larger bulk and less manoeuvrability than escooters, they are still allowed on footpaths as well as roads, cycle paths and PCNs.
The fundamental problem is escooters being ridden too fast on Singapore’s footpaths, resulting in pedestrians feeling threatened and in some cases injured.
The escooter footpath speed limit is 10kmh and it is clear some riders are not abiding by this. Our visit to Singapore in September confirmed this, with many riders speeding above 10kmh on footpaths. Anecdotal feedback indicates food delivery riders are some of the main offenders — speeding to maximise their deliveries.
With better controls, PMD’s could continue to be allowed on footpaths to enable connection to major cycle paths and PCNs.
- A first option could be to speed limit all food delivery escooters to 10 kmh, or with geo-fencing limit them to 10 kmh when on footpaths. Technology is available to do this. If food delivery riders are the main cause, address this first.
- The same technology can also monitor rider usage. As their employer, a food delivery vehicle company can be informed of riders using their vehicles in errant ways. The technology can also alert riders and even disable devices being ridden dangerously.
- Share scooter operators should be considered — they all have very good technology and can administer geo-fencing for speed, parking and other services. They also have well maintained, compliant fleets.
- Require all private escooters to be fitted with geofencing technology which can limit their speed to 10 kmh on footpaths. The technology is available for less than S$100/scooter. With at least 80,000 of Singapore’s scooters requiring replacement by June 30 2020, the S$100 Early Disposal Incentive could be replaced with a subsidy for enabling all privately owned scooters with geo-sensing and controlling engine management units. Share scooter operators already have this technology — food delivery companies should have it too.
- Consider compulsory helmet laws for bicycles and PMD’s on footpaths and PCNs, not just on roads. It would seem some of the reported injuries and possibly deaths may have been avoided had helmets been worn.
- Aside from footpaths, minor roads could be considered in suburban areas to help scooter riders connect to cycle paths and PCNs. These should be minor roads with speed limits of no more than 30 kmh.
Geo enabling all private and shared electric personal mobility devices will allow the government of Singapore to directly manage geo zones for speed, parking and other geolocation services. An “LTA Cloud” would connect to all PMD’s, enabling the LTA to set geo zones for any approved purpose
The technology exists to do all this now — we have worked with companies who can deliver it for cities or shared mobility operators.
Singapore is ideally positioned to adopt this quickly due to:
- Almost the entire privately-owned escooter fleet having to be replaced by July 2020 to comply with UL2272
- Singapore’s vehicle registration system as an inspection control
- Heavy fines and penalties for non-compliance
- The small area of Singapore and the high quality of telecommunications infrastructure to deliver smart city solutions.
While these solutions can be delivered now, the ultimate solution is protected mobility lanes on all roads, enabling separation of bikes/scooters from pedestrians and heavy vehicles. Singapore is expanding its cycling networks but not to this level. A more widespread solution is required — potentially reallocating a lane of roadway to micromobility as some cities are doing in Europe.