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Ministerial Statement by Senior Minister of State for Transport Dr Lam Pin Min on Personal Mobility Devices

05 Aug 2019 In Parliament

PMDs in our Land Transport System: Benefits and Risks

1.     Mr Speaker, we in MOT are deeply concerned about the risks posed by motorised personal mobility devices (or PMDs for short).

2.     We are aware that this is a hot topic on the ground. We hear it from our residents; we hear it from many Members of this House. All have expressed concern over the irresponsible use of PMDs, which has caused a lot of trouble. Reckless PMD riders have become a menace on the ground, causing alarm on our public paths. People are worried about whether our elderly parents or young children will be able to avoid speeding PMD users. Speedsters have also illegally modified their devices to travel at very high speed, without fear for their own lives and the danger they put others in. Residents are also worried whether their houses will be affected should their neighbour’s PMD catch fire. Such irresponsible behaviour is unacceptable and cannot be tolerated.

3.     At the same time, we are mindful that tens of thousands of Singaporeans have adopted PMDs and benefited daily from their usage. The vast majority of them use PMDs responsibly. Through the course of my various engagements, fellow Singaporeans have related to me stories of Singaporeans who have saved time and costs by using PMDs as a transport option, older Singaporeans with mobility challenges who have found newfound freedom with personal mobility aids, and Singaporeans who have improved their livelihoods through new employment opportunities.

4.     Let me share with you the story of Mr Low Joo Kek, who is 62 years old this year. Mr Low used to get around on a bicycle, but with age, this has become a bit more challenging. Two years ago, Mr Low started riding an e-scooter, which he finds is a convenient way to travel. He uses his e-scooter to run errands near his home in Sengkang, do weekend patrols with the Waterways Watch Society where he volunteers, and even visit his brother in Bedok! For Mr Low, his e-scooter helps him stay active and connected, and has since become a way of life for him.

5.     There are also thousands of Singaporeans who use PMDs to improve their livelihoods. Mr Hafidz is one of them. He had to give up his earlier job due to health reasons, and doing food delivery is now his lifeline. As the eldest son in his family, working as a food delivery PMD rider allows Mr Hafidz to provide for himself and his elderly parents, who are no longer working. When I met him last week at a dialogue session, he shared with me that his goal is simply to ride safely with his loved ones in mind.

6.     Mr Low and Mr Hafidz are only two of the many Singaporeans who have benefited from the introduction of PMDs. Even Singaporeans who do not ride PMDs benefit from the convenient services provided by riders who use PMDs to deliver food to their doorsteps.

7.     Because we were aware of the potential negative effects and also benefits, we conducted an extensive public consultation exercise to solicit views from a wide range of key stakeholders back in 2015 and 2016. It was led by SPS Prof Faishal and his Active Mobility Advisory Panel (AMAP). Members of the House will remember our thorough debate on all these issues when the Active Mobility Bill was tabled in January 2017. On balance, the House decided to allow PMDs to enter Singapore as they are fundamentally a cheap, convenient and environmentally friendly alternative to cars and motorcycles for short trips. They can play an important role in our vision for a car-lite society. Members wisely emphasised the need for regulations, enforcement, public education and, wherever suitable, infrastructure enhancement. Upon AMAP’s recommendation, we put in place a comprehensive framework of regulations on device criteria and user behaviour through the Active Mobility Act. The Act commenced on 1 May 2018.

8.     Mr Speaker, we now have a year of experience regulating PMDs. The risks and disamenities have become clearer. There had been 228 reported accidents involving PMDs on public paths in 2017 and 2018. There were 52 PMD-related fires reported in 2018. The number was 49 in the first half of this year. The growing number of fires is worrying. I have asked myself whether we would be better off banning PMDs whenever I read of accidents involving PMDs. 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. Similarly, a PMD is just a machine. It is the rider who decides whether it is beneficial or detrimental to our lives. I am convinced that Singaporeans can be taught to use PMDs responsibly, as they have with bicycles. I am confident that we can bring about the safe sharing of paths with PMDs. But, with hindsight of experience, we should add new regulatory measures to enhance safety. I will focus on two key areas – fire safety and path safety.

PMD-Related Fire Risks

9.     First, how to further enhance fire safety?

10.    In September 2018, LTA announced UL2272 as a mandatory requirement for PMDs. The UL2272 standard improves safety against fire and electrical hazards significantly, by requiring the devices to pass a stringent set of tests conducted by accredited testing centres under extreme physical conditions. To date, we are still the only country in the world to impose such a rigorous fire safety requirement for e-scooters. Thus far, all PMD-related fire incidents have involved non UL2272 certified devices and may have involved inappropriate charging practices, such as the use of incompatible chargers, overloading of sockets or charging near flammable materials.

11.    We could have simply banned non-UL2272 certified PMDs. But retailers and users who had just bought such PMDs pleaded for some grace period. That is why we imposed the requirement for PMD retailers to sell only UL2272-certified devices from 1 July 2019, while users could only ride certified devices from 1 January 2021 onwards.

12.    Even with this grace period, many retailers complained bitterly about the adverse impact on their businesses. Users were unhappy about having to give up devices that were still useable and having to pay significantly more for a UL2272-certified PMD. These negative sentiments were widely covered in the media.

13.    However, given the recent spate of PMD-related fires, LTA will take two further steps to address the situation.

a.     We will bring forward by 6 months, the deadline for compliance with the UL2272 requirement, to 1 July 2020.

i.     As many Singaporeans rely on PMDs for their livelihoods and their commuting needs, we think this is the earliest reasonable deadline.
ii.    This will also give retailers time to bring in sufficient stock of UL2272-certified devices.

b.     We will introduce a mandatory inspection regime for registered e-scooters from 1 April 2020 onwards.

i.     LTA will be scheduling all e-scooters which were earlier registered and self-declared UL2272-certified for inspection.

ii.    LTA will henceforth require all new e-scooters to pass inspections for UL2272 certification and width, weight and device speed before they can be registered.

14.    Some PMD users are concerned about the costs of switching out their non-UL2272 certified devices. While I understand their worries, we seek their understanding and support for this necessary move.

a.     AMAP Chairman Prof Faishal and I recently met with food delivery riders to see how they will be impacted by these proposed new measures and how we can help cushion the impact on them.

b.     The food delivery companies have tied up with PMD operators to offer PMD rentals for food delivery riders. They have also announced their commitment to help their riders convert to, or rent, UL2272-certified devices. LTA will work with food delivery companies to offer more attractive rates for PMD rentals. From LTA’s engagement with retailers, we are also aware that they will bring in more UL2272-certified PMDs with higher capacity and longer range soon.

c.     I strongly urge all users and owners of the non-UL2272 certified PMDs to switch them out as soon as possible. They are a fire risk if you still keep and charge them at home. These devices should be properly and safely disposed of, as soon as possible.

d.     We will provide support to PMD users who come forth to dispose of their non-UL2272 certified PMDs.

i.     We are studying ways to encourage Singaporeans to come forth and dispose of their non-UL2272 certified devices early. More details will be announced later.

ii.    LTA is also working with NEA to ensure safe and convenient disposal of non-UL2272 certified devices.

15.    I wish to remind PMD users that UL2272-certified PMDs come with electrical system safety features to reduce the risk of fires. UL2272 automatically cuts off battery charging once the battery is fully charged, thus avoiding overcharging which is a cause of fire. For this reason, modifying the electrical system of a UL2272-certified device will invalidate the certification. Users should not try to modify devices which are already UL2272-certified or add battery packs, as this could affect the circuitry and device safety. Device owners should instead approach their retailer or an authorised agent who is familiar with the approved battery model for that device model for battery replacements, so as not to void the UL2272 certification.

16.    While UL2272 is a rigorous standard, users still have a part to play by adopting safe charging practices. They should avoid charging already-full batteries, and regularly check batteries for damage or deformity. They should only use original power adaptors, which should be affixed with Enterprise Singapore’s Safety Mark. Users should never leave their devices unattended when charging. In particular, devices should not be left to charge overnight.

a.     LTA will work with SCDF to strengthen educational campaigns and outreach programmes on UL2272 certification and safe charging practices for residential, industrial and commercial buildings.

b.     We will also crack down on illegal modifications of PMDs. Individuals caught doing so will be liable for a fine and/or jail term.

Path Safety 

17.    Let me now address path safety. Our strategy covers infrastructure enhancement, enforcement and education.

Infrastructure
 

18.    The first aspect pertains to infrastructure. Today, we have 90,000 registered e-scooters. We expect the number to grow as more Singaporeans take up the opportunities afforded by this new mobility option.

19.    To meet growing needs, we will expand our active mobility infrastructure improvement plans, and expedite them in hotspots where accidents often occur. We are setting aside a fund to tackle such hotspots, by making appropriate improvements such as widening footpaths, installing clear warning signs, and installing speed regulating strips on the paths to slow down PMD users. These efforts are estimated to cost us $50 million to implement over the next few years. We will work with local MPs and residents to identify the infrastructure improvements to tackle specific hotspots in each constituency.

20.    Two months ago, we had a discussion in this House on whether PMDs should be banned from HDB void decks and corridors, where there are many blind spots which cannot be overcome through infrastructure improvements. At that time, I said that Town Councils could set and enforce their own rules on PMD usage at void decks. After further discussions, 15 Town Councils have decided to ban the usage of PMDs in void decks and common corridors.

21.    In addition, some Town Councils have told us about the high accident risk at crowded town centres / neighbourhood centres where the paths are lined with shops. As pedestrians can walk in all different directions, there is a potentially higher risk of accidents, compared to a linear footpath. To address this risk, LTA will work with the relevant Town Councils to conduct a 3-month trial to designate pedestrian-only zones (POZs) where riders must dismount and push their PMDs. We will try out POZs at the town centres in Ang Mo Kio, Bedok, Bukit Batok and Khatib, and at a neighbourhood centre in Tampines. So we are actually selecting 5 trial sites. We will consult the local MPs on the specific details. If the concept of the POZ proves useful, we will roll it out to other towns island-wide.

22.    As a further step, LTA has also started a trial to implement School Zone markings along footpaths outside some schools. These include speed regulating strips, “SLOW” markings and enhanced visual cues on the ground to remind PMD users to slow down and watch out for other path users, especially young children. We have completed works at the first trial site at Fern Green Primary School. We will expand this to 4 other schools – Fengshan Primary School, Jiemin Primary School, Rivervale Primary School, and Yishun Secondary School by next month.

23.    Apart from localised infrastructure enhancements, we work closely with local MPs to develop active mobility infrastructure at the township level.

a.     Ang Mo Kio is an example of what every town can look forward to. Ang Mo Kio is our first “Walking and Cycling Town”. When the cycling path network is completed in 2022, it will span 20km, connecting homes safely and seamlessly to the MRT station, bus interchange and AMK Hub. These cycling paths will be located along almost all of the main roads in Ang Mo Kio. They will have pedestrian and cyclist friendly features such as pedestrian priority zones near bus stops, a distinctive red colouring for the cycling paths, and cycling ramps.

b.     There are four stretches where it is necessary to build cycling paths for connectivity, but where the sidewalks are not wide enough. These four stretches are at Ang Mo Kio Streets 22, 41, 43 and 61. To ensure a safe and well-connected network of cycling paths, we will reclaim road space to build the cycling paths at these four stretches. This will be done by reducing the width of roads or taking back an entire road lane. This is necessary for safety and connectivity.

c.     The works at Ang Mo Kio will be completed over the next three years. We will progressively implement similar plans in other HDB towns, and I seek Members and fellow Singaporeans’ patience and support.

24.    At the national level, there are now 440km of cycling paths in Singapore. This is not enough to support first mile-last mile commutes. We will expand the cycling path network to 750km by 2025 and triple our cycling network by 2030. This will require us to reclaim some existing car lanes. In new precincts such as Kampong Bugis, Tengah and Woodlands North Coast, LTA plans to build cycling paths on both sides of the road. New cycling paths may also be added in private residential estates and industrial estates.

Enforcement

25.    Infrastructure alone is not enough. We also need a comprehensive enforcement and education strategy to encourage responsible riding and deter errant riding. Let me share what we are doing by way of enforcement.

a.     LTA has significantly stepped up enforcement against errant riders. Since May 2019, we have more than doubled our enforcement resources. We will continue to ramp up, and will enlarge the enforcement team to about 200 by the end of this year. This will be supplemented by crowdsourced feedback through LTA’s recently launched “Report PMD/PAB Incident” function in the MyTransport.SG app.

b.     Since May 2018, LTA’s officers have detected over 4,900 active mobility offences and impounded over 2,100 non-compliant devices.

c.     Currently, our enforcement efforts are manpower-intensive. We are therefore leveraging on technology to expand our enforcement reach. LTA has just started on an 18-month trial of mobile closed circuit televisions (CCTVs) at hotspot locations to determine the effectiveness of video analytics software and radar technology in detecting offences such as speeding. This provides an additional layer of deterrence.

d.     We take a tough stance against retailers who display or sell non-compliant devices, as well as those who provide illegal device modification services. To date, LTA has taken action against 12 PMD retailers. It is essential to tackle non-compliant devices at the source. We will not tolerate such behaviour and we will deal with them firmly and with the full brunt of the law.

26.    Some Members also asked whether our penalties are adequate. The laws allow for a range of penalties, ranging from composition sums, forfeiture of non-compliant devices, to fine and jail terms for serious cases. This ensures that the punishment is proportionate to the crime. In February 2019, the Courts ruled in a landmark case, sentencing a reckless PMD rider to 7 weeks’ jail for knocking down a pedestrian and causing grievous hurt. This will serve as a precedent for future cases. We are closely monitoring whether our penalty regime is effective at deterring errant riding behaviour. We will enhance penalties if necessary.

27.    I have asked Prof Faishal and AMAP to study the issue of insurance and compensation in the event of active mobility-related incidents. AMAP will submit its recommendations to Government later this year after consulting the relevant stakeholders. We will likely start off by requiring PMD-sharing operators to have third-party liability insurance.

28.    Meanwhile, major food delivery companies like Deliveroo and GrabFood are already providing third-party liability insurance for their riders. FoodPanda also announced this morning that they will do so starting from next month. AMAP and LTA are also working together with insurance companies to come up with more affordable products for individuals and encouraging individuals to purchase insurance.

Education

29.    Finally, we will keep up the intensity of our educational efforts. LTA has brought the Safe Riding Programme (SRP) to local communities and schools, with about 600 sessions conducted over the last 3 months alone. As of June 2019, over 57,000 people have participated in the SRP. We will continue to work with the community to develop a gracious and safe path sharing culture. This includes over 1,000 volunteers who regularly patrol and share safe riding practices with their community. Such education efforts are key to a fundamental shift in how all path users behave, and will help us to maximise the usage of our paths in a safe manner.

Conclusion

30.    Mr Speaker, we promote active mobility because it is good for Singaporeans. As our population ages, it is important to promote active ageing. Regular exercise is an important part of active ageing. That is why we promote Walk, Cycle, Ride as a preferred mode of transport for short distances within our residential estates. For some Singaporeans, motorised PMDs offer an added option. We hope Singaporeans will be able to accept their usage on our pathways; but this requires PMD users to behave themselves. It is for their own safety as well as the safety of others.

31.    We have had a year of experience regulating PMDs. It has not been all smooth sailing and we did not expect any new tool’s introduction to be a rosy journey. But the experience has helped us to review our regulatory measures and to see how they can be tightened to further enhance safety.

32.    As with any new technology, our regulatory regime has to be nimble and responsive. We will get the new measures in place quickly. And we will continue to monitor their effectiveness. And we remain ready to introduce new or better measures, if necessary. Safety is always our paramount concern. And we will not fail Singaporeans in safeguarding their lives and welfare.

33.    Singapore is actually not alone in having to grapple with PMDs. I thank Members of this House for their suggestions and continued support. I am also grateful to AMAP for their wise counsel and unceasing efforts. Above all, I seek Singaporeans’ support and understanding that we are committed to doing our utmost. I am confident that we will be able to make active mobility safe and relevant for Singaporeans.

34.    Thank you.