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Scooting with the times
NOT a fan of driving in peak-hour traffic or being stuck in the MRT with other disgruntled commuters? Don't sweat it. Personal mobility devices (PMDs) such as electric scooters have been growing in popularity since their introduction to Singapore around two years ago.
Falcon PEV, one of the biggest distributors here, has sold over 800 electric scooters over the last year. Warren Chew, 37, managing director of Falcon PEV, says: "We have a good mix of Singaporeans, expats and even tourists as customers. We also have a huge number of professionals who buy scooters from us to use for commuting and recreation."
Users of these electric scooters tout the benefits of this mode of transportation as being convenient, environment-friendly, and cost-effective, among other reasons.
Swen Einhaus, 40, founder of Facebook group Big Wheel Scooters Singapore (BWSS), says: "I've lived in Singapore for 16 years, but since I've started scooting, I've found so many places I never even knew existed!"
The Israeli-made Myway Quick is a popular model in Singapore. Its recently launched successor Inokim Quick 2 is capable of travelling 25 km on a full charge, with a top speed of 25 km/h. It can also be folded for easy storage and carrying ease although - at 14.5 kg - it's not lightweight. Designed to offer an alternative solution of personal transportation, it retails at S$2,000.
Shipping operation manager Nicholas Teoh has been using his electric scooter for six months now. The 30-year-old says: "I can't describe the feeling of scooting to work in the morning near the park when the morning sun hits the water and being surrounded by beautiful greenery - it's a great way to start a hectic work day."
If strictly interpreted, current legislation forbids the use of PMDs on any Land Transport Authority (LTA) roads, pavements or park connectors, and allows them to be ridden only on private premises.
But this could change, after it was announced last month that an Active Mobility Unit would be set up within the LTA to see how people can ride scooters without compromising the safety of pedestrians and other road and footpath users. A conclusion is expected by the middle of the year.
Users like Mr Teoh and Mr Einhaus agree that there is a strong need to re-evaluate current laws. Mr Teoh says: "As our population increases, the stress on the transport infrastructure will just get more intense. We should encourage other modes of transport, and instead of strict regulation, we should focus on educating scooter users."
Mr Einhaus adds: "The current laws were written before electric scooters were even around. This is what happens when technology evolves, but regulation doesn't. We at BWSS understand the safety concerns and believe in following a set of guidelines that prioritises safety, and will hopefully put other road users at ease."
In addition to the importance of wearing helmets when scooting, these guidelines include dismounting and pushing their scooters manually when approaching a crowd of pedestrians and advocate courteous vocal alerts instead of excessive bell-ringing when overtaking. The group's emphasis on safety even extends to giving their members a group discount on safety helmets.
Mr Einhaus is optimistic about the outcome of the LTA review. "The authorities see the practicalities involved. I'm sure it will be approved one way or another, but there will probably be limitations like speed regulations."
In spite of the legal ambiguity towards PMDs, users feel the benefits of electric scooters outweigh the disadvantages. Mr Teoh says: "It's an environment-friendly solution for commuters like me. You don't incur ridiculous parking fees in the CBD and the wait during unfortunate breakdowns of the public transport system."
Alvin Chng, 32, a property and maintenance executive, uses his electric scooter to commute between his home near Little India and his workplace in Marine Parade Central. "Although I live right above an MRT station, it sometimes takes me an hour to get to work during peak hours because of the recent influx of people shifting to areas like Sengkang and Punggol on the purple MRT line," he says. "Using my scooter cuts my travel time in half."
Aside from the regulations, users of electric scooters cite public perception as a factor that impedes their enjoyment of this alternate transportation device. Mr Chng says: "Pedestrians aren't happy about PMDs on the pavement but it isn't safe for us to be on the roads. I think it would be more harmonious if everyone had a better understanding of their fellow road users."
It might be time for Singapore to embrace the convenience of PMDs and alleviate the pressure on our public transport systems. Mr Teoh adds: "It's always easier to reject new innovations. But sooner or later, we must appreciate the value of such alternative modes of transport."