For a majority of start-ups in Singapore, e-scooters are a way of life. Right from commuting to work, to delivering food to several thousand people in the country, e-scooters have found their way into the lives of Singaporeans like no other mode of transport. However, the Government of Singapore recently banned e-scooters on the walkways designated for pedestrians. This decision, combined with an earlier ruling which made riding e-scooters on the motorable roads an offense, effectively limited the use of e-scooters to cycling paths and park connector networks only. One hand, this move has garnered some support from the pedestrians, but on the other, this decision has left the start-ups craving for a solution that can promise last mile connectivity as was provided by the e-scooters.
For example, GrabFood, a food delivery setup, that relied heavily on e-scooters for the timely delivery of orders, sent out a message informing the consumers about the long wait time. Now, the delivery agents will deliver food on foot until the company finds an alternative solution. However, GrabFood is not the only business that has been affected.
Role of E-scooter in Singaporean Economy
Singapore, as an economy, is the most competitive nation of the world, recently overtaking the USA to become the world leader as per Forbes. However, not everything it did was a cakewalk. While government framed policies to attract entrepreneurs and investors and continuously amended the procedures to make them business-friendly, the people of Singapore welcomed the foreigners and their ideas and made them a common goal.
With the inflow of ideas, competition and money aroused a need for being quick and agile. Due to its limited size, Singapore was never a country that could support a vast car ecosystem; hence, the country developed a robust public transport network. While this network was robust and somewhat economical, agility and personalization that comes with owning a private vehicle were missing. It forced people to walk long distances until PMD (personal mobility devices) got incepted. E-scooters were among several forms of PMDs that emerged.
E-scooters promised many things to Singaporeans, primarily the following:
- Quick and easy availability of mode of transport
- Almost free (highly inexpensive) travel medium
- Fast-paced mode of transportation with minimum guidelines from the government
- Last-mile connectivity that had been missing
- And of course environmental friendly
The rise of e-scooters (and other PMDs) also brought down the cost of logistics for start-ups engaged in e-commerce, delivery of goods (like food), and physical movement of information. Several start-ups emerged that provided e-scooters in different sizes and fitted with specialized equipment to help people commute to work and assist the businesses in achieving quick delivery timelines.
The policy-makers, until now, were worried about the ruckus created by the car traffic, had another tricky thing on their plates – the PMDs.
Singapore is known for its ability to accept and adopt new technologies. Therefore, rejecting the idea of e-scooters as a whole could go against the country; make it look like a place that could no longer understand technology. The only thing that the policy-makers could do was to make e-scooters safer for Singapore.
The Initial Reaction of the Government
E-scooters started as a fad. It quickly became a trend, and the government of Singapore had very little time to respond to the growing popularity of e-scooters. Due to the young and evolving nature of the technology of PMDs, the policy-makers had a little idea about the oncoming challenges. Also, PMDs came in different forms and had different characteristics. For example, a hoverboard could accelerate quickly, but an e-scooter could not. So, the precedents were unclear, and most of them, uncalled!!
Usage of devices presented another form of discrepancy that government had to face. Companies did not just employ E-scooters for last-mile delivery, there were also used by employees to commute to work, and by young people for recreational purposes. Therefore, the scope of usage of e-scooters, and the formation of a subsequent law framework was trivial.
The first ban came as soon as the government planned to legalize the e-scooters. This move stopped the e-scooters from plying on roads made for cars and buses. As an alternative, the idea of creating a separate pathway got floated. However, the cost and space constraint made it a costly affair, and hence this idea was dropped. The government eventually allowed the riders of e-scooters on the pedestrian pathways.
It was a ‘Bad Move’
Anna, a 67-year-old Singaporean, recalls her plight of moving on the roads. She says that the young generation uses e-scooters “recklessly” and “It’s just too dangerous” to allow PMDs in regions where the adult population is high.
After the legalization of e-scooters, the following years saw many amendments made to the laws controlling the use of e-scooters. These laws were enforced to ensure the safety of the pedestrians as well as the riders. The laws controlled the weight, width, and maximum speed of the e-scooters and other PMDs.
UL2272 is the latest regulation that has been made mandatory for the PMDs. It is a fire safety standard that improves the safety against fire and electrical accidents. All vehicles that are non-compliant of UL2272 will be prohibited on the roads from April 2020. This regulation came into action after many incidents related to fire in e-scooters have surfaced in the last couple of years.
However, what triggered the government to ban e-scooters on footpaths is more than a fire hazard. Tan Tock Seng Hospital has reported an increase of 68 percent in PMD causalities in the last two years and nine months. Another event that gained much publicity was an accident that involved a 65-year-old cyclist who died after colliding with an e-scooter. Unfortunately, Co-Sharing footpaths is a failed concept, and hence it needed to go. The government of Singapore forfeited the right of e-scooter and other PMD riders to use pedestrian pathways on November 4, 2019.
How has this impacted the SMEs?
The SMEs and start-ups that provide shared bike and PMD services are the ones that have impacted the most. For example, Anywheel is already working on a new business concept in hopes of keeping itself afloat in Singapore. The company is also exploring neighboring markets in the hope of entering these markets and establishing itself as a next-gen co-sharing PMD provider.
Food delivery start-ups are next in line who have felt the most heat. These SMEs employed PMDs for quick food delivery, but with the ban in place, these companies have a void to fill in their operations. However, a few start-ups who had already sensed the ban early this year had already started weighing their options. Now, the companies are formulating strategies to minimize the impact of the ban on their operations and finances. Food delivery company, Deliveroo is one of the few start-ups that was able to do it!
The ban on e-scooters has also impacted the employees. The sudden ban on e-scooters has left thousands of commuters looking for a different mode of transportation in less than 24 hours. Since Singapore allows only a certain number of cars in the country at a time, there is a little that employees can do to get their hands on a private mode of transportation, especially in the areas where the trains are not easily accessible.
What lies ahead?
The ban on e-scooters on footpaths is not going to go away until the policy-makers can come up with a better strategy. A strategy, if at all formulated, will not be easy. It will be strict, expensive, and highly controlled to ensure road safety. Whether or not will this encourages the start-ups to go down the e-scooter way again is a different question.
Owning a car will continue to be a distant dream due to the car-lite culture of Singapore. In such a situation, the public transport network can gain popularity with businesses as well as people. The government has planned to pump millions in the development and betterment of the transport network. For example, a $100m package allotted to the railways recently is going to improve the experience of the people traveling through trains. Similarly, Yio Chu Kang Bus Interchange is being renovated to handle more volume of commuter traffic and enhance the experience of travelers.
SMEs will have to rethink their strategies. The immediate future of logistics is going to be economically challenging; the innovative companies in the country will have to play a significant role in finding solutions to the problems created by the ban.