Active & Shared Mobility Policy Formulation & Implementation; Underaged Riders and Commensurate Measures

Anthea Indira Ong
Feb 4 · 9 min read

Parliamentary Speech for Shared Mobility Enterprises (Control & Licensing) Bill and Active Mobility (Amendment) Bill, 4 Feb 2020

Introduction

Mr. Deputy Speaker, thank you for the opportunity to speak on both the Shared Mobility Enterprises (Control & Licensing) Bill and the Active Mobility (Amendment) Bill.

It is safe to say that our journey with “active mobility” has not been a smooth one for our policymakers nor our people, since it was first mooted in the Land Transport Master Plan 2013.

It was merely 3 years ago when bike-sharing was all the rage. In Sep 2018, a total of 100,000 bicycles were in circulation across the island from different bike-sharing schemes that also saw public outcry of irresponsible rider behaviours. This House had to pass the Parking Places (Amendment) Bill in March 2018 to legislate licensing, restrict fleet size and mandate geo fencing. Now we rarely see these shared bikes around even though we still have 3 operators remaining.

Then came the next micro mobility revolution with e-scooters. Even more accessible than bicycles given that no special skills are required, their popularity grew due to low barrier to entry, but so did the public scrutiny and outrage with accidents and fire incidents ravaging homes from charging. Registration of e-scooters was the first patch fix in Feb 2018. Then came another in Aug 2019 to limit speed and mandate helmets, and another in Sep to mandate theory tests, disallow handphones and third party liability insurance before culminating in the overnight ban of PMDs from footpaths on 4 November 2019. Regulations continue to mount to respond to policy gaps that were uncovered with time.

Sir, my humble observation is that the policy intent to let market forces dictate adoption was well meaning in both cases, yet safety first must not be left to chance. The faith on the readiness of importers, delivery companies, riders and pedestrians to be gracious and responsible participants may now seem misplaced. The gaps and patch fixes in reaction to challenges over such a short space of time has made both these policy endeavours seem clumsy at best, in design and execution.

Policy formulation and implementation

So first, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I would like to ask the Minister what have we learned from the many potholes and patch fixes along this journey? What about our current models of policy formulation and implementation do we need to update and adapt because bike-sharing and PMDs will not be the only disruptions coming our way? Asking these questions is not questioning the intention and dedication of our public service at all, it’s bridging an open dialogue between those who serve and the ones who are served.

Former Head of Civil Service, Peter Ong, once said that the best policy is only as good as its execution. He also said that there should be no artificial divide between policy formulation and policy implementation, that there should be ownership of policy design to accountability of “how the policy is translated into outcomes that eventually reach our citizens”. He emphasised paying attention to details as a key element to improve ability to convert policy formulation into successful execution, even calling the “culture of mastery over details” as one that the Singapore civil service is well known for.

The announcement of the overnight ban of PMDs on footpaths in response to a parliamentary question sent shock waves through the PMD rider community, especially thousands of Singaporeans who are not merely recreational riders but subsist with PMDs. It appeared that this segment of our citizens may have been blatantly marginalised during policy formulation and implementation.

Previous policy shifts were progressively implemented but this overnight ban was seen by many as ‘blunt and rigid’ and not well supported with an inter-ministry response. A corrective action was finally taken on November 8 through the S$7 million e-scooter Trade-in-Grant scheme only after delivery riders gathered across Singapore to speak to their MPs.

Immediately following the ban on 4 Nov, Seline, a resident in a rental flat, often skipped her meals with only water so that her four children can go to bed with their stomachs full. Because her husband, Sengchiy, who was with three different food delivery companies went from working every day to 3 days’ worth of work after being told off by enforcement officers to get off footpaths. Efforts were made by ground up groups to link them up to ComCare but there was a week’s wait to process the application. Sengchiy finally switched to an e-bike towards end-November but is having trouble adjusting to riding on the road as he’s afraid for his own safety so he switched to late night hours. Seline’s family is not the only one affected that I know of.

Mr Deputy Speaker, what happened to Seline and her family could and should have been prevented. Given that they are the stakeholder most negatively impacted, the grievances of many riders who depend on PMDs for their work and subsistence could have been mitigated if they were directly consulted before the ban, and not just through the delivery companies. While the ban may have proceeded regardless, the consultation would at least afford these PMD riders a platform to be heard, and to offer alternative policy recommendations for the Government’s consideration. Moreover, such consultation would also be a good opportunity for the Government to understand and listen to suggestions of different measures which can be put in place to mitigate the negative impact suffered by these PMD riders, so that such measures can be announced alongside the ban. As we aspire towards “Singapore Together”, the Government must consistently allow stakeholders to participate and be empowered. I would like to seek clarification from the Minister on the justification for introducing a ban with no consultation, and without advance notice or grace period to allow affected citizens to adjust and adapt?

However, I acknowledge that the intent with the public consultation exercise and the Active Mobility Advisory Panel was well-meaning and certainly a step in the right direction in participatory policy making, but the devil is in the details. I note that there was only a representative from the PMD user community on the Advisory Panel but it is not immediately clear if he or others represent the interests of riders who use PMDs for livelihoods.

It is also not clear to me, Mr. Speaker, if we had considered the behavioural impact on safety as a result of the reward algorithms of delivery companies. If I am rewarded to make as many delivery trips as I can within the shortest possible time, then I would naturally be in a rush and possibly also tired all the time. Safety — mine and others — is almost certainly going to be compromised. So we can’t exclude these companies’ responsibility in our policy formulation and implementation.

This may be the level of details we have to pay more attention to, and get better at as we strive to keep regulation with innovation, and inclusion.

(B) Riders are not the enemy

With that, Mr Speaker, I would like to caution that we must not narrow our active mobility conversation to just that of riders against the rest of the society. Unfortunately, riders seem to be vilified with these two Bills, including underaged riders.

In the Shared Mobility Enterprises Bill, Clause 23 allows for licensees to share information to refuse hire to particular individuals if they park improperly after three times. Clause 25 empowers LTA to refuse further to hire vehicles to particular individuals. Clause 26 further empowers the Minister to issue safety directives without giving the affected person an opportunity to be heard.

While the Trusted Data Sharing Framework was introduced in June 2019 to enable the digital economy, I question the usage of data sharing between licensees to create a list of banned individuals. Such systematic targeting could lead to unconscious discrimination of certain groups within our society and will degrade our social compact. Such a policy could leave these individuals unprotected by rogue licensees. Can the Minister please clarify the rationale for such a provision in Clause 23, and what protection is given to the individuals?

Then, there’s Section 23A of the Active Mobility (Amendment) Bill that makes it punishable for an underaged rider with fine and/or imprisonment riding a motorised PMD on shared paths. While the Bill does not explicitly define what constitutes as “prescribed minimum riding age” as that will be subject to prescribed regulations where there may be different minimum riding age for different classes or descriptions of PMD, I would like to ask the Minister if he still intends to prescribe the minimum riding age as 16 years of age. This was announced by the Ministry on 4 Dec 2019 in the press release accepting all recommendations from the Active Mobility Advisory Panel.

Mr. Deputy Speaker, I am deeply disturbed by this and I hope Minister Desmond Lee is too. It was only in October last year that the amended Children and Young Persons Act (CYPA) defines a “young person” as below 18 years of age, to better protect our children and to be consistent with the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Under Section 37 of the CYPA, there are clear restrictions on punishment of children and young persons, and it clearly states that they should not be ordered to be imprisoned for any offence. Could the Minister please explain why we are passing new laws that go against existing laws, possibly constituting legislative conflict?

Mr Deputy Speaker, in the spirit of the CYPA, the welfare and best interests of the child or young person involved is of paramount consideration to me. I strongly believe in protecting our children and young persons, including their legal rights. Hence, I would like to ask the Minister to consider commensurate measures, other than imprisonment, for a child or young person found guilty of underaged riding of PMD on shared paths. Should there not be warnings issued and reformative training actions considered before we impose such inappropriate punitive measures on children?

Last but not least, Sections 47 and 50 of the Active Mobility Amendment Bill will give AMEOs (Active Mobility Enforcement Officers) the power to order the rider to produce his competency test certificate for examination and then seize the certificate and deliver the vehicle for an inspection. We know that as many as 6,000 warnings were issued in December 2019 alone and in the same month, an APO (Auxiliary Police Officer) sent an e-scooter rider flying at Bedok Reservoir Road. With these amendments, what measures will the Ministry put in place to better train our enforcement officers in approaching the situation on the ground to avoid tension and skirmishes?

Conclusion

Mr. Deputy Speaker, the primary aim of active and shared mobility is a better living and safer environment for all citizens that supports a larger vision of pedestrianisation and a car-lite Singapore. We have a worthy yet ambitious goal of having 90% of our peak hour trips completed by walking, biking, public transit and shared mobility by 2040.

However, these bumps on the road towards active mobility have unfortunately served to narrow our perspectives, putting much of our attention on multiple users with conflicting needs — pedestrians, cyclists and mobility riders — sharing our narrow footpaths, which is all of 1.5m wide. It really shouldn’t come as a surprise at all that tensions and accidents would result.

Albert Einstein said that “we cannot solve the problem with the same way of thinking that created it in the first place”. So instead of going at it as a battle against inconsiderate use of a limited space, how can we expand that physical space beyond the current 1.5m so that there is more room for more equitable and safer use by all users including car drivers? Instead of slapping more regulations each time we wish to change behaviours, how can we invest the same effort to build an engaged, gracious and adaptive citizenry in an increasingly disruptive environment which must include the most vulnerable amongst us?

Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~Anthea Ong is a Nominated Member of Parliament. (A Nominated Member of Parliament (NMP) is a Member of the Parliament of Singapore who is appointed by the President. They are not affiliated to any political party and do not represent any constituency. There are currently nine NMPs in Parliament.)

The multi-sector perspective that comes from her ground immersion of 12 years in different capacities helps her translate single-sector issues and ideas across boundaries without alienating any particular community/group. As an entrepreneur and with many years in business leadership, it is innate in her to discuss social issues with the intent of finding solutions, or at least of exploring possibilities. She champions mental health, diversity and inclusion — and climate change in Parliament.

She is also an impact entrepreneur/investor and a passionate mental health advocate, especially in workplace wellbeing. She started WorkWell Leaders Workgroup in May 2018 to bring together top leaders (CXOs, Heads of HR/CSR/D&I) of top employers in Singapore (both public and private) to share, discuss and co-create inclusive practices to promote workplace wellbeing. Anthea is also the founder of Hush TeaBar, Singapore’s 1st silent teabar and a social movement that aims to bring silence, self care and social inclusion into every workplace, every community — with a cup of tea. The Hush Experience is completely led by lovingly-trained Deaf facilitators, supported by a team of Persons with Mental Health Issues (PMHIs).

Follow Anthea Ong on her public page at www.facebook.com/antheaonglaytheng

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