Love them or loathe them, electric bicycles are here to stay. They provide a practical alternative as Singapore aspires to be a car-lite society, and their number has risen in recent years, with an estimated 15,000 e-bikes in use in Singapore today. Alas, fatal accidents involving e-bike riders have also made the headlines of late. And while the vast majority of riders are responsible, a number have illegally modified their devices to achieve faster speeds on the road. As these power-assisted bicycles become a popular, and viable, mode of commuting, laws have to keep pace with advances in technology, and be updated from time to time. Hence the move to require e-bikes to be registered to an owner and have registration plates is a necessary step in the right direction.
While details and a timeframe for registration will be announced only in the coming months, changes to the law to regulate the use of e-bikes and other mobility devices like e-scooters, raise penalties for reckless riding and clamp down on illegal modifications were approved by Parliament last week. E-bikes will be allowed only on roads, and cycling and shared paths. But conventional bicycles, e-scooters, hoverboards and other devices can be used on footpaths as well as cycling and shared paths. To remind users of the importance of personal and pedestrian safety, users of e-bikes and other devices found riding in an unsafe or reckless manner can be fined up to $5,000, jailed for up to six months, or face both penalties upon conviction, while sellers of non-compliant devices can be fined up to $5,000, jailed for up to three months, or both. Significantly, those who do not stop to help victims in an accident can be fined up to $3,000, jailed for up to a year, or both.
However, the law can only go so far in inculcating a culture of safety, graciousness and responsible usage of cycling and shared paths and roads. A culture of mutual respect and coexistence must emerge that makes pedestrian and vehicular traffic safe, smooth and civil. Just as cyclists and e-bike users on public roads hope for greater respect from motorists, pedestrians, too, are concerned about their safety on shared paths.
Senior Minister of State for Transport Josephine Teo has said the Government will act to reduce friction between users of shared spaces. It will also build more dedicated cycling paths where possible and widen footpaths. MPs have called for more education on safe and responsible cycling habits. As a panel on active mobility that studied and proposed changes to the law noted, active mobility must be backed by a culture of graciousness and consideration for the safety of others. Cities like Amsterdam, Copenhagen and Tokyo show that it is possible for cyclists, motorists and pedestrians to develop such a culture. Singaporeans must aspire to be equally considerate and gracious in sharing public spaces.