Gearing up for new mobility devices

The relative novelty and quickness of personal mobility devices have created an adventurous affinity between them and Singaporeans who want to get around more easily while having some fun as a bonus along the way. Hence the growing popularity of motorised bicycles and other runaround devices such as electric scooters. Technological innovations that increase mobility are useful, especially for those who find it tedious or difficult to make short trips. They represent the innovative ways in which movement within zones could be optimised in Singapore. It would be counter-productive to try to turn back the technological and social clock by prohibiting these devices.

However, it is true as well that these devices are intruding into shared areas, passage through which is already contested to an extent between pedestrians and old-fashioned cyclists. At least for roads, the rules are clear on the segregated rights of motorists, bikers and pedestrians, although jaywalking is a problem. When it comes to the new devices, the issue gets murkier. Are bigger motorised bicycles, for example, bicycles or motorcycles? If the latter, they clearly belong to the road and not the footpath. If the former, how are users of pavements to come to terms with monster variants of these vehicles which, when modified, can reach speeds of up to 120kmh?

Unsupervised by the law, these vehicles could be a threat on even roads, to say nothing of pavements. One way to begin that supervision could be to register motorised vehicles. This measure would remind the more cavalier among their users that they are within the purview of control and enforcement that applies to other modes of transport as well. Indeed, there is no reason why modified protocols of responsible road use - such as minimum operator requirements and simple third-party insurance - should not apply to the use of motorised devices. Licensing users could be considered later if the design of devices gets more ambitious.

There is also a need for informal rules on speed limits, no-go areas and safe practices in busy areas. By their very nature, these are difficult areas to legislate. Here, Singaporeans could contribute to the development of a consensual framework for safe use, built on norms rather than laws. The consultation exercise on new forms of personal mobility that has been announced should engage all stakeholders - users, motorists and pedestrians - as extensively as possible.

The safety of road-users would be of paramount concern in incorporating these new devices into the commuter culture of the streets. Mutual consideration is the key in combining mobile freedom with the unchanging demands of safety.