Active mobility enforcement officer once threatened at knifepoint by errant rider

Conflicts between active mobility enforcement officers and errant riders were rife before the ban on e-scooters from footpaths. PHOTO: LIANHE ZAOBAO

SINGAPORE - As an active mobility enforcement officer (AMEO) for 2½ years, Ms Sunarti Abdul Rahman has dealt with her fair share of errant cyclists and electric-scooter riders who chafe at the idea of being booked.

But the 44-year-old never imagined that she and her team would be threatened at knifepoint while conducting a routine enforcement operation in Geylang last year.

She had stopped an elderly man who was riding an electric bicycle on a footpath. This is not allowed under current rules, and the device was overweight.

But this quickly turned into a stand-off when the man, who was unhappy that his e-bike was going to be seized for investigation, whipped out a penknife.

Ms Sunarti and her team were able to disarm him and call the police.

Despite the harrowing experience, Ms Sunarti, who is employed by the Land Transport Authority (LTA), continued with the rest of her duties that day and remains undeterred in her mission to keep public paths safe.

Thankfully, most of the enforcement operations that she has participated in have been less eventful.

On Thursday (Jan 13), The Straits Times was allowed to observe one such operation in Yishun.

For about an hour in the late morning, Ms Sunarti and 11 other enforcement officers were stationed at the junction of Yishun Ring Road and Yishun Avenue 2, where they engaged cyclists, food-delivery riders and other active mobility device users.

In that time, only one person was booked - a woman who was riding a bicycle without handbrakes. Her bicycle was impounded and she surrendered it without fuss.

Since September last year, all bicycles used on public paths and roads must have at least one functioning handbrake, after a fatal accident in 2020 sparked concerns over the use of brakeless bicycles, more commonly known as fixies.

Cyclists caught riding without handbrakes can be fined up to $10,000, jailed for up to six months, or both, for their first offence.

On Thursday, the enforcement officers also stopped e-scooter and e-bike riders to check if they had passed a mandatory theory test that was rolled out in July last year.

Since the start of this year, all e-scooter and e-bike riders must pass the test before they can use public paths. A digital certificate, with no expiry date, is issued to those who pass.

As at Jan 12, 52 users have been caught riding without a mandatory theory test certificate, the LTA said.

Those caught can be fined up to $2,000 and/or jailed for six months for the first offence.

The number of e-scooters here has dropped sharply, but the number of e-bikes has increased. PHOTO: LIANHE ZAOBAO

Conflicts between AMEOs and errant riders were rife before the ban on e-scooters from footpaths in November 2019 and the Covid-19 pandemic led to a sharp drop in their number here.

As at the end of 2021, there were 6,388 registered e-scooters, down from the peak of about 100,000 in November 2019.

Meanwhile, the number of e-bikes here has continued to tick upwards.

There were 33,453 registered e-bike at the end of 2021, slightly more than the 31,660 at the end of May last year.

Said Ms Sunarti: "Over the last few years, I have seen more people cycling... However, as some are new to the use of active mobility devices, they may not be familiar with the regulations and may risk the safety of themselves or others on the paths."

Ms Sunarti (left) on an enforcement operation in Yishun, on Jan 13, 2022. PHOTO: LIANHE ZAOBAO

She said her approach when dealing with errant cyclists and riders is to be calm while also being firm when explaining the offences they have committed and the enforcement action that needs to be taken.

"Of course, nobody likes to be booked, especially if their devices are going to be taken away from them... But when it starts to turn rowdy or they get aggressive, my first priority is the safety of my officers and the people around them," she added.

If there is tension, she said, she tries to understand the reasons behind it and see things from the cyclist's or rider's point of view.

She also ensures her body-worn camera is switched on at all times, in case of any dispute.

LTA said it has been leveraging technology to expand its presence beyond the 200 or so enforcement officers that it deploys islandwide.

Since 2019, it has been exploring the use of closed circuit cameras at hot spots where reckless riding and other active mobility offences are prevalent.

On the ground, AMEOs are equipped with speed guns to catch those who exceed the 10kmh speed limit on footpaths and the 25kmh one on cycling paths and park connectors.

Some of the common offences detected include the use of e-scooters and e-bikes on footpaths, illegal modifications and the use of unregistered e-scooters.

Ms Sunarti said her job involves more than just going after rule breakers.

Ms Sunarti also has opportunities to engage with active mobility users and add value to her work. PHOTO: LIANHE ZAOBAO

"We not only enforce but also educate path users on safety tips and regulations to foster a more responsible and gracious culture," she told ST.

She recounted that months after her encounter with the penknife-wielding e-bike rider, she met him again while she was on patrol in the same area.

He recognised her, and their second meeting was more cordial as she was able to ask how he was coping. These opportunities to more deeply engage with active mobility users add value to her work, she added.

To encourage more people here to use active mobility devices, the Government has committed to building around 1,300km of cycling paths by 2030.

There are now about 500km of such paths across Singapore, and this will be extended to 800km in two to three years' time.

Asked if she has any advice for cyclists and active mobility users, Ms Sunarti said: "We have a shared responsibility because we are sharing the same public paths. So it is good to understand the basic rules and regulations."

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