SINGAPORE (Nov 11): Love them or hate them, personal mobility devices (PMDs) have made their presence felt in Singapore. But with the introduction of a ban on their use on footpaths effective Nov 5, you will see less of these devices.

Starting January, PMD users caught riding on pavements will be fined up to $2,000 and may be jailed for up to three months. The ban by the Singapore Land Transport Autho­rity­ (LTA) restricts the use of PMDs to just park connector networks.

This new development is a U-turn from six months ago, when the government said a ban was not likely. To evade the ban by the LTA, which regulates roads and pavements, some riders took to the adjacent grass verges — ­until the National Parks Board, whose oversight includes the greenery — said the action could result in a fine of up to $5,000.

The ban is an especially big blow to food delivery riders, who use the PMDs to make their deliveries. The number of food delivery riders has swelled in tandem with the growing popularity of apps such as Grab, Food Panda and Deliveroo.  

Many have taken to social media to voice their unhappiness. Grab warned customers to expect a longer delivery time, or their orders to be cancelled. On the evening of Nov 6, about 30 food delivery riders saw Home Affairs and Law Minister K Shanmugan at his Meet-the-People session to voice their concerns over the impact of the ban on their livelihood. In a Facebook post, Shanmugam said he understood their difficulties, would convey their views to the government, and promised to meet them again.

Pedestrians, some of whom have had close shaves with PMDs, are no doubt cheering the ban. After all, petitions calling for such a ban have been launched before and garnered wide support.

Nonetheless, the ban will hurt the LTA’s efforts at creating a car-lite society. The vision is to reduce a reliance on cars by having MRT lines form the backbone of the transportation system and have buses plying routes radiating from key MRT stations. The government authority hopes to see more than 90% of peak-hour journeys within Singapore via “walk-­cycle-ride” modes to be completed in less than 45 minutes.

This plan is laudable, but it must take into account some realities. Twelve percent of Singapore’s surface area is taken up by roads, so car drivers — having paid for the most expensive vehicles in the world — will not be caught in perpetual gridlock, unlike in other major cities.

In contrast, the pavements that run along the roads are narrow, forcing pedestrians, ­bicycles and PMDs — each moving at a different speed — to share the space, which is typically just 1.5m wide.

Some countries that are planning for a car-lite society are supporting this aspiration by providing alternative infrastructure such as dedicated bicycle lanes. Singapore has park connectors, but the existing network is far from sufficient to provide all-round connectivity.

It is only natural for victims of PMD-­related accidents to blame riders for ­being reckless and inconsiderate. However, ­motorists and pedestrians have also complained about cyclists. And both groups want cyclists off their respective turfs, leaving cyclists in a quandary.

While it is easy to change regulations, it is even tougher to change attitudes. Ultimately, it is perhaps a lack of tolerance on everyone’s part that has led to the PMD ban. All parties — from PMD users to pedestrians to drivers to the LTA — must play their role in making alternative last-mile transport in Singapore more attainable.