E-Scooter Ban: A Lazy Way Out?

Surely, there are better solutions than a blanket ban.

Portrait of Tammy Strobel

On 5 November 2019, it became illegal to ride e-scooters on footpaths in Singapore. The ban will eventually be expanded to include other motorised personal mobility devices (PMDs), such as unicycles and hoverboards, by next year. There are roughly 5,500km of footpaths in Singapore, so that’s thousands of kilometres of pavement you won’t be able to touch with your e-scooter. And yes, riding on the grass beside the pavement is illegal.

Where can you continue to potter along? Just the 440km of cycling paths and Park Connector Networks on this tiny island. There’s an adviso-ry period running from 5 November to 31 December, during which you’ll be able to get away with a warning. After that, you could face up to a $2,000 fine or three months jail.

This move sees Singapore join a group of other countries that have issued similar bans on e-scooters on sidewalks. In Britain, it is illegal to ride e-scooters on public roads, cycling paths, and pavements, while France has banned them from sidewalks. Spain originally banned e-scooters from the streets of Madrid last year, but it’s since granted licenses to a handful of businesses to deploy their vehicles throughout the city.

The ban has given rise to varying arguments at opposite ends of the spectrum. On one hand, an outraged public alarmed at growing number of injuries from e-scooter related accidents; a public petition to ban them garnered over 75,000 signatures to date. Then there are those who say that a blanket ban unfairly punishes responsible riders for the behaviour of an errant few, and fails to account for food delivery riders who rely on the devices for work.

It’s a tough situation to be in, one that raises questions about whether a blanket ban was really the best solution. One thing is clear though – it’s simple and effective, an approach that mirrors Singapore’s approach to chewing gum, among other things. While the dangers of reckless riding are abundantly clear, the ban reeks of a knee-jerk reaction to a relatively new phenomenon. Compared to somewhere like Copenhagen or Portland, Oregon, Singapore still has much to do to be considered bike-friendly, and our lack of robust supporting infrastructure is reflected in our cultural attitudes toward anything that isn’t a car.

What’s more, there are many plausible alternatives to a blanket ban. The only problem is that they require more effort to implement. Before the ban, the barriers to e-scooter ownership were low, and just about anyone could buy and ride a scooter. By requiring riders to have a license, as South Korea does, and imposing an age limit, we can foster greater awareness of the risks of riding and encourage more responsible behaviour. Making it more difficult to own an e-scooter with things like licensing and mandatory insurance and inspections could help weed out irresponsible owners who buy on impulse and ensure that only those who really need e-scooters are willing to jump through the hoops.

Another solution could be to put e-scooters on roads. Previously, e-scooters were only allowed on pavements, while e-bikes needed to steer clear of pathways and go on the road instead, which didn’t make a lot of sense. For sure, this makes it a lot more dangerous for riders. But given that pedestrian safety is what prompted the ban, pushing e-scooters onto roads solves this concern and shifts the burden to riders to make sure they ride safely.

E-scooters and other PMDs can play a role in improving urban mobility. It seems like a waste, and a lazy solution at that, to shut them out entirely because of some wayward actors. Tighter regulations and more nuanced solutions would have helped to integrate PMDs into our society more effectively.

" There are those who say that a blanket ban unfairly punishes responsible riders for the bahaviour of an errant few..."