How can a government regulate emerging technologies in the context of (1) existing infrastructural limitations (no cycling lanes in most areas of the city), (2) quick adoption by certain industries (food delivery), (3) where significant portions of those workers rely on these technologies to earn money, and (4) where the technologies pose significant risks to bystanders and other road users?
To-do — find out more about the background to the use of e-scooters in Singapore.
E-scooters banned from 5 November 2019
This week, it was announced that electronic scooters (“e-scooters”) would be banned from footpaths. This announcement followed months of coverage of various accidents involving e-scooters leading to quite severe injuries, even death. There was a growing sense that these posed a danger that could only be addressed by a ban.
Effects on delivery riders
The group that has been affected most appears to be delivery riders for companies like Grab and Deliveroo. When the ban was announced, GrabFood made a number of public statements to inform the public that operations might be affected, leading to delays or cancelled orders. The Straits Times reported that a group of Grab delivery riders had met with MPs, to discuss the issue.
As part of the ban announcements, the government also stated that Workforce Singapore (WSG) would assist affected riders transition:
In a statement, WSG said it has various programmes and services to help Singaporeans in their job search, “including those who may be affected by this announcement such as food delivery riders who use e-scooters as their main form of transportation”.
However, it does not appear that the existing measures are placating disgruntled riders. This probably reads as a typical complaint for those affected:
Part-time food delivery rider Chris Lim, 27, who joined GrabFood about a week ago while still looking for a full-time job, is “really unhappy” about the ban.
He paid $949 for an e-scooter so that he could do more deliveries with less effort compared with using a bicycle.
“As it is, I am not even earning much. With the implementation of the ban, I will earn even less,” said Mr Lim, adding that with the e-scooter he can do three times more deliveries in the same time than if he were to use a bicycle.
Mr Lim said: “Even if the authorities wanted to ban e-scooters, they should have at least constructed more bicycle pathways first instead of giving just a day’s notice.”
This whole regulatory project does raise a number of issues:
- How should such a ban be introduced given that it would inevitably affect a wide variety of e-scooter users?
- What are socially acceptable degrees of risk for the technologies that we use? We couldn’t possibly ban automobiles at this point, for example, but they do cause significant harm.
- What are the limits for state compensation when such bans are introduced? Is there a need for transition provisions for compensation when certain equipment or technology is rendered effectively unusable?
- What happens when the effect of the bans is exacerbated by the lack of alternative infrastructure, like dedicated cycling lanes? The ban is significant here because e-scooters are banned on the roads as well as on footpaths.
- Would such a ban be considered a “regressive” ban in that it disproportionately affects certain groups of people?
In a related arena of regulation, when there was a shift to requiring that e-scooters be UL2272-certified, the State provided a disposal incentive of $100 for those who disposed of their non-certified e-scooters. There is a sense there that if the regulation wastes certain expenditure, then there should be some recourse to compensation.
Update (9 November 2019): A new scheme has been introduced to allow delivery riders to trade in their e-scooters in exchange for grants to purchase power-assisted bicycles or bicycles. This scheme has been set up by the Ministry of Transport and three major food delivery companies (Grab, Deliveroo and Foodpanda). The press release from the Ministry of Transport has details, as well as references to other measures to assist in this transition.
It would be interesting to see how these issues get fleshed out in the coming weeks.