SPEECH BY ER DR LEE BEE WAH MP FOR NEE SOON GRC AT THE COMMITTEE OF SUPPLY DEBATE FOR THE MINISTRY OF TRANSPORT
We are moving rapidly towards a car-lite Singapore. I agree with this direction. However, for it to truly succeed, we need to ensure cycling and walking are convenient, comfortable and safe.
It appears that in our rush to accommodate bicycles and PMDs, we have somewhat sacrificed the safety of pedestrians. Each week, there are about 3 accidents between PMDs and pedestrians. I often hear feedback about bicycles and PMDs committing hit-and-run. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: without licensing and plating of bikes and PMDs, we cannot deter hit-and-runs. Glad to hear that the Active Mobility Advisory Panel has recommended registration for e-scooters, I hope the government adopts this promptly and considers widening registration to more PMDs. Enforcement of the Active Mobility Act needs to be active and strict, to build up the awareness of such rules and get obeying them to become the norm.
PMDs means all forms of PMDs except wheelchairs. Even if hit-and-runs don’t happen, pedestrians do not feel safe with bicycles and PMDs zooming past them and expecting them to give way.
Infrastructure for bicycles and PMDs
Besides the mindset of our bicycle and PMD users, infrastructure plays a role. When I went to Copenhagen, I saw dedicated cycling lanes parallel to the roads. They are often on both sides of the road, so cyclists only move in one direction following the flow of traffic. They are not on the footpaths, and there are proper stop signs and zebra crossings where the cycling lane intersects with footpath. So pedestrians feel safe.
In Singapore, we seem very resistant to providing such crossings. I have been asking for such a crossing at the exit of one of the schools in my area, Naval Base Primary where residents having expressing the concern of their children the moment they step out of school gate. So far, I haven’t been successful. I don’t know why- cyclists can be fast enough to hurt and scare people, especially young children and their grandparents. Isn’t it better to demarcate the crossing, than to just let the problem be?
The Copenhagen way also enables bicycles to go quite fast, making cycling a more attractive option. In Singapore, we have on-road cycling lanes on Tanah Merah Coast Rd . Can the Minister share the results from such infrastructure and why Singapore is not building more? If we are not looking into widespread on-road cycling lanes, then in many places, pavements need to be widened and segmented. Is there a plan to do this fast?
I agree with Mr Zaqy Mohamad and Er Dr Lee Bee Wah that our infrastructure needs to keep up with the increasing prevalence of active mobility. Our priority is to build a comprehensive network of off-road cycling paths that separates cyclists from fast moving vehicles on the roads, as these paths provide a safer environment for all cyclists of different skill levels and ages. We have built cycling path networks in 9 HDB towns, and will do so for an additional 6 towns in the next five years. Moving forward, new footpaths will be at least 1.8 metres wide, which will allow two wheelchairs to pass each other safely. When planning our new towns, we will also prioritise the allocation of space to pedestrians, cyclists and PMD users.
Last month, the Active Mobility Advisory Panel recommended the introduction of registration regime for e-scooters. After carefully studying the Panel’s suggestion, I am pleased to announce that the Government has decided to accept the recommendation and will be reviewing the Active Mobility Act to allow such a regime. Registering e-scooters will help deter reckless behaviour, accord more responsibility to the users, and facilitate enforcement officers in tracking down errant users. We will implement the registration regime by the end of the year, and will try to keep the process as simple and low-cost as possible.
The Active Mobility Advisory Panel will also take a deeper look at our active mobility rules. Ms Joan Pereira, Mr Zaqy Mohamad, Mr Yee Chia Hsing and Er Dr Lee Bee Wah have given us valuable suggestions for the Panel to look into, such as reviewing the speed limit on footpaths, and the insurance and compensation framework. The Panel will look into these issues, weighing the need for these initiatives against the impact on the large majority of responsible users, and taking into account the practices of other jurisdictions. The Panel will publish its recommendations by the end of the year.
Another area we should look into quickly, and I stress quickly, is the eye-sore caused by bike-sharing schemes. The bikes are indiscriminately strewn along footpath, on grassland and just about any open ground. I have been told that a blind resident fell because his white cane was entangled in a pile of bicycles! Can you imagine how painful it is! I feel that a penalty should be imposed on the users and bike companies for such acts. In areas where these bikes cause congestion like near MRT stations, we should also require users to park them into docks, such as those mechanised parking system. These docks should be paid for by the bike companies.
A word of caution, some bike-sharing companies have already gone bust overseas, leaving their bikes all over the place. Given that most of these companies are headquartered overseas, perhaps LTA should extract a deposit from them, to manage such a scenario without using too much public funds.
One of the best things about Singapore is that we have safe and beautiful public spaces to stroll around. However, this has changed somewhat with bikes and PMDs coming onto footpath.
I’ve even heard of people giving up their daily walks because they’re scared of bikes and PMDs. For these pedestrians, the dream of car-lite Singapore has become a nightmare.
I hope we get our infrastructure, regulations and mindsets right, so car-lite Singapore will be realised, not as a nightmare but as a beautiful dream.
Over the past year, LTA has stepped up efforts to address the problem. Since March last year, we have significantly increased the number of bicycle parking spaces by implementing yellow boxes at housing estates, MRT stations, bus stops and parks. We now have about 174,000 public bicycle parking lots island-wide, and will provide another 50,000 more by 2020.
In October last year, LTA, Town Councils, and NParks signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the bicycle sharing operators – it sets out guidelines for responsible operation in public spaces. We have also enforced strictly against indiscriminately parked bicycles. Since the middle of 2017, LTA has issued more than 2,100 removal notices and collected about $180,000 in fines and administrative fees from the operators.
Unfortunately, the problem of indiscriminate bicycle parking persists. Earlier this week, I tabled a Bill in Parliament to propose amendments to the Parking Places Act. This Bill will enable LTA to regulate the bicycle sharing operators through a licensing framework. Let me elaborate on some of the key aspects of the proposed regulatory regime.
First, LTA will be able to manage the size of each operator’s fleet by setting a maximum cap for each operator. This is similar to what Miss Cheng Li Hui suggested. We will start off conservatively in the first instance. If an operator can demonstrate that it is able to manage indiscriminate parking and ensure good utilisation of its fleet, it will be allowed to grow over time. This ensures that we start off right, and put in place the appropriate incentive structure for operators to proactively manage indiscriminate bicycle parking.
Second, LTA will have stronger levers to ensure operators to do their part to manage indiscriminate parking. Under the proposed licensing regime, we can impose standards and conditions, for example, to require operators to remove indiscriminately parked bicycles within a stipulated period. Operators who do not comply with our standards and conditions will face regulatory sanctions, such as financial penalties of up to $100,000, reduction in their fleet size, suspension or even cancellation of their licences. These penalties are higher than the $500 per bicycle fine we currently impose on operators.
We also intend to implement Er Dr Lee Bee Wah’s suggestion of requiring licensed operators to provide a security deposit. This deposit can be used to defray the costs of removing abandoned bicycles of any operator that has gone bankrupt.
Er Dr Lee Bee Wah and Mr Lim Biow Chuan have also suggested requiring operators to provide bicycle parking spaces or docking stations. Operators have already helped to provide some of the yellow parking boxes at bus stops, and LTA will be able to impose requirements on them to do more under the licensing regime, if necessary. Mr Png Eng Huat suggested the implementation of docking stations. The experience of other countries is that docked systems tend to be unsustainable without private sponsorship or Government subsidies. These tend to be more costly to set up, so taxpayers or users would have to pay more for the use of the bicycles.
As Miss Cheng Li Hui, Mr Yee Chia Hsing and Mr Lim Biow Chuan have rightly pointed out, we should not just focus on the operators alone. It is important to ensure that users act responsibly and considerately. We feel that the most effective way of doing so is through the operators. For example, LTA will require all licensed bicycle sharing operators to collectively ban users who repeatedly park their bicycles indiscriminately from using any bicycle sharing service for a period of time.
The Bill will be tabled for the Second Reading later this month. We will implement the licensing framework in the second half of this year.
Mr Png Eng Huat asked about the effectiveness of geo-fencing. First, geo-fencing will be done in addition to the other measures that I have outlined earlier. Second, under the proposed licensing regime, LTA will require all licensed operators to complement GPS geo-fencing with QR code-enabled geo-fencing. And each designated parking area will have a unique QR code so operators will be able to match the QR code used with the approximate location of the parked bicycle obtained via GPS geo-fencing. So, if the location of the parked bicycle is far away from the QR code for that particular parking space, the user will not be deemed to have parked in a parking space appropriately, and will continue to be charged. It is not a perfect measure, but can be implemented quickly to address the urgent issue of indiscriminate bicycle parking.
In the meantime, LTA has started trials for other types of high-accuracy geo-fencing technology that will further improve the tracking of errantly parked bicycles. We plan to conclude the first phase of the trials by 2019.