Are e-scooters officially the coolest way to get around town?

Danson Cheong
The Straits Times
Sunday, Jan 15, 2017

There are days when think-tank boss Hee Limin walks straight into meetings with her e-scooter, helmet on her head and bag slung across her shoulder.

Her choice of transport might turn heads at some meeting rooms here, but Dr Hee, director of the Centre for Liveable Cities (CLC), a National Development Ministry think-tank, thinks it's a "cool" way to get around.

Dr Hee zooms straight to her destination, before folding up her scooter and taking it where she goes. "I can go almost to my seat with my scooter and not worry too much about parking," she says.

That and the ability to arrive composed and not all sweaty from riding a pedal-power bicycle, is the reason many people find personal mobility devices (PMDs) appealing, she adds.

Dr Hee, 51, first started cycling to work about two years ago. Recently she started using her e-scooter for the 9km-long commute from her home in Alexandra Road, to her office at the URA Centre.

She is part of a growing group of people here who have started using PMDs such as e-scooters as part of their daily commute.

Retailers say these PMDs have exploded in popularity in the last two years. They and some experts predict that they could outstrip bicycles as transport in as soon as two to three years.

At the moment, cycling accounts for about 1.5 per cent of all trips.

"It has taken a while for cycling to get to this level. I think PMDs, given the context of Singapore, will far exceed this in a very short period," says Mr Scott Dunn, vice-president of growth and strategy in South-east Asia of global engineering group Aecom.

There are no official numbers, but retailers estimate that there are about 20,000 e-scooter riders here.

The largest e-scooter community, Big Wheels Scooters Singapore (BWSS), has over 13,000 members on Facebook.

Says Dr Hee: "I've visited many cities but have not seen the use of PMDs as popular as it is here in Singapore." She cites the "good urban infrastructure", shady sidewalks and the park connector network (PCN) as reasons.

Mr Dunn adds that e-scooters have a reputation as a toy in other countries but have gained legitimacy here as a mode of transport.

This was in part due to the prohibitive costs of cars here. In Western countries, the difference in prices between an e-scooter - which can cost upwards of $1,000 - and a car is a lot less, he says, adding that the cost of such a device was "within the reach of most people".

"PMDs are on-demand (transport), so you can go when you want to go, and it doesn't require a lot of effort, not like cycling. It's an easy way to get around for short trips of 2km to 3km," says Mr Dunn, who also rides an e-scooter to work from his home in Robertson Quay to his office in Beach Road. 

PMD users tell Insight this freedom to travel is one major advantage over public transport, which can entail long waiting times.

Each morning, Mr Amin Ruslan used to have to choose between a 10-minute wait for a bus to Kembangan MRT station, or a 1.3km walk to the station, which would often leave him "sweaty and sticky".

Both trips take about 10 minutes. In May last year, the 28-year-old shelled out $1,200 for an e-scooter, and the trip now takes him just over five minutes.

"The bus comes very infrequently so most of the time you have to walk. With the e-scooter, it's very convenient. I more or less never take the bus any more," says Mr Amin, a corporate communications executive.

Some observers, such as Mr Victor Lee, general manager of PMD retailer Falcon PEV, expect the number of users to increase now that the Active Mobility Bill - which legitimises the use of these devices on public paths - has been passed.

"Once the devices are lawful, we anticipate an increase - there are a lot of people on the fence right now," he says.

The Land Transport Authority's director of Active Mobility Tan Shin Gee says while it is still "early days", the authority will take an "open-minded approach" and facilitate the use of such devices.

"We think they have their place in the whole spectrum of transport modes. In other countries, we don't think the growth or demand for these devices has been observed to be as much as (in) Singapore," she says.

The Straits Times

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