SINGAPORE — For about six months now since getting into a road accident that resulted in her having issues with her vision and mobility, 62-year-old Madam Yati has been relying on her mobility scooter to deliver food for a living.
So when a panel on Thursday (Dec 14) announced a set of recommendations to make the use of such personal mobility aids (PMAs) safer, Mdm Yati welcomed the intent behind them, though she took issue with some parts of the proposal.
On the one hand, she lauded the move to limit the use of mobility scooters to those with a certification of medical need, as she said able-bodied riders who speed with such scooters give other users a “bad reputation”.
On the other hand, she strongly disagreed with the proposed reduction in speed limit for all PMAs down to 6km/h from the current 10km/h.
“If it’s down to 6km/h, what time will the food reach customers? How many trips can I complete in a day?” Mdm Yati said, declining to give her full name.
As things are right now, she said that she works fewer hours in a day than before due to her medical condition, and is unable to pick delivery jobs that cover big distances.
As a result, she does only about six jobs a day — or up to 10 on a “lucky” day, she said. When she was healthier, she rode an electric bicycle and was able to complete 15 to 18 jobs daily.
The Active Mobility Advisory Panel (Amap) on Thursday issued a set of recommendations to regulate PMA usage, such as a reduction in speed limit to 6km/h for all PMAs — including motorised wheelchairs and mobility scooters.
It also suggested that people who intend to use a mobility scooter be required to obtain a certification of medical need which certifies that they have problems walking.
But PMA riders who use it to deliver food, such as Mdm Yati, are worried about their earnings being hit.
Users and retailers also raised concerns about the medical certification requirement, citing possible accessibility issues for certain groups.
WILL DELIVERY SERVICES BE AFFECTED?
Mr Hong Jing Kai, 44, who has been using a mobility scooter to deliver food for about three years due to mobility issues, said that he typically rides at an average speed of 8km/h. Any slower, “customers will surely complain”, he added.
More importantly, riding more slowly would mean completing fewer jobs — he foresees a roughly 30 per cent hit in completion rate should the Government green-lights the lower speed limit.
The actual impact that Amap’s recommendations may have on delivery service standards, however, might be limited.
For one thing, pedestrians and users of food delivery services said they would not mind their food arriving later, given the safety benefits for all walkway users.
Mr Muhammad Saiful, 35, said: “We’ll be more understanding since we know they should not be going fast as they have a speed limit.
Another pedestrian, Mr Ian Chong, 35, said: “As it is, I don’t really notice my food being delivered by persons with disabilities.”
WHAT FOOD DELIVERY COMPANIES SAY
News channel CNA reported in 2019 that people with disabilities make up a very small portion of food delivery riders here.
TODAY has sought the latest figures from major food delivery companies here and whether their app has features to aid delivery riders that rely on personal mobility aids (PMAs).
Foodpanda declined to give its latest figures, but said on Friday that it will be introducing a new feature soon that will allow customers to view more details regarding their deliveries, which include the type of vehicle that the order is delivered on.
“We hope that by doing so, customers will be able to exercise more patience and understanding should deliveries take slightly longer, especially if there are limited accessibility features at their location for delivery partners on PMAs,” the company said.
Deliveroo said that it is “deeply committed to fostering an inclusive environment that supports the diverse needs of all our riders, including those with disabilities”.
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MEDICAL MEMO MIGHT EXCLUDE SOME ‘IN BETWEEN’ USERS
Like Mdm Yati and Mr Hong, Mr Kenneth Jeremiah, 67, welcomes the move to restrict the use of mobility scooters to those with a certificate of medical need.
“They should not anyhow drive and cause trouble. When they ride anyhow, they will affect us (genuine users),” he said. Mr Jeremiah suffered a stroke a few years ago and now uses a mobility scooter.
Mr Saiful observed that the younger, fitter-looking PMA users tend to be the ones speeding and potentially endangering other users.
“If this set of regulations is implemented, I believe Singaporeans will be more gracious, open and understanding about sharing footpaths with PMAs,” he said.
On the other hand, there are others like food delivery rider Rifae Hasan, who uses a mobility scooter not for medical reasons but because he “does not know how to ride two wheels”, referring to bicycles and motorcycles.
“If they really ban people like me from using a scooter, I will find it very difficult to make a living,” the 32-year-old said.
Some retailers such as Mobot and Falcon Mobility pointed out that they have a significant portion of users who are somewhat an “in between” — they can walk but they are unable to walk for long distances and so they rely on mobility scooters.
Mr Chew Boon Hur, the managing director of Mobot, said that about six of 10 of his buyers “can walk unaided” into his shop, but may have difficulties taking long strolls, for example.
“They purchase mobility scooters because they still want to enjoy what they used to do in their younger days, when they could go for long distance walk, they could cycle.”
Amap’s positioning of PMAs as “a replacement for walking” might inadvertently put a stigma on the usage of such devices, when many use them as a tool to help “live a better quality life”, he added.
Mr Hong is concerned that it may be a hassle “especially for the elderly” to get a note to certify their medical need.
Ms Vanessa Keng, co-founder of eldercare products retailer The Golden Concepts, said that at the moment, there might be some difficulty to determine who exactly can certify the medical needs.
“I believe physiotherapists are best suited to recommend mobility aids, but they may not be easily accessible to everyone and it may be an extra hassle for users to get a referral to physiotherapy departments in our local hospitals.”
On its part, Amap is recommending that the Government taps existing relevant certification or identifiers such as concession travel cards for people with disabilities to minimise the need for mobility scooter users to go for more assessments.
SOURCING, MODIFICATION AND ENFORCEMENT ISSUES
Mr Warren Chew of Falcon Mobility is concerned that the proposed speed limit of 6km/h may cause a “sourcing” or supply issue.
This is because in the United Kingdom, for example, the speed limit is 6.4km/h instead. Mr Chew believes that suppliers may not want to modify their equipment solely for a small market such as Singapore.
“They will either charge higher or they won’t even do it. Whereas if you (the Singapore authorities) just raise the limit a little bit to 6.4km/h, that will solve a lot of sourcing problems,” he told TODAY.
Mr Chew Boon Hur of Mobot said that his bigger concern is over users who just bought their mobility units, adding that some have called up asking about whether theirs would meet the speed limit.
He noted that Amap has recommended that the Government allow users to use their existing devices at slower speeds, but he added that users will worry about accidentally going over the speed limit.
Hence, his company is exploring modifications to alter the devices’ speed limit and put users’ minds at ease, especially for seniors.
On top of the end-user restrictions, Ms Keng said: “The authorities should also be on the lookout for shops offering PMAs that can go over the speed limit and those that perform illegal modifications.”
Mr Chee Hong Tat, Acting Minister for Transport, said on Thursday that his ministry has received the recommendations from Amap, and will take time to review them before coming to a decision on implementation.
Those who spoke to TODAY said that the finer details of implementation — and how strictly the authorities enforce the rules later on — will determine how successful the measures are in making shared paths safer for all.
Mr Warren Chew of Falcon Mobility said: “Be draconian about it. Just get it done before someone really dies from it.”
Mr Chong said that he still sees personal mobility devices “zipping by” on the road beyond the stipulated speed limits and restrictions, arguing that this might be due to lax enforcement actions.
“Without strict enforcement, this latest initiative could end up being the same.”