Opinion | In Light of COVID-19, Singapore Could Relax the PMD Ban

The ban of Personal Mobility Devices (PMDs) on footpaths should be laxed for food and grocery delivery riders now. This can be a good stopgap measure that will help out five key groups of people in Singapore with minimal disturbances to the public:

  1. Existing delivery riders, who may fall under the lower income family group, will be able to generate more income due to efficiencies brought about by better work tools. 
  2. Lower income families whose livelihoods have been affected by the pandemic can be supported by exploring delivery services as an income booster.
  3. The food industry, which is most affected by the circuit breaker, can better survive with a wider reach of customers.
  4. Customers will enjoy much needed, faster and better delivery service.
  5. Singapore will benefit from having more people stay at home instead of heading out to get food takeaways or go grocery shopping.

Why were PMDs first banned?

LTA officers fine errant PMD users. (Source)

As someone who used to be anti-PMD before the circuit breaker, I am acutely aware of the negativities surrounding it. PMDs were banned for an obvious reason – It is dangerous when unregulated due to irresponsible usage.

Over 100 PMD-related fires occured in 2019, double that of the year before. Errant use has resulted in injuries and deaths due to collisions.

However, the situation is different now.

With empty streets islandwide, footpaths are no longer as crowded, if at all, reducing the risk of collisions. In addition, the disposal for Non-UL2272 PMDs have also been in place since 2019. The threat of auto-degistration of Non-UL2272 PMDs on 1 July 2020, and the provision of incentives and free disposal to get rid of Non-UL2272 PMDs have allowed the numbers of these illegal and dangerous PMDs to go down.

While the safety of pedestrians is a definite priority, laxing the ban of PMDs on footpaths for food and grocery delivery riders can do more good than harm during this circuit breaker. Afterall, different times call for different actions. 

Existing delivery riders, who may fall under the lower income family group, will be able to generate more income due to efficiencies brought about by better work tools.

Food delivery riders tend to be young and low-income. Half of the food delivery riders in Singapore earn a monthly household per capita income of $1,500 or less, putting them in the bottom third of Singapore’s workers.

Following the ban, riders can use only 440km of cycling paths, down from 5, 500km of footpaths. Delivery orders fulfilled in a shift halved, falling from 15 to 20 deliveries to just eight deliveries.

With a lax in the ban of PMDs on foot paths, we can double the income for delivery riders in this crisis.

Lower income families whose livelihoods have been affected by the pandemic can be supported by exploring delivery services as an income booster.

While the government has a lot of incentives in place to help lower income families affected by the virus to tide over, there is still more that can be done to ensure self-sustainability. This is particularly so as nobody can say for certain when the circuit breaker will end.

Even from the most optimistic outlook, the earliest end of the pandemic will be in mid-2020. This assumes that everybody is following stay home orders, and that the second, third or fourth wave of virus does not hit us. Even so, global economic activity will not recover overnight. The process will be gradual, as lifting restrictions promptly can result in a second wave of infection. In light of this, it is difficult for the government to continue dishing out sufficient solidarity and resilience plans until the end of 2020 or beyond.

With that in mind, lower income families or freelancers whose livelihoods have been affected by the virus will need to make a sustainable career switch. Finding a job can be difficult in this crisis given that firms are cutting salaries or jobs altogether. As such, delivery services may be a good low entry barrier option. The laxing on the ban of PMDs on footpaths can help too.

Imagine that you are a freelance photographer whose income just got nullified due to the virus. All projects have been infinitely postponed or cancelled. Event photography is out since gatherings are forbidden, people are postponing their weddings so wedding photography is out too. You cannot take architecture shots too with all the barricades and cross markings everywhere. Besides, your lighting assistant cannot join you on shoots given that this is not an essential service and you need to stop work. You have no income for the next few months, or for more than a year. You are sure that photography will not be at the top of your clients mind as the economy slowly recovers.

You decide to try being a food delivery rider for the time being. After all, there is e-learning online to make the transition a breeze. However, you are not sure if this will generate sufficient income for you. You are unfamiliar in terms of navigation since foot paths are banned. You can cycle on a bicycle on foot paths, but you are not sure if you have the strength to cycle for so long under the hot sun.

By lifting the ban of PMDs on footpaths, career switches to the food and grocery delivery sector will be smoother.

The food industry, which is most affected by the circuit breaker, can better survive with a wider reach of customers.

Many riders attended Meet-The-People sessions late last year to air their grievances. (Source)

Supply disruptions due to border restrictions have affected the food industry. Following the circuit breaker and social distancing measures, dining in has been ruled out at restaurants. People are staying home with their family instead of eating out as a group in a fine setting, making the tendency to splurge lower. With more time at home, some may have even started to cook or bake.

In short, the food industry has been severely hit, and are now limited to takeaway and delivery-only options.

While food businesses are putting themselves on food delivery platforms and advertising discounts on multiple sites, there is still a limit to their area of reach. Should the circuit breaker extend, which seems highly likely in today’s climate, people living around the place will get sick of the food. Takeaways and online deliveries are likely to go down, which can be very worrying for the small stall owners with only one or two outlets.

With PMDs being allowed on footpaths, deliveries can cover a larger area to reach a wider pool of new audience. This will help food businesses stay alive in the long run. 

Needless to say, having more food options and a faster delivery time will benefit customers too.

Singapore will benefit from having more people stay at home instead of heading out to get food takeaways or go grocery shopping.

We are staying home to flatten the curve, and there is a need to keep our needs met to avoid going out of the house. Given that we head out only for essential activities, the time spent at home can be maximised if two of our main daily essentials can be met from home. Eating and getting groceries are two such activities.

In fact, other countries are relaxing PMD laws as well. Prior to the pandemic, e-bikes were outlawed in New York City. Despite efforts to legalise e-biked and even throttle-powered e-bikes, the New York Governor Andrew Cuomo still vetoed the bill in December 2019. However, in a bid to support food delivery efforts during the COVID-19 pandemic, the ban has now been shelved. This shows that it is possible to react to evolving societal needs brought about in this extraordinary time.

Monitoring and education is key

While laxing or even lifting the ban of PMDs on footpaths seems to overflow with benefits, there are still some considerations to take note of. Educating and monitoring the safe usage of PMDs on footpaths is still important. Just as how ambassadors and enforcement officers are helping to ensure social distancing, they can also be deployed to monitor PMD usage.

The ban can be reinstated

In 2013, LTA promoted the use of bicycles and PMDs as transport options for short trips to encourage active mobility in its Land Transport Masterplan. In 2019, the ban of PMDs on footpaths came into effect, with S$7 million spent to help food delivery riders with electric scooters switch to bicycles, power-assisted bicycles (PABs) or personal mobility aids.


In 2020, all motorised PMDs were planned to be banned from April onwards, with minimum age requirement and online theory test to follow. However, with COVID-19 affecting the world around us, laxing the ban will be a good stopgap measure. When things go back to normal, when our footpaths are brimming with life again, and when we are privileged enough to not rely on delivery services anymore, the ban can be reinstated.


This piece was written by Vanessa Ng. All op-eds (included this one), are expressions of the authors’ views, not Kopi’s editorial stance. Kopi is committed to publishing a diversity of letters and opinions. Email us at hello@thekopi.co if you have something to say. 

Follow Kopi on Facebook to be notified of new articles. Share our passion for storytelling and Singapore? Drop us an email.

In a world that is bubbling with clickbait, sensationalism and oversimplifications, Kopi aims to bring long-form journalism back to South-East Asia.

Through deeply analysed articles, we uncover and explain the complex and multifaceted issues facing our societies. Through engaging narratives, we tell stories that are bold and unique.

More Stories
Opinion: Now That the Mooncake Festival Is Over, Let Me Vent
%d bloggers like this: