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Micro-Mobility In The Pandemic

4 min read
COVID-19 has given rise to a dependence on the home-delivery of everything from food to shopping, leading to more micro-mobility devices being used to make these deliveries. What impact does this have on our roads?

The coronavirus pandemic has totally shifted our priorities in life. Where community and sharing were once the norm, consumers are now expected to safe-distance and resort to more solitary activities. As far as their jobs allowed, people prefer working from home rather than travel to the office. All this has given rise to consumer dependence on convenient home delivery services for online purchases of cooked food, groceries, and other lifestyle must-haves.

Micro-mobility in Singapore was mostly used as a leisure mode of transport in the past, but the onset of the pandemic has seen it take on the role of the transport mode of choice for last-stage delivery of food and similarly light goods. While not as far reaching as delivery motorcycles and vans, they aid the food delivery industry in providing a quick delivery response for the immediate neighbourhoods and its surrounding areas.

When movement was restricted during the Circuit Breaker, demand for food delivery services went up by 20–30%. More restaurants and even hawker stalls signed up to partner food delivery operators, resulting in increased demand for food delivery riders. For example, GrabFood and Deliveroo recorded an 80% increase in weekly applications to be delivery riders in April 2020 compared to numbers in March 2020.

Though the use of micro-mobility devices has resolved issues on the delivery front, it also presented challenges. As most of these delivery riders are paid by the job, these riders will try and fulfil as many orders as possible in the least amount of time. There is also greater pressure and expectation to deliver orders on time or as quickly as possible as food companies compete for customers. Riders then tend to speed to keep up to get to their destination to make up for increase waiting times at the food vendor as demand may be high at peak periods, and that is a recipe for disaster. These speeding delivery riders are adding more woes to road traffic already populated with other errant motorists and road users.

Unlike their motorcycle-riding counterparts, riders on e-bikes and bicycles are, at the moment, not required to undergo any test to ascertain their knowledge of road rules — that is expected to change this year, when users will have to pass an online theory test before they are allowed to use their devices on public paths. Previously, when rules and regulations were vague with no clear enforcement of the rules, micro-mobility riders were largely not held accountable for their behaviour on the roads. There have been cases where delivery riders have, in their quest to find the quickest route, ridden from pedestrian-designated paths straight onto roads meant for vehicles; there are numerous other examples of such careless actions in the quest to complete the job as quickly as possible. This can result in an accident if motorists fail to spot or react in time to reckless delivery guys on micro-mobility devices. Motorists may also not be able to see them in their blind spots if these riders suddenly appear at the back of vehicles.

As with distracted driving, distracted riding is also becoming a problem. Many food delivery riders rely on their phones to either check on orders or use GPS to get to their intended destination, and this distraction while riding could lead to a nasty accident. To address this problem, a ban was issued last year on holding and operating a mobile phone while riding and all communication devices must be mounted or used in a hands-free manner.

With so many delivery riders zipping in and out of traffic especially during peak periods like lunch or dinner, the odds of an accident happening are considerably higher especially in congested traffic conditions. And to cope with demand, some riders may resort to dangerously overloading their micro-mobility devices. On days of bad weather, when many choose to order in instead of dining out, delivery riders must continue working through thunderstorms or torrential rain, raising the risk for these riders and other motorists. While bike riders here must wear helmets, it is not compulsory for micro-mobility users to wear one. In fact micro-mobility riders don’t usually wear any protective gear or have safety features like reflectors or adequate lights on their rides, features that will protect them when, say, riding at night.

Around the world, micro-mobility is an important trend for cities looking to reduce single-occupant car use and reduce emissions, although challenges abound. Singapore has, in response to that, introduced the Active Mobility Act to help better integrate micro-mobility into the community. This is an important step if micro-mobility is to play a bigger role here as Singapore heads to a more ‘car-lite’ future post-pandemic.