Concerned university students issue statement in solidarity with food delivery workers in light of sudden PMD ban on footpaths

Over a hundred students have come together to express their solidarity with the food delivery workers (hereafter deliverers) in light of the recent ban of Personal Mobility Devices (PMDs) on footpaths, hoping that the concerns and livelihood of the deliverers can be well-consulted and considered in policy-making, and that members of the public can empathise with, and provide moral support to, the deliverers affected in this period.

Earlier on 4 Nov, Senior Minister of State for Transport Lam Pin Min announced that PMDs, including e-scooters, hoverboards and unicycles, will be banned on all footpaths except Park Connector Network (PCN) and cycling paths starting from 5 Nov – less than 24 hrs from the point of announcement.

Dr Lam said in Parliament that the ban follows France’s move to prohibit the riding of e-scooters on its pavements, following the high number of accidents involving such devices, several of which were fatal.

He said that the Government had expected PMD users to “be gracious and responsible” with “public education” on the responsible use of such devices, despite possible challenges facing the co-sharing of footpaths with pedestrians.

“Unfortunately, this was not so,” he lamented. He stated that “cities have allowed the use of such devices on footpaths” initially “as they are non-pollutive, inexpensive and, if properly used, convenient for short intra-town travels”.

For the past two weeks, affected food deliverers have turned up at MPS to voice their concerns to the MPs. Some questioned the ban, some hope for a reversal of the ban while some ask for assistance as they are no longer able to use PMDs as their mode of transport to work.

Sympathy for the difficulties by food deliveries 

In the statement signed by 127 current and graduated university students – who are largely from the National University of Singapore, it is noted that the ban was instituted as a response to serious accidents involving PMDs, and condolences were expressed to all the victims of such accidents.

At the same time, they also expressed their sympathy to the deliverers with regard to the effects of the ban on their livelihood, their gratitude and appreciation as beneficiaries of their service, as well as their support for the organization and collective expression of grievances towards the Members of Parliament (MPs) at the various MPS and closed-door meetings across the country.

Signatures for the statement was signed over the course of a week through circulation among friends. Identifying themselves as ones who benefit from the work of the food deliverers, the students expressed their gratitude as well as sympathy for the difficulties they are currently facing.

“The deliverers we encounter are decent, honest and hard-working people who work hard to fulfil our orders, rain or shine. Despite playing an important role in the food and beverage industry today, these food deliverers experience precarious working conditions due to their status as gig employees rather than traditional employees. This means that they have irregular incomes that are heavily dependent on their daily effort. Additionally, these deliverers lack protection, formal workers’ associations and representation despite the dangerous traffic-facing nature of their job. With the PMD ban in place, the working conditions of the deliverers have become even more precarious.” state the students.

Other than highlighting the reduced income from the lower volume of orders that food deliverers can handle due to the ban, the students also voiced strongly against physical, verbal or online acts of vigilantism that threaten the safety and livelihoods of the deliverers and urged the members of the public to empathize with the ordeal of the deliverers.

“Particularly, many have expressed frustration at PMD deliverers for not willing to accept the government’s offers to switch jobs and upskill themselves. While we understand that such recommendations are well-intentioned, we urge the public to consider the difficulties for the deliverers to do so due to their socio-economic conditions and lack of flexibility that many of them face. Not everyone has the opportunity to switch jobs easily or upskill themselves, and many, especially single parents, value the flexibility given to them by food delivery jobs.”

They also urged the food delivery companies to take serious steps in providing these workers support and protection during this precarious period, suggesting that the companies could consider increasing their delivery commissions to offset the decreased incomes of the deliverers due to their switch to slower modes of transport to adhere to the ban. This would also incentivise errant riders to not engage in unsafe behaviour to compensate for a potential loss in earnings, said the students.

Hope that government will take in suggestions from deliverers

Following the mass turnouts at the MPS, a S$7 million trade-in assistance programme was announced after the ban to help riders switch out their PMDs with power-assisted bicycles or e-bikes without added costs to the riders themselves.

The programme which is a collaboration between the government and three major food delivery companies in Singapore: Foodpanda, GRabFood and Deliveroo, will provide a grant of up to S$1,000 per person to help existing delivery riders with one of the three companies to trade-in their PMDs for an alternative device, be it an e-bike or a regular bicycle.

Welcoming the trade-in and grant program, the students urge the government to continue engaging with the deliverers as well as other concerned parties surrounding the PMD ban to better understand their concerns and demands, and make appropriate revisions to the policy.

“We hope that the government can take in suggestions from the deliverers such as implementing a mandatory licensing regime for PMD deliverers, an extended probation period for the ban, and also look at improving the road infrastructure to better accommodate these riders in the long-term.” wrote the students.

Parents in Singapore too voiced their complaints about the sudden ban as they too use PMDs as a means of ferrying their children to school. The trade-program, unfortunately, does not apply to them.

The government will provide an advisory period from 5 Nov to 31 Dec this year to allow PMD users some time to adjust to the recent ban and from 1 January 2020, a zero-tolerance approach will be taken and those caught riding an e-scooter on footpaths will face regulatory action.

Offenders are liable for fines up to $2,000 and/or face imprisonment of up to 3 months, if convicted.

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