Uneasy road ahead for escooters


New way to get around: People riding ebikes at Armenian Street in George Town, Penang. — CHAN BOON KAI/The Star

GEORGE TOWN: Authorities can set rules but enforcing them to make sure businesses and individuals toe the line is quite another thing.

This is clear in Penang because even though electric scooters are banned, the joy of effortlessly gliding through the streets on personal mobility vehicles is too much of an allure for tourists, and despite all efforts, it is not easy for the local authority to stop their use.

Tourists love to rent them in the city’s heritage enclave and zoom around the streets till late into the night, posing a hazard to both motorists and pedestrians.

Penang Island City Council (MBPP) enforcers had been seen since last year carrying out raids till well past midnight, but it is a challenge to stop the trend because the rental of personal mobility vehicles is a profitable business here.

According to a former city councillor who wishes to remain anonymous, MBPP recognised the value of micro-mobility vehicles for “first and last mile connections in public transport”.

After many debates for and against their use, MBPP published “Garis Panduan Penggunaan Mikromobiliti di Kawasan Pulau” in January on its website.

In the guidelines, all types of human-powered bicycles, unicycles and power-assisted bicycles (which have batteries and motors to help keep the bicycle moving at 25kph) are allowed on all types of roads and lanes.

All other types of personal mobility vehicles, including escooters and battery-powered wheelchairs, are only allowed in dedicated bicycle lanes, along the back lanes of the heritage enclave, and on specific streets closed to traffic on the island’s Sunday car-free zones from 6am to 1pm, which only encompasses a small section of the heritage enclave.

These must not be used on public roads and pedestrian walkways at any time.

The city councillor admitted that it was difficult to regulate the use of micro-mobility vehicles in the city due to its vast network of roads and the many operators providing rentals.

“Some shops have been compounded numerous times for violating their licencing terms, but many just pay the fines and continue to operate,” he said.

He reminded users that the police and Road Transport Department enforcers were empowered to take action against them if they violated traffic laws.

Checks found that tourists can rent various types of personal mobility vehicles from various providers who operate from day to night. The general rental rates range from RM15 for battery-powered bicycles, RM20 for mountain bikes, and RM40 for tandem bicycles for a day’s use.

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Electric scooter rentals cost more at RM20 per hour, and customers are reminded that these can only be ridden within nearby areas and not out of the heritage enclave, where traffic would be busier.

But tourists like to wander, and they have been seen using these electric scooters all the way at Penang Botanic Gardens, about 6km from the heritage enclave.

“Tourists will usually rent for between three and six hours.

“We provide them with helmets for safety, and if the vehicles break down, they can call us for assistance.

“For electric scooters, they are only allowed to be ridden in specific areas, and we discourage them from going onto main roads as it is prohibited to be used there.

“In the past, there were (more) enforcement efforts.

“We stress the rules to tourists because we wish to continue operating with a good image, as 95% of our customers are tourists who are new here,” said an operator who declined to be named.

State local government committee chairman Jason H’ng said that the state government had been internally running in-depth studies on the benefits versus hazards of personal mobility vehicles.

“We know that personal mobility vehicles are in vogue in many countries.

“They can be a personal transport solution as long as their use is well regulated.

“It will take a combination of local government rules and laws by federal authorities such as the Road Transport Department (JPJ).

“MBPP has had guidelines on their use since January, and we have been actively running checks, public awareness education, and enforcement activities.

“We remind users that if they use disallowed personal mobility vehicles on public roads, they risk facing action by the police or JPJ.

“At MBPP, we know which shops are renting them out. We will conduct stringent and regular checks on them,” said H’ng.

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