Electric scooters risk sparking fresh city brawls
Walking around Thonglor last week almost made me think for a moment that I wasn't in Bangkok. Sukhumvit seemed cool, as some commuters -- mostly expats and tourists -- zoomed about on electric standing scooters.
I like the idea that some city commuters can liberate themselves from the poor bus service, overpriced electric trains and mafia-style motorcycle taxi service. They do not have to deal with rogue taxi drivers who refuse to turn on the meter, because app-based electric standing scooters services, have become the latest option for commuters in the Sukhumvit and Thonglor area.
It remains unclear if the app-based service is here only on a trial basis, or if it has already been registered with the authorities. If it's a just a new business or a startup, then the district office should take it more seriously.
Vehicle-sharing services are not new to Thailand, though they are not so popular due to insufficient state support.
Since 2013, we've had the Pun Pun bike share, provided by the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration for free. Yet, it has been a flop because of its limited network with the service mostly crammed into the central business district. The huge stations take up too much pavement space, so much that both pedestrians and vendors alike hate them. Two years ago, the city "welcomed" app-based dockless bikes from China and Singapore, but they eventually faded as they are incompatible with the city's public transport system.
Ride-sharing, or even vehicle-sharing services are not a new trend. Shared bicycles, motorcycles and cars, have been around in Europe for a few years now. Shared electric standing scooters was launched last year in several major cities, including Paris and Brussels, and were very well-received by the cities' residents, as they make commuting more fun.
It seems ideal if one can just grab a dockless vehicle to make short trips around the city. In Brussels, users can even earn money if they take the scooter and recharge at home before returning it the next day.
But as the popularity of such services increases among commuters, the shared vehicles are starting to become an issue with other members of society, who cannot tolerate certain practices, such as indiscriminate parking.
There have been media reports about backlashes from residents who are angered by such inconsiderate behaviour, with some going as far as damaging the vehicles.
It's understandable why more and more locals across many cities are getting frustrated and choosing to take matters into their own hands by dumping some of the vehicles in places where they definitely do not belong, such as canals and rivers. A recent photograph that made the rounds on Belgian social media about two months ago showed two Jump electric bikes -- operated by Uber -- "swimming" in a swamp, accompanied with a headline that says "Uber Bikes Do Not Float". While Bangkok used to have the same bike-sharing system, we haven't see any thrown into a klong yet.
Unlike car-sharing services, which require proper allocated parking spots, shared bicycles and standing scooters can be left anywhere -- by a pole, a lamp post or a train station entrance, blocking access for passengers.
I'm sure users are required to park the shared vehicles in a proper spot after use, but how many users would actually follow the rules is up for debate, especially if they are in a hurry and there are not enough designated parking spots for dockless vehicles -- which ironically is the reason why they have become so popular.
If street vendors are banned from pavements for causing a nuisance, then the same rule should be applied to other businesses, including app-based scooter shares.
I don't mind having these shared vehicles in public spaces if they can really help improve mobility. But fair play is needed. We've seen how motorcycle taxi "stations" get the privilege of pavement locations and overcharge passengers, without any real improvement in overall mobility. Operators should be registered and pay taxes -- not just to operate, but to use the pavements. Strict rules, including speed limits and returning used vehicles, must be enforced.
If not, the state could see more fights erupt as some motorcycle taxi drivers may go after shared scooter riders -- the way they did with an app-based rival, since the new service will affect their earnings. Otherwise City Hall may find some scooters in klongs with the usual garbage.
Something needs to be done before people start fighting each other on the streets.
Sirinya Wattanasukchai is a columnist, Bangkok Post.
Sirinya Wattanasukchai is a columnist for the Bangkok Post.