e-scooters: don’t ban them by accident

A temporary exemption in official classifications means we get to have e-scooters in NZ. But that exemption’s expiring and there’s real “baby goes out with bathwater” risk, so pop in your 2c BY 5PM MONDAY 7th!

If you want to do this real quick, scroll to …. you guessed, it, our friend the typing cat!

What’s up?

E-scooters (and e-skateboards and e-bikes and all sorts of micromobility things – small-electric-motored wheely things) are pretty new to the world – even newer than cars.

Every country worldwide is having to classify them (including ones way more advanced than ours). The NZ government’s vehicle classifications are pretty old-school and need updating (like everyone’s). That’s quite the process, with lots of ramifications, including where are different vehicles allowed to go.

A temporary exemption

In the interim, NZ just made a declaration that exempted e-scooters with motors up to 300 watts from being “motor vehicles”. This is part of what enabled the general “trial” approach to having these e-scooters at all in NZ. If e-scooters were a “motor vehicle”, every scooter would have to have a rego and WOF. This would be tantamount to a ban: the companies currently providing e-scooters couldn’t possibly afford this, at least without making scooters prohibitively expensive to use.

The declaration also meant that you didn’t need to have a licence to ride one. Waka Kotahi explain that if the declaration lapses or isn’t renewed, “e-scooter riders would need to be licensed. However, because there is currently no way of licensing them, it means that e-scooters could only be used on private property and in areas that are not legally considered roads (eg, skateparks).” Whoa. So nobody would be able to use those (prohibitively expensive) scooters to actually get anywhere.

The declaration with its exemption from “motor vehicle”-ness is lapsing on 30th September.

Waka Kotahi want people’s feedback by 5pm tomorrow Monday 7th August on whether they should renew the declaration (or, presumably, renew it with some tweaks).

Let’s keep e-scooters around and accessible

E-scooters, like e-bikes, are absolutely vital to a lower-emissions, less-congested ways of getting around. People are already using them in droves for those “last mile, first mile” trips to public transport, and while the lack of safe road space is still holding back people’s use (the scariness factor) they’re already helping the bolder among us to get up hills without sweating (or driving, or waiting for a bus), and do loads of short trips with less effort and more safety (especially at night).


Let’s get them safely off the footpaths

Separately (but in the same declaration), the government also let e-scooters go on the footpath. This was basically a spineless step reflecting how feeble New Zealand road authorities are about making roads safer for “fresh air travellers” – i.e. people not encased in a large vehicle. e-Scooters could go in the traffic lane in any street with real operating speeds of 30kph. They could go in bike lanes. But that’s currently illegal (fun fact!).

People should not be forced to scoot (or bike) on footpaths, scaring vulnerable folks (and everyone else) for no good reason. Indeed, mobility scooters are often reasonably wide, with small wheels, and many narrow or badly-maintained footpaths – just a bad thing for all of us – are also dangerous for people mobility-scooting. Decent “little roads” let people on all sorts of small wheely things go along safely and easily.

(In case we need reminding, what’s forcing normal people on bikes or scooters (i.e. who aren’t adrenaline-junkies, or hardened “road warriors”) to scoot / cycle on the footpath?

It’s councils being too scared of shouty constituents saying “What!?! Convert some street carparking to make safe space for biking or e-scooting or mobility scooting!? How DARE you!!!!” and “Ask me to slow down a bit when I’m driving through a city centre or a place where there’s loads of people? HOW VERY DARE YOU!!!!!”

This is the Hunger Games of the street, and it’s entirely of our own making.)

Then there’s parking. Oh, scooter parking.

People gonna people, so just like thoughtless parking of any vehicle, some e-scooter people park like dorks. Like thoughtless dorkish parking of cars (or thoughtless placement of wheelibins), this kills the only safe passage down a street for vulnerable people – those with impairments using mobility aids, or who’re old, or carrying groceries, or with a pushchair…

So, to sum up: e-scooting and also e-scooter parking on footpaths is generally rubbish and it’s well documented to be worst for the more vulnerable folks among us. (While noting that e-scooters are also relied on by a minority of folks with disabilities, that aren’t major movement impairments.)

So the gist of your feedback to Waka Kotahi should be: make sure escooters can become a bigger part of our transport system, AND sort out the footpath stuff already.

TL:DR and just want to have my 2c

Here’s some suggestions for filling in the survey (it’s not super clear if it’s formal submissions but it’s clearly influencing the government’s thinking). Do it by 5pm Monday 7th August!

Here’s the survey.

Some general statements if you like – inspiration only, put these in your own words)

I support renewing the declaration to allow e-scooters in New Zealand. They’re vital for space-efficient, low-carbon getting-around, that can replace lots of short car trips, flatten hills, boost uptake of public transport, and help young people get home safely at night.

And I want to see thoughtful regulation and management so society can get more of the benefits of them, and fewer of the downsides.

I want to see safe space for scooting off footpaths, and the first thing to yield should always be private cars driven by able-bodied people – especially parking and traffic speeds in centres.

Specific question suggestions:

Do you, your whānau, or friends have any challenges sharing footpaths with e-scooters? If so, what are these challenges?

[your answer]

Let e-scooters go in bike lanes! Make really 30kph streets! Make more bike/scooter lanes!

Do good regulation on speed limits and parking – use geofencing more.

Do you, your whānau, or friends use e-scooters as a way to travel or ride recreationally?

[your answer]

Have you noticed any improvements in your journeys as a result of measures like parking bays and geo-fencing?

Yes, designated parking areas and technology like geo-fencing (e.g. where scooters are compulsorily speed limited on the waterfront, and can’t be parked on Lambton Quay) are helping.

Use these tools, noting that the first thing to yield should be onstreet car-parking for private cars driven by able-bodied people, and traffic speeds in centres.

Go you good thing!

Read more:

Image credits:

Chasm:Karl Jilg, with additions by Talk Wellington

Banner: pocket lint

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