Electronic scooters, or e-scooters, could be considered one of the solutions for Australian cities gridlocked by traffic, but evidence shows that we should look before we leap into this “smart” technology.
California tech start-up, scooter-sharing company Lime, has surged in popularity around the world, with users buzzing about in 130 cities around the world – although Brisbane is the only Australian city so far to host the scooters. Adelaide is trialling the scooters during its fringe festival, while the company is pushing hard to roll them out in Melbourne and Sydney.
But in Auckland, New Zealand, which has had the scooters for some time, their longer-term use may be at risk due to the emergence of technical issues.
(Two people have also died riding Lime scooters, one in Washington D.C after the rider was pulled under an SUV, and another while not wearing a helmet in Dallas, Texas.)
One of New Zealand’s peak government bodies is now threatening to remove the scooters, warning of an apparent braking fault that is causing the electric scooter’s wheels to lock-up without notice.
Since October last year, the Accident Compensation Corporation (ACC) has recorded more than 1200 injury claims for e-scooters, which include Lime, Bird, Skip, Scoot and other ride-sharing services.
“From the outset, I have had serious safety concerns,” Auckland Transport chairman Lester Levy told Radio New Zealand.
“Initially about user behaviour, but recently we’re seeing what could be equipment – either software or mechanical failure,” Mr Levy said.
The perks of a scooter commuter
Those who do try e-scooters can enjoy a whimsical and cheap way of getting around, while challenging our primary mode of transport, the car.
Most car trips are short, and if electric scooters can replace some of those trips, they could alleviate congestion and help the environment through decreasing C02 emissions.
Swinburne University professor of transport engineering Hussein Dia told The New Daily that e-scooters, like ride-sharing companies, such as Uber and Lyft, could be classified under “disruptive mobility”.
The deputy director of the Smart Cities Research Institute explained e-scooters imposed ideas on how people commute in cities and their reliance on cars.
“This means that there are impacts beyond the technology. When Uber started it was a matching service; now it’s disrupting the taxi industry as an incumbent technology,” Professor Dia said.
While disrupting the car-taxi status quo, Professor Dia said there was mounting evidence to encourage alternative and new “micro-mobile” modes of transport such as e-scooters and bicycle ride-share services.
He warned against banning the technology, fearing it could stifle future transport innovation.
“There are going to be teething issues and we need to have open conversations between regulators and the public to ensure they’re safe,” Professor Dia.
How safe are they?
Auckland Council decided on Friday to temporarily suspend the e-scooter trial with Lime after safety concerns about the brakes.
One man suffered a broken jaw, and others have been injured, reportedly due to the front wheel of the Lime scooter locking unexpectedly.
The regulation of e-scooters also varies widely from state to state and between countries.
Under current laws in Victoria, owners of electric scooters with outputs above 200 watts or which can travel above 10km/h, need to hold a licence or permit, be registered and follow all laws applicable to motorcycles on the roads.
Meanwhile in Brisbane, you don’t need a driver’s licence to ride an e-scooter, while it’s a requirement to be at least 16-years-old.
Children between the ages of 12 and 16 can also ride them, but only with an accompanying adult.
The Queensland Department of Transport and Main Roads also allows users to ride up to 25km/h, on footpaths only, with helmets also required.
Monash University Accident Research Centre senior research fellow Stuart Newstead told The New Daily little was known about the safety of scooters, leaving regulators to catch up to the technology.
“From what I’ve seen, they have reasonably small wheels and even the concept of having something that goes 15km/h alongside pedestrians, is dangerous,” Mr Newstead said.