E-scooter Opinion On Razor's Edge In Canberra


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In a city famed for its over-reliance on the car, Canberra pedestrians may have been quietly noticing the streets slowly becoming busier with more transport options in recent years. Two years ago saw the introduction of the Segway. Earlier this year, the long-awaited light rail finally got off the ground. Now a new way of getting around could join them, one that supporters have called a win for active transport, while its detractors have labelled a silent death trap. Electric scooters could soon become a reality on Canberra roads and footpaths, after the ACT government canvassed the idea of changing the road rules to make the transport legal. Road Safety Minister Shane Rattenbury earlier this week launched a discussion paper on whether e-scooters should be legalised, and what restrictions would be needed. Electric vehicle and active transport advocates welcomed the news with open arms, claiming it would be a win for the city and remove cars from the roads. The national secretary of the Australian Electric Vehicle Association, Chris Jones, said the success of electric scooters in larger cities as a mode of transport would translate well to Canberra’s population. “It’s been attracting attention in more densely populated cities because there’s more pedestrian traffic and there’s a cohort of people who would be willing to jump on a scooter,” Mr Jones said. “The idea [in Canberra], is wonderful. Any kind of active mobility, even if it has a motor assisting it, is one less car on the road, and that has to be worth something.” The use of e-scooters has been on the rise in recent years, fueled by scooter-sharing companies setting up in cities in Australia and around the world. Already, several scooter-sharing companies have been in talks with the ACT government since the beginning of the year about setting up a service in Canberra, should the transport be legalised on public roads and footpaths. Among them is Ride, which this year was awarded the tender process to set up in Adelaide, as well as conducting trials on the Gold Coast and St Kilda. Its chief executive Tom Cooper said Ride approached the ACT government six months ago to set up the service, and has had regular discussions since. “Canberra would be a fantastic market for electric scooters. The new light rail would work hand-in-hand with it and create mobility through Canberra,” Mr Cooper said. “There’s wider footpaths and there’s plenty of space for e-scooters to work here, and it will add to the surroundings, rather than causing clutter. We’ve seen people using them as a way to see the city in a different way as a tourism-type operations, and that’s something that’s very appealing to Canberra.” An ACT government spokesman said there was not a preferred provider at this stage. “A separate exercise will be undertaken to confirm an appropriate regulatory framework for commercial operators of dockless share schemes,” the spokesman said. “This will seek to build on the ACT bike share trial, which was very successful in protecting the public realm and avoiding the experience of other cities. “Trials from other jurisdictions were investigated in developing this discussion paper on regulating the use of e-scooters.” In a recent poll of Canberra Times readers, 58 per cent of those who responded said e-scooters shouldn’t be allowed on ACT roads. A further 30 per cent said they should be permitted, while 12 per cent were unsure. While many have seen scooter-sharing services as the future for more people using the transport, a growing number of crashes, injuries and even deaths have sparked calls to curb the use of e-scooters. Earlier this week, a 58-year-old man died following an accident involving a hired e-scooter in Auckland. A rise in accidents in France has prompted a ban on e-scooters from footpaths to be implemented later this year. Several American cities have also proposed similar measures, including Nashville, after a 26-year-old man died after hitting a car while riding a scooter last month. Closer to home, data from Queensland has shown a spike in the number of people taken to hospital following the introduction of scooter-sharing service Lime. Data from two central hospitals showed 109 patients were treated for injuries related to e-scooter accidents, showing 28 per cent of those patients were involved in crashes above 30km/h. A further 16 per cent had been drinking alcohol. It’s the growing injury count and speeds that e-scooters can reach that make Pedestrian Council of Australia chair Harold Scruby see the transport as a silent threat to safety. He said there had been many cases where cities had raced into legalising e-scooters and have only now seen the consequences. “People should realise what these scooters mean and what the potential is before they say it’s a good thing,” Mr Scruby said. “They’re too dangerous in both areas, on the road and on the footpath.” Mr Scruby said the speed of e-scooters on footpaths represented a major risk to pedestrians, some being up to 25km/h. “That’s six times the normal walking speed…it makes the footpath a very hostile place.” The National Transport Commission earlier this year examined issues surrounding the use of e-scooters, with a discussion paper on the topic soon to be released. The commission said while public demand for e-scooters is expected to grow, the increased use may result in risks to other road users, and current regulations on e-scooter usage was outdated. Fines of $151 apply for people in the ACT riding e-scooters in public areas, although an ACT police spokesman said no one had been charged with the offence in the past two years. The ACT government said in its discussion paper into e-scooter use that helmet use would be required, as well as a ban on mobile phones while driving and no alcohol impairment. Gill King, the chair of advocacy group Living Streets Canberra, said the ACT should learn from other states about their experiences with e-scooters before committing to the transport. “You’ve seen patterns all around the world, that they’ll put in place these arrangements in a rush, and often they haven’t been well thought through and then problems start arriving,” Ms King said. “Our paths are in poor condition and they’re generally not wide enough to have two people walk side by side, let alone have scooters there.” Ms King said pedestrian safety should be the top priority. “Why should pedestrians be forced off the footpath for someone on a scooter. Scooters should be added pressure for the government to improve infrastructure before they’re introduced.”

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