14 September 2023

E-scooters are spreading to NSW - do you think we should warn them?

| James Coleman
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Looks idyllic? Not seen in the photo are all the scooters actually in the lake. Photo: Neuron.

So there I was, 10 years old, navigating the aisles in Bunnings Tuggeranong with a trolley near bowing under the weight of five bags of cement powder when a woman came bounding out of one of the ‘T-intersections’.

The few kilograms of me were a passenger at this point, so the trolley continued its forward trajectory and came to an abrupt stop in the woman’s ankles. There was a yelp, followed by a look that would startle death itself.

My father exonerated me by pointing out she needed to look where she was going and not simply pull out, but I’ve always looked back on this moment with guilt.

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I can put a date on when this outlook changed, however. October 2020. That’s when the universe gave the woman’s bruised ankles a purpose. I was simply preparing her for a future when she’d have to dodge e-scooters.

October 2020 was when micro-mobility rental providers Neuron (orange) and Beam (purple) introduced 750 e-scooters each to Civic. Since then, more have been rolled out across Gungahlin, Woden, Weston Creek, Tuggeranong and the Molonglo Valley.

The ACT Government, which collects $1 per scooter per day from today’s fleet of 1850, pitched it as a new age for active travel in the city. That has a better ring to it than, say, “a lot of you are about to get hurt”.

electronic scooter

The orange Neuron scooters cost $1 to unlock and 38 cents per minute, and the purple Beam 45 cents per minute with no unlock cost. Photo: Michelle Kroll.

I have to admit, I’ve never actually ridden an e-scooter. Partly because I’ve only ever walked past one when I’ve been in a rush to get somewhere and figured that the time it takes me to scan the QR code, and then again because it didn’t work the first time before I’m eventually underway is more time than it would take for me to just keep walking.

But mostly because I don’t trust things on two wheels – they are intrinsically destined to fall over at some point.

If you think I’m wrong here, a recent study by the ACT branch of the Australia Orthopaedic Association (AOA ACT) found 623 hospital admissions from e-scooters over 15 months, 17 per cent of which required surgery. Think broken bones.

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So when I heard Wollongong was about to become the first city centre in NSW to roll out e-scooters from the end of this month, naturally I felt compelled to warn their equivalent of the poor woman in Bunnings.

From Friday, 29 September, locals 16 years or older will be able to jump on a shared Neuron e-scooter as part of a trial that’s expected to run for 12 months.

The scooters will be limited to “eligible roads and shared paths” and speed capped at 10 km/h for shared paths and 20 km/h for bicycle paths and roads with a speed limit up to 50 km/h. They will “not be permitted for use on footpaths”.

Geofencing technology will serve as the electronic nanny, controlling where the scooters are ridden and parked, and how fast they can travel in certain areas.

Beam e-scooters

They hardly ever look that neat. Photo: Michelle Kroll.

All of this is familiar language to us in Canberra. But as we know, it fails to hold back the bounds of human imagination when it comes to finding loopholes.

First, you only have to look at the average car park to know not everyone gets the whole ‘driving-to-the-conditions’ thing. One minute you’re strolling along a footpath and the next you’re nearly mowed down by an e-scooter doing Mach 2.

Next, there was the dumping. Riders are incentivised to park the scooter upright with the helmet in a place where someone might actually find it – you aren’t slapped with an extra fee. But there seems to be a black-market award for getting scooters into awkward positions. Upside down in Lake Burley Griffin is a common one.

Up to this point, we’ve come to know the ecosystem of our lakes and rivers in the ACT is made up of carp, blue-green algae, shopping trolleys and a bit of water to make up the difference. But now there’s a new element in the mix – e-scooters. Clean-up crews are constantly dredging them up.

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To minimise these occasions and the consequences were an intoxicated person to have free reign on footpaths at 25 km/h, the ACT had to pass new ‘drink-riding’ laws in April last year. There are now fines of up to $3200 for “dangerous behaviour” while on an e-scooter.

Then Summernats arrived in January and a small contingent of the festival that previously held no regard for pinching numberplates and hooning around Fyshwick found a new way to satisfy their need for speed for between 38 and 45 cents a minute.

I didn’t know there was a way to do burnouts on an e-scooter, but there they were, all over the ‘rainbow roundabout’ in Braddon.

Of course, it will always be thus. You have a good thing, bad people ruin it for the good people, but that doesn’t mean good people shouldn’t have good things.

But a warning for Wollongong: don’t do what we did and go into the e-scooter trend all rosey-tinted. And watch your ankles.

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“I don’t trust things on two wheels” So, I guess we should all throw away our bicycles too then?
This whole article reads as if you want e-scooters to be banned, and then only at the very end do you say bad people being around shouldn’t mean good people don’t get good things.

And for all the complaints about people being so dangerous on e-scooters, personally I almost never see anyone ride one here…

Gregg Heldon8:16 am 16 Sep 23

I hate them. They are generally left right in the middle of footpaths. Last week on Mortimer Lewis Drive in Greenway, four were left together on a footpath completely blocking it. So I moved them. A regular occurrence.
And they don’t get picked up like they’re supposed to. If left in position in front of my residence after 7 days, I ring them.
And some users attitudes towards people on shared paths walking their dogs are worse than cyclists.
And if you’re over 18 and you ride them, you’re not cool and you don’t look cool. Scooters are for 10 year olds.
Grumpy old man rant over.

You realise 10 year olds aren’t allowed to ride these?

Gregg Heldon8:31 pm 17 Sep 23

Missed my point. Scooters are for 10 years olds.

Gregg Heldon8:33 pm 17 Sep 23

Missed my point. Scooters are for 10 year olds.

Your information is incorrect. The purple Beam scooters cost $1 to unlock and 51 cents per km.

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