6 April 2023

Is the future of e-scooters safe in Canberra?

| James Coleman
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E-scooters in the rain

The e-scooter scheme has been expanded to other zones around Canberra since 2020. Photo: Michelle Kroll.

Paris was among the first cities in the world to adopt electric scooters in 2018. But in a referendum over the weekend, Parisian residents have voted to ban them for causing more harm than good.

Fewer than eight per cent of the city’s population turned out to vote. But more than 90 per cent of the count included those disgruntled with how riders were weaving through traffic, speeding through crowded areas, cluttering pavements and crashing into other riders and pedestrians.

So what does it mean for other e-scooter cities, including Canberra? Are similar bans on the horizon?

It’s been 30 months since micro-mobility rental providers Neuron (orange) and Beam (purple) brought 750 e-scooters each to Canberra in October 2020. Since then, more have been rolled out across Gungahlin, Woden, Weston Creek, Tuggeranong and the Molonglo Valley.

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The appeal is travelling at speeds up to 15 km/h on footpaths and 25 km/h on roads, for a $1 unlock fee and 45 cents per minute, whether you’re commuting for work or wanting to get to that restaurant on time. Or just riding for fun.

The latest ride report data reveals the 1900-strong Canberra fleet has logged a total of 2.7 million journeys and covered 5.3 million kilometres since introduction.

The highest number of e-scooter trips in one day was 10,200 on Saturday, 7 January this year, most likely thanks to Summernats (when some riders also laid black burnouts on Braddon’s rainbow roundabout).

The lowest usage was during the height of the COVID pandemic in September 2021, when only 200 trips were logged in one day.

The daily average number of trips is 3300, at an average speed of 9.6 km/h. And the 14-day rolling average of journeys has never fallen below 2000.

electronic scooter

Financial incentives await for parking your shared e-scooter properly. Photo: Michelle Kroll.

Most of these have been in and around the city, around Bunda and Alinga streets, and in parts of London Circuit and Braddon. Tracking data also reveals some scooters have made it as far north as Horse Park Drive in Gungahlin and Drakeford Drive in Isabella Plains in the south.

But it hasn’t all been plain scootering.

E-scooters are frequently recovered from places they shouldn’t be, including in lakes and rivers. And while the scooters automatically slow down in designated high-traffic zones, there are still near misses.

In response, the ACT Government ramped up the rules late 2021 to include fines of $3200 for riding an e-scooter while drunk. This followed a six-month review which found some confusion around how e-scooters related to existing road rules.

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The Queensland University of Technology (QUT) is currently running a research project exploring e-scooter use and safety around Australia, with Canberra its last stop after Adelaide and Brisbane.

The online survey invites Canberrans (even those who don’t use e-scooters) to share their views by 30 April for the chance to win one of five $100 GiftPay vouchers.

QUT lead researcher professor Narelle Haworth says there are no findings to report yet, but “observational research” in Brisbane has shown “hospitals reporting concerning levels of head injuries”.

“The novelty of e-scooters is also an issue contributing to riders being inexperienced and to pedestrians being concerned about e-scooters,” she says.

It seems riders are more reluctant to wear helmets on e-scooters than bicycles. Photo: Supplied.

While the Paris referendum might have grabbed the world’s attention, Professor Haworth doesn’t expect the same approach in places such as Canberra where there are more restrictions on e-scooter use.

“There may be calls for bans in other cities, but the approach of tightening restrictions is probably going to be more common than outright bans,” she says.

“It will be interesting to see whether, in response, shared e-scooters might be introduced with docking stations and whether Paris locals might switch from using shared e-scooters to buying their own.”

QUT’s research goal is to improve conditions and safety for people on both sides of the e-scooter debate, but particularly non-riders.

“These are people encountering e-scooters as they’re walking or riding a bicycle or in some way having to share the infrastructure with them,” Prof. Haworth says.

“E-scooters have potential to improve access to public transport and replace short car trips. Our research aims to help the ACT Government better understand how much of this potential is being achieved and how best to ensure the safety of riders and pedestrians.”

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You know what would be a great idea? Taking away alternate modes of transport so we can have more cars blocking up our roads!

Leon Arundell7:29 pm 13 Apr 23

At an average of 3,300 trips per day, hire e-scooters provide one fifth of one per cent of Canberra trips. At 45 cents per minute they cost more than $1 per kilometre. The main beneficiaries are the foreign companies that take profits out of Canberra. The hire scooter support van fleets, that retrieve, repair, recharge and relocate the scooters, cause considerable greenhouse emissions.

Bart Simpson4:30 pm 10 Apr 23

Walking around Lake Tuggeranong two near misses by two beam scooters and trying to drive out my driveway a Beam e scooter blocked my car exit. On several occasions Beam and neuron e scooters dumped, blocked the pathway, I thought was for pedestrians. Very much want to see them gone. Not to mention the speed in which they go on the pathways is extraordinarily fast.

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