Electric Scooters - EV Disruptors

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Words: Peter Louisson
18 Oct 2019

Here we are talking the likes of Lime rather than Lambretta. Now that they’ve been around a while some semblance of how e-scooters fit in to urban mobility is becoming apparent.

It’s where they should operate that’s still unclear. The authorities here are pretty free and easy compared with what Australia allows. Over in the Western Isles, low-powered motorised scooters are restricted to 8km/h and have to be registered and helmet use is mandatory. Head protection is sound thinking, given brain injuries are inevitable at the speeds they’re ridden here.

Head injuries aren’t fun. Read Richard ‘the Hamster’ Hammond’s book as an example. There have been at least forty reports of serious head injuries as a result of e-scooter crashes to date, and countless numbers of contusions, sprains and fractures from spills. The Lime scooters can operate at up to 27km/h and these are by no means the quickest. We’ve heard of some that can exceed 80km/h.

If you do operate one, especially on road, you’re a mug not to wear a helmet, even though they’re not required by law here. And you can now buy helmets that don’t make you look like a muppet. If we are to embrace e-scooters, safety needs to be the top priority. Electric scooters may be convenient and affordable, but the riders are more vulnerable than those on bicycles, mainly because their small wheels don’t ride road imperfections as well. And sometimes their front wheels lock unexpectedly.

There is a range of low-powered devices for sale in New Zealand. Most can do about 20-30km/h maxed out and have a range of around 30km. Because e-scooters are not considered motor vehicles they do not require registration or a driver’s licence here. In New Zealand, these devices can be used on the footpath or the road. The only place they may not go is in designated cycle lanes.

Odd that, given the two operate at similar speeds and use up about as much space. They seem to coexist well on shared cycleways. Users would certainly be safer on a cycleway than operating in close proximity to motorised four wheeler vehicles. On the footpath the rider must operate the device in a safe manner at a speed that does not put other users at risk.

Moreover, the e-scooter rider must give way to pedestrians and drivers of mobility devices. But e-scooters and pedestrians in the same space sounds like a recipe for disaster, right? If you’re elderly, young and easily distracted, hearing or vision impaired, or perhaps just none of the above and simply perambulating, a scooter bearing down at 27km/h can seem terrifying and potentially life threatening. Humans and machines don’t mix well. Ask any AI robot intent on world domination.

On the road, e-scooters must ride “as near as practicable to the edge of the roadway” which puts them in close proximity with grates, grilles and gutters. Oh, and cars of course so not good there either. Lime got into a bit of strife in Auckland after some accidents related to software glitches, and the service was interrupted for a time. But the firm reacted well, fixing the problem, promising to check scooters on a weekly basis and, in response to public fears about excess speed, instituted geofencing in the inner city, limiting speed there to 15km/h.

There are four other players entering the scene in New Zealand, all on a trial basis, so car drivers now need to be aware of not only bikes of all sorts but also scooters. For those who live and work in areas where there’s regular heavy congestion, an e-scooter offers another alternative to public transport, albeit one that’s currently not as safe. These and electric bikes, lumped together under the ‘micromobility’ banner, are ‘disruptive technology’, the beginnings of an E-revolution.

But they really need their own infrastructure, separating them from pedestrians and other road traffic. The beginnings are there with the cycle lanes, but much more is needed. And it will come, once people get their heads around the fact that micromobility works, getting individuals from A to B reliably, cheaply, efficiently. Unlike with electric cars (see Difflock p27).

Meantime, I’ve talked with a few people who bought their own e-scoots, and they wholeheartedly recommend them. Xiaomi Mi e-scooter at $698 seems popular. It’s lightweight, foldable, more comfy than a Lime scooter and won a best of the best Red Dot award for design.

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