When Will Our Governments Start Joining the Dots?

Bega / NSW

In this article I’ll look at two recent decisions by two different governments, that are equally disturbing for a slightly differing set of reasons.

Banning Scooter Trials

Andrew Constance has deep roots in the Bega region on NSW’s far south coast. In the 1860’s his great-great-grandfather, James Constance, drove a team of bullocks through the Bega Valley and settled there as a bush pioneer until his death in 1912. Andrew Constance told this story in greater detail during his maiden speech to the NSW parliament on 21st May 2003.

In that same maiden speech he said, “The broader policy questions about the environment mean surely it is time to dare our Government and citizens to consider every option…”

Fast forward 17 years to the 2020/21 bushfires, where Mr Constance helped save his parents farm, which is located further inland from the Bega district. Then, literally with his back to the wall, he narrowly managed to save his own family farm being burnt to the ground, unlike one hundred nearby houses.

“Many of us will have experiences from last Tuesday which will stick with us forever,” he wrote. “For me, from sheltering on the beach, and then coming home to find our house alight.

“I’ve seen bushfires before, but this was like an atomic bomb. The front was just so loud, and so scary.

“I don’t understand why I’ve still got a house and so many don’t.”

Andrew Constance
NSW Minister for Transport and Roads, Andrew Constance. Photo credit Flickr creative commons.

Fast forward just one more year and as you can read in this article in his role as NSW Minister for Transport and Roads, Mr Constance has just abandoned plans for an electric scooter trial because he says electric scooter schemes are “a disaster.”

“People getting killed, e-scooters being left up trees, e-scooters littering parks and footpaths, people falling over them,” he said.

“The share scheme operators themselves, who have billions of dollars of investors’ money at stake, are making rapid advances in technological solutions.”

Banning Throttle Controlled Ebikes

My second story relates to an amendment to legislation made by the Kevin Hogan, Assistant Minister to the Deputy Prime Minister in the Federal Government on 11th January 2021 that effectively banned throttle controlled electric bicycles. To the best of my knowledge, and verified by industry sources, the government gave no advance notice and held no consultation in advance of making this arbitrary decision.

You can see the full details of the legislation amendment here.

In a broadcast email, Tony Morgan, Managing Director of The Electric Bicycle Company (TEBCO), who has sold thousands of throttle controlled ebikes said, “This came so totally out of the blue and caught everybody by surprise to the extent that for weeks not even Australia Post knew (if) their fleet of electric delivery bicycles and tricycles were and still are being used illegally.”

Fortunately, it appears that through effectively lobbying by Bicycle Industries Australia (BIA), this amendment may be reversed.

In an email to the industry on 5th March 2021 BIA Executive Officer Peter Bourke wrote, “In very good news for the industry, after the BIA held extensive discussions with the Ministers office and the department, the Director of Vehicle Standards from the Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Communication, has verbally confirmed that both 200w ebikes and bicycles that meet EN15194 will continue to be permitted to be sold and used in Australia.

“The director has indicated that they will provide written confirmation in the coming week through an updated explanatory notice.”

Ignorance and Policy Disconnects

Both of these stories have two common themes: ignorance and a bewildering inability to ‘join the dots’.

Let’s start with ignorance. I mean ‘ignorant’ not in the broadly abusive sense of the word, but to quote the Oxford English Dictionary’s primary definition, ‘lacking knowledge’.

Both decisions appear to be made with complete ignorance of the facts.

I greatly doubt that Minister Hogan was aware that he would be effectively making the entire Australia Post ebike fleet illegal. No doubt he was also ignorant of the fact that thousands of throttle-controlled ebikes are sold within Australia every year, for very good reasons that we’ll come to when we join the dots.

He was no doubt also unaware that even for bikes that mainly use pedalec power control, many have a ‘walk assist’ throttle mode to help get them started or perhaps help to walk up a hill when laden with children or groceries. This is particularly useful for heavy bikes such as cargo bikes.

Likewise, the reasons NSW Minister Andrew Constance gave demonstrate a complete ignorance of the facts.

“…it is time to dare our Government and citizens to consider every option…”

Andrew Constance

Let’s address these in turn. Firstly, users of all forms of scooters and for that matter bicycles and other micromobility modes, are highly unlikely to get killed through riding one.

If he had studied the data, he would have seen that the vast majority of road deaths every year are either drivers or passengers of motor vehicles or motorcyclists.

Just because they both have throttles does not make a 200 watt ebike the same as a 100,000 watt (100 kilowatt) motorcycle.

If he were to drill down into detailed government reports and data as to the reasons for the pedestrian and cyclists deaths (scooter deaths are so small they don’t have their own category) he would find that in almost every case for pedestrians and most cases for cyclists, they are killed through collisions with motor vehicles, very often due to the fault of the drivers of those vehicles.

Let’s look at his second batch of reasons as a group, ie ‘…e-scooters being left up trees, e-scooters littering parks and footpaths, people falling over them.’

Without doubt there have been some initial issues with both bike share and scooter share systems.

But local governments have responded by setting much tighter ‘minimum service conditions’, particularly in relation to improperly parked vehicles.

The share scheme operators themselves, who have billions of dollars of investors’ money at stake, are making rapid advances in technological solutions. Here is a far from exhaustive list of innovations that are rapidly making e-scooter share systems safer:

  • Rapid refinement of scooter design including larger wheels, safer geometry, stronger frames etc.
  • Apps that integrate the locking and unlocking of helmets onto the scooters.
  • AI photo analysis so riders must prove they’re wearing the helmet before starting.
  • Use of sensors to alert the operator when a scooter is not upright.
  • Use of sensors and connectivity to alert the operator when any rider is acting irresponsibly, with the option of immediately turning off the scooter’s motor.
  • Introduction of more stable, three wheeled scooters, that can be remotely moved out of the way.
  • Geofencing of user zones,
  • Remotely adjusting power to take into account local congestion, wind and other variables.
  • … and the list goes on!

We’ve posted articles about every item in this long list. They are real, in full commercial use or being field tested right now.

I wonder if Minister Constance is aware of any of these new initiatives. His comments would suggest not.

Please Join the Dots!

As we wrote previously, Minister Constance said, “…it is time to dare our Government and citizens to consider every option…” when it came to the environment. This was way back in 2003.

Now in 2021 with the environmental crisis facing humanity far more stark and urgent than it was 18 years ago, he’s deliberately delaying a trial of new transport technology that has a vastly lower carbon footprint than that of both internal combustion engine (ICE) motor vehicles and larger electric vehicles such as cars.

Minister Constance has seen environmental devastation first-hand through unprecedented bushfires that, as his previously shared comments show, shook him to the core.

Yet he can’t seem to join the dots between this environmental disaster, which credible experts agree was exacerbated by the increasing impact of climate change, and the need to make every decision within his power in favour of measures that will reduce our climate impact, such as an e-scooter trial in Sydney.

“When will our elected officials at local, state and federal level, start making better decisions?”

Meanwhile the Federal Government spends billions of dollars per year through the NDIS (National Disability Insurance Scheme), fortunately, with widespread political and community support.

They also spend increasing billions on aged care, also, quite rightly, with widespread support.

Yet they move to ban the very category of electric bikes and trikes that are most likely to be used by older or disabled riders.

These bikes offer lifechanging benefits for their riders in terms of keeping them mobile, self-sufficient and thereby also bolstering their mental health. All of this also lowers the cost to taxpayers of their care – thereby helping the government balance its budget.

In summary, these are just two recent examples of poor decisions that threaten to negatively impact micromobility.

Decisions like these have been made with depressing regularity for years. Decisions that have been made by politicians who are quite possibly ignorant of the facts, or even if they have some knowledge, seemingly unable to join the dots between cause and effect.

When will our elected officials at local, state and federal level, start making better decisions?

As painful and tedious as it is, particularly when being ignored year after year, we all have a responsibility to either help them do better… or replace them with others who can.

Join the Conversation: We know that most of you will have opinions about this same issue in your state, we would love to hear your views. Please comment below.

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