Sydney / NSW
The NSW government has abandoned plans for an electric scooter trial in Sydney despite a national push to legalise the mobility devices.
Electric scooters are illegal on roads and footpaths in NSW, but sales continue to grow.
Transport Minister Andrew Constance says he was “not in the mood” to have e-scooters on Sydney streets, even though his department ran a lengthy process recommending conditions for holding a trial.
The National Transport Commission, the statutory body for developing road regulations, spent 18 months considering the barriers to the safe use of personal mobility devices, given state legislation has failed to keep up with advances in technology.
Its final 73-page report in August 2020 recommended e-scooters be allowed on footpaths capped at 10km/h and on bicycle paths and residential streets up to 25km/h.
“All modes of transport carry some degree of accident risk,” the report says, noting it is “very difficult to quantify” how risky scooters are because it depends on how they are used.
Commercial outfits including Lime, Beam and Neuron operate share schemes in Brisbane, Adelaide and Canberra where users pay by the minute, while e-scooters are popular in dozens of cities worldwide.
Mr Constance, however, claims these schemes are, “a disaster”.
“People getting killed, e-scooters being left up trees, e-scooters littering parks and footpaths, people falling over them,” he told a budget estimates hearing in the NSW parliament during the first week of March 2021.
“The point is that I am not entertaining this. Our focus has been, particularly during COVID, to get people to ride a bike or walk. I am not in the mood for running e-scooter trials at a time like this.”
Those in favour of e-scooters say they free up space by taking commuters off roads and public transport, but opponents say they present a danger to pedestrians.
Despite only being legal to use on private property in NSW, e-scooters are prevalent around Sydney and sold at national retailers including Myer and JB Hi-Fi as well as boutique scooter shops.
One major retailer, which shared its sales data on the condition it was not identified, said e-scooter sales have increased five-fold in the past year due to “significant customer demand”.
Scooter Hut Newtown store manager Alan Kurkuri estimated his sales had doubled in the past six months.
He informs customers the devices are not legal on NSW roads or footpaths, although he says the odds of being caught are low.
“It’s a kind of grey area, [police] won’t pull you over unless you’re being rash,” he said.
Christopher Hilton, spokesman for Beam which operates e-scooters in Adelaide, said he hopes NSW changes its position on the devices.
“We were surprised, and disappointed, that Minister Constance has disregarded the recommendations of his department’s [electric scooter advisory] mobility working group as well as those of the National Transport Commission that both recommend opening up Sydney and all Australian cities to e-scooters,” Mr Hilton said.
The NTC will table draft legislation for state and territory transport ministers to consider in May, although the recommendations are not binding because each state legislates its own road rules.
For comment about both this story and a separate story we’re running in relation to hand throttle ebike legislation, please see this opinion piece ‘When Will Our Goverments Start Joining the Dots?’.
Most of this story was first published in the Sydney Morning Herald.