e-Scooters: benefit or bane?


Over the last couple of weeks the subject of e-scooters, and especially those belonging to US company ?Lime? in Auckland and Christchurch have been in the news. Not always with a positive spin.

According to the NZTA?e-scooters?are those which meet the following specifications: quote.

  • designed in the style of a traditional push scooter, with a footboard,
  • two or three wheels,
  • a long steering handle
  • an electric auxiliary propulsion motor.
  • the wheels must not exceed 355mm
  • the motor must have a maximum power output not exceeding 300W.

E-scooters can be used on the footpath or the road – except in designated cycle lanes that are part of the road (which were designed for the sole use of cyclists).

On the footpath the user must:

  • operate the device in a careful and considerate manner
  • operate the device at a speed that does not put other footpath users at risk
  • give way to both pedestrians and drivers of mobility devices.

On the road, e-scooters must be operated as near as practicable to the edge of the roadway.

A helmet is not legally required to be worn when using an e-scooter, but it is recommended. end quote.

Lime require certain criteria to be met to hire one of their machines:

  • customers/riders must download Lime’s app to their smartphone
  • customers/riders must provide a valid cell phone number to validate the user

Cellphone numbers in this country are very easy to obtain anonymously, so there’s not much validation going on.

Payment for their service is via credit card, from which is inferred that the rider must be over 18 but there is nothing to stop someone younger downloading and installing the app. Payment for services might be problematic for younger ones, however, unless Prezzy cards haven’t been blocked from use. There are a number of other ‘requirements’ listed on their website, like helmets and a driver’s licence, most of which are unenforceable since the ‘pickup’ and ‘return’ of the machine is solely via the app.

The scooters are very handy for cheap, short trips across town (much quicker and cheaper than a cab or an Uber/Zoomy, and no helmet-hair or sweaty armpits from riding a bike), especially since a helmet is not (yet) a requirement in New Zealand.

However, because of their long steering handles and small, non-pneumatic wheels (and despite some rudimentary suspension), the scooters are relatively unstable (or ‘twitchy’) for anyone who has not ridden a vehicle of this type before.

The motors, although limited to less than 300W, are still reasonably powerful and riders can reach speeds of up to 27km/h (depending on the terrain). This coupled with the inherent instability and small, solid wheels make these vehicles an accident waiting to happen (unless ridden with some common sense).

People drive cars recklessly, people (especially in the USA) use guns recklessly. It’s not the device at fault, it’s the idiot using it.

The unfortunate part is that these scooters are often sharing footpaths with pedestrians. The scooters are quick and silent, so there are very likely to be innocent casualties when scooter riders inevitably collide with pedestrians, as has occurred in recent days.

This kind of casualty can occur with cars and guns too.

As with all things, personal responsibility, along with common sense, plays a big part in the safe use of potentially dangerous equipment.

Unfortunately, as we all know, personal responsibility and common sense are fairly uncommon characteristics in the general population.

Lime, and companies like them, are ‘disruptors’, upsetting the status quo as regards, in this case, personal transport. This is generally a good thing (remember how expensive taxis were before Uber? Or how rubbish the MSM was before Whaleoil – oh, wait…), so banning them is not necessarily a good idea.

Businesses like these should be encouraged and rules developed over time to make things better for the users of the services being provided and any other impacted people.