29 Mar 2019

E-scooters being ridden illegally last year, documents show

10:42 am on 29 March 2019

Newly released documents show all e-scooters were being ridden illegally just a month before the launch of trials of hire scooters in Auckland last October.

Lime e-scooters back on Auckland streets.

Lime e-scooters in Auckland. Photo: RNZ/ Alex Perrottet

They also show the Transport Agency sought no independent legal advice on whether it should do a risk assessment of the e-scooters.

These Official Information Act documents have been released to retired risk management adviser Russell Bell, who accuses the agency of breaching its duties under the Health and Safety Act.

The agency rejected that.

"It does not have the authority to control the behaviour of e-scooter users," the agency said of itself in its OIA response.

The agency has previously told RNZ it merely clarified in a Gazette Notice issued on 18 September last year that e-scooters are not motor vehicles, and had not been since a 2005 ruling.

However, its own document dated 10 September, setting out the background and regulation in preparation for the Gazette Notice, says under the heading 'Current Status' that: "All e-scooters currently being used are technically illegal, exposing the users to enforcement action and fines."

In fact, some businesses had looked at using e-scooters for staff, it said, "but have been put off by the licensing and certifications requirements".

By 18 September, that obstacle had been removed.

The US e-scooter operator Lime on 11 September had asked the agency to urgently reclassify e-scooters as non-motor vehicles because it intended to launch in Auckland and Christchurch on 20 September.

This newly released document shows the agency's own road rules clashed, with the Land Transport Act making e-scooters liable to all the licensing, registration and certification requirements applied to cars. There is zero process or service available to do this for e-scooters, the document said.

It shows the Ministry of Transport supported the agency issuing the Gazette Notice to remedy this. This has to be revisited within five years.

Four lines refer to safety (though two paragraphs are blanked out).

"There are no records of serious e-scooter accidents in New Zealand," it said.

It also said legalising e-scooters "could shine the light on other recreational devices including hovercraft, skateboard, roller skates and the like".

"However this risk is deemed to be low and outweighs the benefit of allowing e-scooter legality."

Elsewhere it talks up the environmental benefits, and that e-scooters could contribute to reducing traffic jams.

In its OIA response, the agency said it undertook no risk assessment because it was not required to.

A road was not a workplace, it said, so the agency was not liable.

"In coming to this conclusion, we are not relying on any formal legal opinion, but have discussed this view with staff in our legal services unit."

RNZ understands this legal services unit has been part of the overhaul underway at the agency since last October, after it admitted serious safety failings in not enforcing road regulations properly for years, to the extent an outside law firm, Meredith Connell, took over all the agency's compliance functions at a cost to the taxpayer.

RNZ's questions about what Meredith Connell is being paid have been rebuffed.

"The rates charged by suppliers for services to the Transport Agency are commercially sensitive," it said in another OIA response.

This is despite these such rates - for contractors and consultants - routinely being outlined in public sector agency annual reviews for select committees. The rates in question have so far not been identified by RNZ in the agency's annual review.

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