23 Apr 2019

Scooter speed limits sought more than a decade ago

3:10 pm on 23 April 2019

Newly released documents show road control authorities were pushing for a speed limit for scooters on footpaths of just 10km/h more than a decade ago.

Person riding a Lime scooter in Auckland city.

Photo: RNZ / Nick Monro

But they also show the Transport Agency's predecessor, the Land Transport Safety Authority (LTSA), flip-flopping on that speed limit, before eventually shooting it down.

The situation today - where there is no speed limit for the several thousand e-scooters allowed on footpaths, though they are capable of doing almost 30km/h - is directly due to a road rule made in 2005.

This was when, according to the Transport Agency, the only substantive research into e-scooters was done, even though e-scooters were not widely available then.

The documents - newly released under the Official Information Act - show the regulators themselves were at odds.

In 2001, the LTSA opposed any speed limit on footpaths. Instead, it favoured "careful and considerate" use of scooters, skateboards and mobility scooters at a "reasonable" speed.

But other regulators made their position clear in a 2002 consultation paper: "Motorised recreational devices and wheelchairs must not be capable of exceeding 10 kilometres an hour," said one.

"Among road controlling authorities ... there was a preference for speed or width restrictions as being more workable than specifying that any use on a footpath must be in a careful and considerate manner," the LTSA summed up (width here referring to mobility scooters).

Police wanted a speed limit too, at least on mobility scooters: "Police still believe there is a need to retain a speed restriction as otherwise manufacturers would be left to determine their own standards."

Half the 110 submitters opposed the road rule change proposed by the LTSA, mostly around the risks to pedestrians, outnumbering those who backed it almost two to one.

In late 2002 the LTSA did a u-turn and proposed a 10kmh speed limit on footpaths after all, and went further: "It was broadly accepted that scooters and similar devices should not be operated on the roadway. On balance, the use .... on the road would place the rider at great risk of serious injury or death."

Had that stood, e-scooters would be banned from the road today, and restricted to 10kmh or under on footpaths.

However, the road rule consultations spilled over into 2003, when another u-turn was made.

Ironically, submitters coalesced around two opposing positions to both argue the same thing: that any speed limit was unenforceable. One loose coalition, with the Blind Foundation central to it, opposed any scooters or skateboards on footpaths, wanting access restricted to all but mobility scooters.

The second group wanted the opposite - free rein.

This second position won out, when the LTSA flipflopped in late 2003. At this point, it dropped any speed limit, and proposed scooters be allowed on the road after all.

This was partly at odds with the Ministry of Transport.

"The Ministry believes ... devices should be able to travel on the footpath or the road but if they are on the footpath then they must give way to pedestrians. The ministry also feels that the10 kilometres an hour speed limit provision should remain," a September 2003 briefing to the Transport Minister said.

The LTSA got its way, the ministry did not.

This public consultation in 2002-3 was the only one there has ever been related to e-scooters.

In late 2004, the Transport Minister signed off on the road rule changes. These remain in force today, though were

so confusing that as late as September the Transport Agency believed e-scooters were banned from footpaths.

These rules were hurriedly clarified at the urging of hire company Lime to make clear that e-scooters were not motor vehicles.

The OIA record shows the Transport Agency has not done a single local risk assessment of e-scooters.

The agency and the Transport Ministry declined interviews.

They both issued statements saying they were working on a regulatory package to improve safety and accessibility on footpaths, called 'Accessible Streets'.

"As part of this work we are considering what and how differently mobility devices, including e-scooters, can be used on footpaths and shared paths," the ministry's Manager Mobility and Safety, Brent Johnston, said in a statement.

E-scooters trials in Auckland, Christchurch and Lower Hutt, were helping with that. The ministry expects that to go to public consultation later this year, and that any changes will be in place by the middle of next year.

The Transport Agency said e-scooters were an increasingly common way for people to get around. Its main focus was to ensure they were "a safe part of the transport system".

Living Streets Aotearoa secretary Celia Wade-Brown said the agency had leaped to "unjustified conclusions" about e-scooters in 2018, "based on a lack of solid research".

"E-scooters should be a catalyst for more bike lanes, not for discouraging the frailer members of society from enjoying the footpath," she said.

E-scooters are not currently allowed in cycle lanes.

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