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E-scooters: for or against

by Dr Jenny Condie
This week the Wellington City Council has to decide whether to continue the trial of public share e-scooters. I have a number of questions I would like answered before I make this decision.

Has the trial complied with the Code of Practice? If not, in which areas has it failed to comply?

What have the benefits of the trial been?

What have the downsides of the trial been?

What could we do to mitigate the downsides in order to keep the trial running?

In the end, my decision will be made based on whether I think the downsides of continuing will be greater than the benefits. Tradeoffs will need to be made, and how I make those tradeoffs will depend on my underlying values. This is why all of the councillors can look at the same data and make a different decision – our values are different and that influences what tradeoffs we are each prepared to make.

Has the trial complied with the Code of Practice?

The short answer here is no. The trial has not complied with conditions around preventing nuisance, appropriate parking, and restrictions on use.

I will start with restrictions on use, because this is easiest. Clause 5.15 of the Code of Practice sets out areas where scooters may not be parked or ridden, including parts of Lambton Quay and Oriental Parade. Clause 8.6 establishes a speed limit of 10km/h on the waterfront.

A research company was hired to conduct observations of e-scooter use at 5 sites around the city over the course of the trial. In the summary of this research the report states:

“Footpath and road use restrictions and speed limits are generally not being abided by at Lambton Quay, Courtenay Place, Oriental Parade, and along the waterfront.”

Next I will tackle e-scooter parking. Clause 5.6 of the Code of Practice states that scooters “must be parked where they do not impede people on foot.” Clause 5.9 states that operators will “preferably” have systems in place to incentivise good parking and penalise bad.

Scooters being left in inconvenient places was one of the key themes of the comments we received during our surveys on the trial. 6% of those who left comments on the survey mention parking, about 290 people. And let’s be honest, anyone who has walked around Wellington lately will know that scooters lying across the footpath is a problem. As one commenter said:

“With e-scooters littering footpaths, some streets are just impassable to someone with mobility issues. Very rarely are any of the scooters parked considerately.”

As far as I’m aware neither Flamingo nor Jump had any financial incentives or penalties for good parking behaviour.

Finally, clause 1.3 of the Code of Practice states that scooters should not cause a “danger or nuisance” to other people. Clause 5.4 states that operators must ensure scooters do not have a “negative impact on other street users, including people with impaired vision and/or other disabilities.”

By far the most significant impact has been on pedestrian confidence in walking around our city. 62% of respondents found it “more difficult” or “somewhat more difficult” to travel by foot since e-scooter rental started. 54% felt “unsafe” or “very unsafe” as a pedestrian.

Some people even reported that they sometimes avoided walking journeys since the scooter trial started. More than 500 people who responded to the public survey reported choosing not to make a pedestrian trip since the start of the trial. Places most often mentioned that people now avoided were the waterfront (123 mentions) and Oriental Bay (53 mentions). Age is clearly a factor, with feelings of safety as a pedestrian falling from age 55, with drops again over age 65 and over age 75.

This fall in confidence is backed up by some evidence of safety problems for pedestrians. 3% of respondents had been hit by a scooter while a pedestrian. One third had experienced a near miss while a pedestrian. There were 200 personal reports of having a near miss while a pedestrian. 11% of scooter riders admitted having a near miss with a pedestrian.

It also seems that e-scooter riders may not appreciate just how intimidating they are for vulnerable pedestrians. Only 10% of respondents said they had witnessed a pedestrian be frightened or startled. (This survey was predominantly answered by people who were e-scooter riders.) Yet 51% of respondents said they had personally been startled or frightened as a pedestrian.

This analysis of the compliance with the Code of Practice identifies a number of downsides of the e-scooter scheme.

One further downside should be considered that wasn’t raised previously – the safety of the scooter rider themselves. About one quarter of riders reported having personally experienced a safety issue while scooting. 5% had fallen off or crashed and 1% had needed medical attention after a crash.

In Wellington there were 186 ACC claims for injuries involving e-scooters during the 6 month trial period. For context, during the same period there were 553 basketball injuries and 1284 rugby injuries.

Okay, so enough of the downsides. There must have been some benefits to the scheme, given that 72% of public survey respondents supported it continuing.

A key benefit was greater mobility, particularly for younger people. Half of respondents had used a scooter to make a trip they wouldn’t have otherwise taken. 7% of respondents’ most recent scooter trip would not have been made otherwise.

Scooters enabled people to visit hospitality and retail businesses more often. Of the regular users of scooters, 45% used them to commute, 45% used them for social events including hospitality businesses, and 32% used them for retail trips. Around one third of the trips they otherwise would not have made were to these businesses.

While scooters did replace many walking trips, they also replaced car usage. Almost half of respondents had used taxi/rideshare less, while 39% had used a private car less. 21% of e-scooter trips would otherwise have been made by car.

E-scooters also increased mobility for disabled people. 13% of people with accessibility needs wouldn’t have made their most recent trip without the e-scooter scheme, compared to only 5% of general respondents. Users with accessibility needs strongly support the scheme to continue, with 91% in favour (answer “maybe” and “definitely”).

Okay so that leaves us with mobility benefits for young and disabled people, additional trips to retail and hospitality businesses and reduced car usage vs the downsides for pedestrians due to near misses and footpath parking.

What can we do to reduce the downsides for pedestrians?

One of the things that will reduce the negative effect on pedestrians will be to get e-scooters off the footpath. To do this we need to offer riders a safe alternative.

Safer speeds of 30km/h are proposed for most of the CBD. If approved by Council, these changes could be on our streets as soon as July. When traffic is travelling at 30km/h, e-scooters will be able to use the roadway more safely.

Waka Kotahi NZTA are consulting on an Accessible Streets policy change that would allow e-scooters in cycleways. If approved later this year, this will make it legal for riders to use cycleways rather than the footpath.

We need to provide more cycleways infrastructure to support scooter riders to get off the footpath. All six of WCC’s proposed pop-up cycleways received funding from Waka Kotahi NZTA. The new cycleways will appear on our streets during June and July. Let’s Get Wellington Moving is also planning some early delivery cycleways in the next few months. WCC have long term plans to deliver a cycle network across our city.

Having fewer scooters available to hire will also improve the situation for pedestrians. As Jump will not be returning to our streets immediately, there will be half as many scooters on our streets as there were during the trial.

We could improve the enforcement of the waterfront speed limit and area restrictions for parking or riding scooters. We could also extend these restrictions to other areas. I will be asking officers for further advice on this during the week.

We could also consider requiring bells on scooters and have a campaign encouraging riders to use their bell as they approach pedestrians on the footpath or shared path. This could help with the more than 100 comments that you can’t hear or see scooters easily.

On Thursday morning we will vote on whether to continue the current license arrangements until the end of the year and whether we want officers to update our policies to allow for the scheme to continue after the current licenses expire. You can ask to speak at the meeting during public participation by emailing public.participation@wcc.govt.nz or you can watch the meeting livestream on YouTube.

Appendix note about which data I used

The research reports rely primarily on three different surveys called wave 1, wave 2, and general public. Wave 1 and wave 2 surveys were taken near the start and end of the trial, both used a representative sample of the wider Wellington population. The general public survey was open to anyone and was conducted at the end of the trial, at the same time as wave 2. The general public survey respondents were self-selected, and people are more likely to respond when they have a strong view one way or another.

The data backs up this interpretation – the general public survey has what I call a “missing middle”. You can see this in the following graph showing support for the e-scooter scheme to continue broken down by wave 1, wave 2, and general public. When you compare the middle range responses of “maybe not”, “unsure”, and “maybe” there is a clear difference. For the wave 2 panel respondents 50% were gave an equivocal response, but only 24% of the general public did the same.

escooter survey

When trying to get a picture of general views I relied on the panel survey. When trying to understand the users of e-scooters I relied on the general public survey. Sometimes I just took the most conservative of the two options.

Dr Jenny Condie is a Wellington City Councillor for the Northern Ward.

14 comments:

  1. Michael Gibson, 19. May 2020, 9:02

    This is what I call proper consultation and proper consideration. It contrasts strongly with other councillors who don’t even read the Order Paper before the meeting. Fantastic, Jenny – keep it up!

     
  2. Ms Green, 19. May 2020, 9:05

    Good on you Jenny for your careful and transparent analysis.

     
  3. Mark Cubey, 19. May 2020, 9:31

    I am extremely impressed with this councillor. There is no question that e-scooters are here to stay, and it’s up to the WCC to find the best way forward. This has to involve dealing to the Car Plague that has returned after weeks of peace to infest the city.

     
  4. Transtasman Bubbler, 19. May 2020, 9:47

    Do these scooter companies pay any overheads to the council like rent or rates?

     
  5. Rich, 19. May 2020, 12:03

    I would be interested in the negative affects it has on health. Shouldn’t we promote active modes of transport? A lot of people I know who use scooters, use these for small distances they would normally have walked. For example, I have colleagues who first sit in the train, then instead of walking, they now take a scooter to get to the office. We are already such an obese country, do we really need another ‘convenience’? I appreciate there might be some people who replace car trips with scooters, but seeing most scooters are in the CBD, from where to where were those car trips anyway?

    And yes, Jenny, keep up the good work!

     
  6. Kerry, 19. May 2020, 13:54

    Jenny: You might like to take a look at the Global Street Design Guide. WCC is a member of the Global Designing Streets Initiative, which published the guide with an equivalent US group, NACTO. Somebody in the WCC should have a copy.
    The GSDG is clear that footpaths are for pedestrians and wheelchairs. Cyclists and scooters need a separate path, segregated by kerbs from both footpaths and motor traffic. Also clear in the GDSG is why change is needed: fewer cars allow much greater people-carrying capacity. Capacity in a 3 m lane (p14) is:
    — Private motor vehicles 600-1600 people an hour
    — Mixed traffic with frequent buses 1000-2800 people/hr
    — Two-way protected bikeway 6500-7500 people/hr
    — Dedicated transit lane 4000-8000 people/hr
    — Footpath 8000-9000 people/hr
    — Light rail 10,000 + people/hr (Also Bus Rapid Transit, but this is impractical in Wellington)
    I took the bus into town this morning, and on Lambton Quay at about 7.30 the bus was delayed near Grey Street by a badly parked van. It reduced the bus route to single-lane working. Where is the Wellington system for a bus driver to use the radio to call up a tow-truck?
    This is the kind of thing needed on the golden mile, which is grossly overloaded by buses alone: about double the recommended limit in the 2011 Bus Review.

     
  7. Peter Kerr, 19. May 2020, 14:43

    I think adults who ride scooters look absurd.

     
  8. Mike Mellor, 19. May 2020, 18:41

    Very helpful, Jenny: I hope other councillors are looking at this in similar depth.

    One clarification: you say that NZTA’s Accessible Streets package (submissions close tomorrow) “will make it legal for riders to use cycleways rather than the footpath” but it’s “as well as” rather than “rather than”: e-scooters will still be allowed on the footpath, and in addition all bikes will be allowed on every footpath too, so every footpath will effectively become a shared path. There will be a speed limit, of 15km/h – over three times the median speed of people walking – which NZTA inexplicably calls “slow”, and which WCC, equally inexplicably, says is “about right”. Sadly, those who feel unsafe on the footpath with just scooters ain’t seen nothing yet.

     
  9. Fred Albert, 19. May 2020, 19:10

    There is one other aspect of the e-scooter Terms of Service that companies definitely haven’t followed and that’s the age limit of 18+ to use the e-scooters. I have seen many riders who are clearly under 18 riding the branded e-scooters all over town.

     
  10. Gayle Crozier, 20. May 2020, 14:55

    Thanks for your analysis Jenny. I vote footpaths are for feet, and get these dangerous blurry scooters (manual and electronic) off the footpaths! As I have MS, I can’t get out of their way quickly and have had numerous close calls.
    Bikes, skateboards, scooters and e-scooters are a menace and danger to pedestrians. Give us back our footpaths please.

     
  11. Michael Gibson, 20. May 2020, 16:29

    Jenny – I do think that Gayle Crozier’s point is an excellent one and surely most important especially in this day and age.

     
  12. Mike Mellor, 20. May 2020, 17:00

    In its submission on NZTA’s Accessible Streets proposals, the WCC says:
    “In line with international evidence, WCC recommends the following steps to improve footpath safety: No vehicles/mobility devices parking to be permitted on footpaths” (point a, subpoint g in WCC’s answer to question 25, online at file:///C:/Users/mmell/OneDrive/Documents/NZTA%20AS/2020-05-07-minutes-council.pdf, page 25).
    Now would be a good time for the WCC to put this into practice, and not allow rental e-scooters to be parked on the footpath.

     
  13. Violet Chong, 20. May 2020, 17:32

    I understand the need for pedestrians to feel safe, but so should people on e scooters and bicycles.

     
  14. William, 21. May 2020, 22:56

    EScooters are fine on the road, but the footpath is for pedestrians – not cycles or eScooters, which go well in excess of their regulated speed around Mount Cook pavements.