E-scooter trial extended by six months with private devices also legalised
The state government’s trial of electric scooters has been extended with new rules also allowing younger riders and privately-owned scooters to take part in the divisive scheme.
Minister for Roads Melissa Horne announced in March a six-month extension to the trial, which was launched in January last year and has seen 3.7 million short trips in Melbourne through scooter hire companies Lime and Neuron.
Despite the trial being mired in controversy due to concerns about safety and misuse, the government has recognised the trial’s growing popularity and will now legalise privately-owned e-scooters, allowing thousands of scooters to hit the roads.
Private scooters were classified as unregistered vehicles, with their use in public spaces attracting a fine $925, however this ban will be lifted when the changes come into effect from April 5.
Under the trial’s extension, e-scooters will be permitted on roads with a speed limit of 60km/h or less – up from the 50km/h limit that was in place. They can be ridden on roads, in bicycle lanes, on bicycle paths or separated and shared paths – but will remain illegal on footpaths.
The minimum age of riders will also be lowered from 18 to 16 but all riders must still wear a helmet and adhere to the same blood alcohol content and drug use restrictions as motorists. Riders cannot consume alcohol while travelling on an e-scooter.
E-scooters cannot travel above 20km/h while devices capable of travelling faster than 25 km/h are not classified as e-scooters and are still illegal.
The state government said further work would be carried out during the trial extension to understand product safety standards, rider education and if any changes to penalties were needed.
“We know e-scooters are popular with many Victorians – so we’re extending the trial in Victoria under these strict regulations to ensure people travel responsibly and safely,” Ms Horne said.
Government data from the trial showed about 400 tonnes of carbon had been saved through e-scooter use, with riders hiring e-scooters mainly for leisure, social events, commuting and visits to cafes.
But their use has been met with criticism, particularly with illegal riding on footpaths – a key concern raised by Southbank residents.
Southbank Residents’ Association (SRA) president Tony Penna said the extension of the trial was a positive move, “and gives us another six months to continue to advocate to get it right”.
“We’ve made a whole heap of recommendations about the concerns that we’ve had, but in my opinion the past six months have gone so quickly that I don’t think our concerns have truly been considered where they need to be considered,” he said.
We know the issue that is front and centre with residents particularly, and any citizen for that matter, is e-scooters being ridden on footpaths.
Mr Penna said there was an opportunity for the two hire companies to consider adopting technologies that were being used overseas which identified when people were riding on footpaths and to slow down or stop the e-scooter – which he argued “needs to be a condition of operation for ride share if it’s going to continue”.
He said he would also continue to advocate to ensure insurance policies were in place so that third parties, such as pedestrians, were covered if they were struck by a rider using a footpath or not wearing a helmet.
Southbank3006 vice-president Jannine Pattison said their group was pleased to see privately-owned scooters being recognised as a legitimate form of transport and “should be embraced as a greener, cleaner and more sustainable mode of transport, reducing carbon emission and traffic congestion”.
“But we need education and enforcement to ensure riders know, understand and follow the rules around safe riding,” she said.
“The biggest problem Southbank faces comes from ‘joy riders’. Firmer commitments are needed from operators to honour their social licence, enforce their geofencing and location, speed, and parking requirements as they are operating on trust.
“We are extremely disappointed the insurance cover required by operators does not include third party cover for pedestrians. Operators should be compelled to hold this ‘not at fault’ insurance cover to ensure the protection of pedestrians.
“For example, Beam scooters, which currently operate in Queensland, South Australia, and Tasmania, offer third party injury insurance to cover pedestrians. It is interesting that Lime and Neuron do not offer this, which is socially irresponsible.”
Victoria Police Assistant Commissioner for Road Policing, Glenn Weir, said Victoria Police’s role in the e-scooter trial “has always been about enforcement, and this doesn’t change”.
“We will continue to enforce the e-scooter rules in line with the extended trial,” he said.
“The extended trial will help us to understand further how both hire and privately owned e-scooters can be used safely.”
Mr Weir added Victoria Police had advocated its position regarding e-scooters in conjunction with other road safety partners, “however, we respect the decision of government”.
Victoria Walks executive Ben Rossiter said while their organisation supported different modes of transport to move around the city, it “has repeatedly called for measures including investment in more separated bike lanes that would reduce the rampant use of e-scooters on footpaths, as well as e-scooter rider insurance to cover walkers being hit on footpaths”. •