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Lime scooters have added a fresh slice to life in Dunedin. For the past week, since they rolled on to the streets, they have been the talk of the town.
Riders have been clocking up thousands of kilometres a day. Inevitably, there have been mishaps and issues. Inevitably, questions are being asked about safety.
The shared electric scooter rage has been spreading around the world. Several companies have jumped on board, Lime deciding to try the New Zealand market.
Just how much use is for the novelty of the ride and how much is practical and long-term remains to be seen. Lime, no doubt, will be closely monitoring use and deciding whether to increase numbers from 300 and how far into the suburbs to base its scooters. It will also be intensely interested in the student impact come late February.
It is important to encourage innovation, and shared transport is part of that. Lime scooters are a bright extra to city life with potential to modify ways of getting around.
At the same time, it is important to raise the issues. As other centres internationally face similar questions, solutions and compromises will be worked through.
The No 1 concern for many is the use of the scooters on footpaths. Older pedestrians, small children and/or the visually impaired are especially vulnerable to devices whizzing along. While the rules might say pedestrians have rights of way and scooter users should be careful, the practice can be different. For their part, users will be frustrated on the busiest footpaths and are likely to avoid them.
Singapore is looking at a 10kmh speed limit on footpaths, and it already has decided on mandatory registration of e-scooters. Santa Monica, in the United States, has instituted a speed limit on its boardwalk, programmed into its scooters by Lime.
That speed, a jogging pace, could, nevertheless, defeat the purpose of scooters as transport and for commuting. On the other hand, the current maximum of about 27kmh seems too fast and too dangerous.
Scooters are to be encouraged in the separated cycleways, and the law should be modified so they can also be used in the painted lanes.
While there will always be accidents, the potential long-term damage from head injuries makes this a concern for society as a whole. Bicycle riders must use helmets, so surely e-scooter users on roads and cycle lanes should have to as well.
Although this might cause e-scooter use to plummet, at least initially, there might be little alternative but to make use compulsory. Helmets left with scooters would soon be lost or stolen, so users might have to carry helmets as they might an umbrella.
Lime has given away many helmets in Auckland and there is talk of pick-up points for them under plans to improve the safety. Lime has hosted a summit for riders and has plans for roving ambassadors and pop-up education tents. But it is unlikely such initiatives would get to those most at risk of dangerous use.
The 18-plus stipulation plastered on the scooters is often ignored. Many children have been seen having a go.
This raises the matter of enforcement. The Dunedin City Council, naturally, does not want to become involved in such legalities, and the police are likely to focus on higher priorities.
If the scooters can lessen traffic congestion, free up parking and lessen carbon use, that is all to the good. It might also be, however, that scooters use equates to less walking and less bus patronage.
The Lime scooters are not without problems. That is to be expected with change. But, with further consideration of how they operate and are used, they should be here to stay as another transport option for the city.