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E-scooter ban? Waka Kotahi reveals its verdict

Chris Keall,
Publish Date
Thu, 28 Sep 2023, 1:15pm

E-scooter ban? Waka Kotahi reveals its verdict

Chris Keall,
Publish Date
Thu, 28 Sep 2023, 1:15pm

E-scooters will stay on New Zealand roads, cycle lanes and footpaths. 

Waka Kotahi New Zealand Transport Agency had until September 30 to decide whether to renew e-scooters’ exemption from being classed as motor vehicles - a decision the agency earlier said would ban e-scooters from everywhere bar private property, given there is no mechanism for licensing riders. 

Back in 2018, shortly before Lime launched in New Zealand, NZTA (now Waka Kotahi) declared that e-scooters were not motor vehicles under the Land Transport Act 1998 - but it was an exemption that would time out on September 30, 2023. 

In the event, Waka Kotahi announced its decision two days early. The exemption has been renewed for another five years. 

Earlier this year, as Waka Kotahi announced consultation, the agency explained: 

“If Waka Kotahi does not renew the declaration, e-scooters would need to be registered and e-scooter riders would need to be licenced. 

“However, because there is currently no way of licensing them, it means that e-scooters could only be used on private property and in areas that are not legally considered roads (e.g. skateparks).” 

Consultation closed on August 7. 

Waka Kotahi said it would consider “survey feedback as well as how renewing or not renewing the e-scooter declaration would contribute to an effective, efficient and safe land transport system”. 

Over-stated problem 

E-scooters got a rash of bad headlines in the years after their introduction after a rash of accidents and poor reporting saw Auckland Council pull Lime e-scooters from Auckland streets in February 2019 (they were returned a fortnight later). 

But in more recent times, GPS-enforced speed limits, restrictions on where an e-scooter can be abandoned (without a ride remaining live on your credit card), reduced e-scooter numbers under council licences, AI safety measures and more cycle lanes have taken some of the heat out of the debate. 

It also turned out that despite various grisly stories and many a broken bone, the e-scooter accident problem was never as bad as originally thought. 

ACC admitted in January that it has over-stated e-scooter claims by some $5 million due to mopeds and mobility scooters being mistakenly included in earlier figures. 

Waka Kotahi explains decision 

“Our overall conclusion is that e-scooters have made, and continue to make, a useful contribution to the land transport system. Their use is increasing across New Zealand, they are increasingly used for transport rather than just for recreation, user satisfaction is generally high, and they have emissions reductions benefits,” Waka Kotahi national manager of regulatory system design Chris Rodley said. 

“Our review found that while the greatest risk is to e-scooter riders themselves, some pedestrians also feel anxious or stressed about sharing the footpaths [with] e-scooters,” Rodley said. 

“While there are mechanisms in place to ensure the safe use of e-scooters, such as geo-fenced no-go and low-speed zones for rental e-scooters, Waka Kotahi believes that there is scope for further improvements, such as lower speed limits in [high-traffic] pedestrian areas and more use of speed limit signage. 

“Over the next five years we will continue to explore these and other measures to promote the safe and responsible use of e-scooters, [working with] local authorities, share-scheme e-scooter operators, the Ministry of Transport, Police and others.” 

Beam: Six out of 10 trips help local businesses 

“Shared micro-mobility has made an important and impactful contribution to towns and cities across New Zealand as a safe, sustainable and affordable way to travel, and we’re thrilled they will continue to be available to New Zealanders and visitors, enabling public transport connectivity and replacing trips that would otherwise be taken in a car,” said Tom Cooper, Australia-New Zealand general manager for e-bike and e-scooter operator Beam. 

“More than 3.8 million shared e-scooter and e-bike trips have taken place across the country on a Beam, with over six million kilometres travelled. Approximately 40 per cent of trips taken on a Beam across the country are for commuting purposes - whether running errands, or travelling to and from work or study,” Cooper said. 

Six out of 10 trips on a Beam involve a purchase at a business, according to the firm’s research, which holds that micro-mobility (e-scooters and e-bikes) helps to boost the local economy. 

“We look forward to working closely with Waka Kotahi, local councils and city stakeholders to introduce new micro-mobility technology and innovations to cities as it becomes available, and are committed to adapting operations to support residents and visitors to make the switch to more sustainable transportation,” Cooper said. 

High Court action knocked back 

Last year, pedestrian advocacy group Living Streets Aotearoa filed legal proceedings, arguing Waka Kotahi and Auckland Council failed to properly consult and breached national road laws when they granted e-scooters a five-year exemption from being classed as motor vehicles. 

The group argued in part that the declaration did not uphold New Zealand’s obligations under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities. 

The High Court rejected the group’s bid for a judicial review. 

Chris Keall is an Auckland-based member of the Herald’s business team. He joined the Herald in 2018 and is the technology editor and a senior business writer. 

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