It’s now the holiday season so expect shorter, and fewer, posts over the next couple of weeks. 

I think when we look back at 2018 in transport circles, it will be thought of as the year of the e-scooter. Citylab have a really good summary of how e-scooters exploded around the world this year, including a fair run down of some of their key issues.

When these shared, dockless vehicles began to materialize in American cities early this year (the first scooters emerged late last year in Santa Monica), the erstwhile child’s toys seemed like a ridiculous answer to some very grown-up transportation challenges. But despite some initial dorky misgivings, e-scooters swiftly and silently inserted themselves into the American cityscape. Unlocked with smartphone apps from an array of happy-sounding four-letter startups with names like Lime, Bird, Skip, and Spin, scooters found riders among touristscommunities of colorcouples, and kids. The scooter bro became a thing. Lazy people devised seating options.

By summer, hundreds of U.S. cities dared to pilot the idea, along with dozens around the world. Hiring gig-economy independent contractors to recharge the batteries overnight, some companies became financial unicorns that galloped to billion-dollar evaluations. Car-based mobility companies hitched a ride: Uber, Lyft, Google, and Ford all launched, partnered, or invested in scooter-based services. For the founder of the original Razor kickscoot, e-scootering was an urban dream rebooted and fulfilled, batteries included.

It’s amazing to think that it’s only been a year since dockless e-scooters came into existence anywhere in the world. Obviously there has been some push-back, sometimes for reasonable reasons, sometimes not.

But the fad of the summer also generated a lot of pushback. Scooters blocked sidewalks and menaced pedestrians; vandals frequently targeted the vehicles and littered cities with broken machines. Others warned of safety issues: Doctors reported increased road injuries and the first fatal car-on-scooter crashes. The risks of plying pothole-riddled roads at 15 miles per hour on two tiny wheels won scooters a lot of detractors and regulatory enemies. More broadly, there was the notion that scootering was fundamentally a sideshow; the idea that these whimsical machines represented a viable means of tackling the problems of urban transportation—street congestion, climate emissions, and road deaths—seemed laughable.

There were some bizarre reactions in Auckland after Lime Scooters were introduced in early October, that reflected mostly on how out of touch some politicians are (especially when they have presided over a massive increase in deaths and serious injuries on Auckland’s roads over the past 5-6 years – almost entirely caused by cars.)

Of course e-scooters won’t solve all our transport problems, but I think they are a useful addition – not only for the direct service they provide, but also because they are forcing us to think differently about how we design and manage our streets. This is also picked up in the Citylab article:

But outside urbanist and city planning circles, there’s another way of seeing scooters—as a kind of a conversational Trojan horse for talking about better ways to get around and plan our cities. Their polarizing presence turned wonky pet causes like curb space and road diets into everyday discussions. “So how do you feel about the scooters?” became my go-to question for Lyft and Uber drivers as we contemplated how, and if, these disruptive devices could co-exist with cars on public roads. It was easy to explain how scooters underscore the failures of safe-streets policy in American cities.

Indeed, many bike and complete streets advocates welcomed the e-scooter as a fellow traveler in the larger campaign against car-centric thinking. Dockless technology doubled the number of shareable two-wheeled vehicles on U.S. city streets overnight, reaching communities that traditional bikeshare had not. Scooters lured legions of non-bicyclists onto the streets and made them realize how valuable protected infrastructure would be. The major companies hired up big players from across the transit advocacy world to work with (and lobby) city leaders. Just this month, the North American Bikeshare Association, which represents the interests of bikeshare companies, declared, “if it fits in a bike lane, it fits [with us].”

All of a sudden there’s another massive customer base for bike lane investments, as e-scooters don’t mix particularly well with pedestrians or vehicles (much like bikes). Similarly, riding an e-scooter really makes you realise how bad many of our footpaths are. I think this probably gives me people an insight into the challenges faced by those using wheelchairs or have limited mobility in other ways and therefore rely on footpaths, kerb cuts and other street design details to be done well.

Given how hugely popular Lime has been in Auckland, in barely two months, it boggles the mind to think where things might be in a year’s time.

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25 comments

  1. Never thought about the cycle-lane investment angle. I assume that is the best place for them?

    Assuming this mode really ramps up through additional players entering the market, that might really kick AT into gear on ramping up lane-building. Fingers crossed.

  2. They need bigger wheels. Bit like the when full sized baby’ pushchairs evolved into foldup baby buggies with their tiny wheels which had a tendency to tip babies out of them on our rough footpaths. They then evolved into the current models with their larger, and safer wheels.

      1. Wheel size is an irrelevancy. Kinetic energy at a permitted speed limit should be the prime separator plus space requirements and any rider qualifications such as age should be used to determine restrictions on any surfaced road corridor space excepting PT reserved space.

        1. Under the law, wheeled vehicles (powered or not) with wheel diameters under 300mm
          are considered perfectly ok legally to ride on footpaths.

          The rationale for this was to allow small kids to ride their bikes on the footpath.
          Lime et al are just running roughshod of the intention of the law here – to keep kids safe by letting them use the footpaths until they get older and more road-craft and letting people ride their devices on the footpaths at full speeds.

          NZTA and MoT are like a pair of possums in the headlights – simply never having considered the possibility of adults (or even older kids) riding high speed, electric powered, small wheeled vehicles with legal impunity. Without helmets too.

          And because its a national law, local councils like AC can’t simply pass by-laws to stamp it out.

          Makes a complete mockery of those who do follow the rules.

        2. Greg, the figure you’re after is 355mm. And given that the Rules have been in place since 2004 (and scooters, powered or otherwise, since before then too), they’ve hardly been caught unawares. Heck, I even did research on this for NZTA over a year ago (NZTA Research Report 621), so they have plenty of background info. Those Rules also stipulate behaviour obligations on users (like not travelling at speeds to cause a hazard to other users), so if there is a problem, you could start by looking at how well those Rules are being educated or enforced.

  3. The escooters shows the general public how bad our kerb is, and how useful a high quality cycle/scooter lane can bring.

    Our current cycle lanes are planned in suburban arterials. Where scooter lane is more useful in high density environment such as city central.

    A very high return of investment can be made if we start to build cycle/scooter lanes along high pedestrian density walking streets such as queen st/victoria st/ponsonby/newmarket

  4. Whether e-scooters last or not, time will tell, likely it will become “yet another” last mile and small distance transport option/alternative.

    But its arrival from nothing in a year, has shown up a complete inability of the NZTA to manage a new transport technology – especially when it seemingly comes out of the blue.

    While NZTA et al have long been staring long and hard into the future and assuming it consists of the big bold future of driverless cars, Ubers and Robot Taxis. Along comes the future from a different direction completely.
    Making all those assumptions old hat.

    I has literally caught NZTA and other regulatory authorities completely flat-footed.

    Which just goes to show you that the future you, and more importantly, the transport planners, imagine, may very well take a very different form in a very short time frame. Which means if you plan for a version of future, your plans may end up being scrapped by things outside your control.

    This link below is to an image from the front cover Italian Magazine “La Domenica del Corriere” looking at Future Urban transport from an Italian perspective.

    http://www.weirduniverse.net/images/2018/1962scooter02.jpg

    Examine the image – lose the “perspex dome” on these single occupant vehicles, and make them have 2 wheels instead of 4, and you have the e-scooter revolution in a nutshell. Predicted 56 years earlier.
    [The text in Italian seems to say: “Will cities be like this? Here’s how the problem of traffic in cities could be lightened, if not completely solved: tiny single-seater cars that occupy a small area.”

    Note how much more spatially efficient they are – not as efficient as walking. You can see in the image how the footpaths are teeming with a similar number of “people” moving about, to those in the SOVs – yet the SOV’s shown here are way more efficient than what we have today.

    So even if THIS future came to pass it would be a massive improvement over the current status quo.

    1. I am really struggling to see these as a last mile option and I don’t believe that the hirer does either. I am yet to see them left at bus stations in the morning and there is little evidence that hirers leave them there after travelling to the station. If the scooter is taken from a PT transport station on the journey home then where they are left is likely to be inconvenient for most new hirers.
      I am yet to be convinced that they will become any more popular than they are now.

      1. Glen, that’s interesting. And unsurprising I guess. NZTA is a repository of so much research.

        I’m wondering how the public can encourage research to be applied and shared? In this case, public education could have resulted in less divisiveness. On other transport related subjects, sharing NZTA research could lead to far better land use, social and environmental outcomes.

        Any idea how to encourage NZTA (and AT) to adopt a more responsible position regarding education?

        1. Heidi, it’s been a problem for as long as I’ve been doing research. Never mind getting it out to the general public; we have enough problems making the transport sector aware of most of the work that has been done (the fact that this was research report no. 621 highlights how many pieces of work have been commissioned in the past 30 yrs, to say nothing of the other bits of research undertaken).
          Yep, there are regular agency research newsletters, and most projects require some kind of dissemination plan like presenting at conferences. But it does seem like there is a case for producing short (2-page equivalent max) summaries of each research project written in a straightforward manner for the likes of practitioners, the media and general public; coupled with a very good keyword search system.

          1. (in fact, they could be prepared in “info-graphic” style where possible; I see that MoT is doing a lot of that with recent data releases)

  5. I think we are just seeing the beginnings of major changes to urban transportation, and indeed to our cities. Powered “extra light vehicles”, E scooters and E skate boards hover boards and E cycles will become a major part of last mile transportation. Our current investment in cycleways now seems even more timely.
    I think these “extra light” vehicles, potential effect in cities, will be much more profound, then any driverless vehicles, as they reduce, rather than increase, the space requirements for accommodating idle vehicles.
    We do though need to now reappraise the full roadway corridor use and allocation to cope.. Potentially our road corridors will need to cater for four distinct uses governed generally by weight and speed, but also the space efficiency of the mode of transportation.
    Public transport vehicles require priority access to provide resource efficient to transport people in bulk.
    General roadway traffic provides for the movement of goods and some transport requirements that cannot be realistically provided any other way. SOVs are however extremely space, and energy use inefficient, especially when their idle time storage is considered.
    “Extra light vehicles” Cycles, Scooters, Skateboards offer increased speed and range over foot traffic (especially the recently available powered forms) as well as recreational use. For many urban journeys they now offer a realistic alternative to the SOV especially because of the increasing expense and difficulty of storing SOVs in space constrained cities.
    Pedestrian access availability provides people with the final connectivity for just about everything in their lives. Enhancing pedestrian amenity is core to increasing the value and liveability of our cities.
    Some thoughts.
    Footpaths should now be generally designated shared paths.
    Shared Paths Mandatory provision of these shared paths in urban areas, on both sides of the road if at all possible. Construction in rural areas should be included in all highway upgrade works.
    Shared paths should be legislated for a10kph maximum speed for all extra light vehicles (unpowered cycles included) No helmet requirement.
    Cycleways perhaps need a new name also They should be restricted to “extra light vehicles” but runners allowed if they do not impede In Urban areas these cycleways should be provided as priority ahead of parking provision.
    Cycleways should have a 20kph default speed limit for powered extra-light vehicles. No helmet requirements.
    Shared Roadway. For high density pedestrian and extra light vehicle transport routes. Full width of paved area. Also an option in low trafficked suburban roads 10kph speed limit. Pedestrians have absolute priority
    Bus lanes and LRV ways on existing roading corridors
    High use priority public transport traffic lanes and separated public transport provision on existing roadways to be provided ahead of demand. This is a reversal of practice up until now where the provision of general vehicle roading has been prioritised ahead of all other modes. Extra light vehicle use may well boost public transport demand as portable fold up scooters and hover-boards may well accompany their users to provide last mile transport at both ends of a journey. Public transport vehicles and facilities may need to now provide space and facilities for them. Small bikkies though compared to the provisions made for SOVs in our park and ride facilities, and indeed in our cities generally.
    General urban roading should have default speed limits of 30kph. Higher speed limits on some urban arterial loads should only be on a case by case basis.
    Cyclists required to wear helmets on any roadway designated 50kph or higher.
    Merry Christmas. Stay safe

    1. Cycleway should be 30 not 20. Even a kids bike can easily go 30km/h. Having ridden Lime scooters, no problem with the speed provided the surface is smooth/even. Even if you fell off one at 30km/h you’re less likely to bang your head than falling off a bike at any speed. Helmets just make them less practical to use.

      1. Un powered vehicles should not be speed restricted except on shared/footpaths and shared space roadways. A 30kph speed limit on the general roadway whould accommodate those on powered vehicles that would like to move faster

      2. I will concede that Lime scooters have no problem in achieving the current 30kph speedlimit downhill, in fact they probably comfortably exceed it, on the new Franklin Road cycleway between Wellington Street and Victoria Street. What I can attest to from personal experience that Lime scooters at this speed have a totally inadequate braking performance to give way to pedestrians within acceptable limits, at the pedestrian crossing adjacent to Napier Street. What is is a routine braking performance for road vehicles, at even the old speed limits of 50kph plus, is simply non attainable on a Lime. Therefore speed limits need to cognitisant of vehicle, and rider ability. We need to separate a desire for vehicle based thrill seeking whilst on public roads and safe, and secondly efficient, transport options.

      3. Like most calls to have more regulation it is all good until it affects “me”.
        Cyclists regularly travel 40+kph on urban roads and certainly 30+ so there would be a backlash if restricted to 20kph. But the same people are happy to have cars restricted to 30kph. While it makes sense on small and often narrow streets in both the city and suburbs it is too slow for most urban roads.
        Still I like the idea of better separation by speed rather than vehicle type and of course better footpaths and cycleways if designed for that same separation.

  6. Roll on dividing the road space into 3 speed areas
    – peds
    – cycles & scooters etc
    – vehicles
    and get rid of the on-street parking at the same time

  7. A lot of Aucklands footpaths are dire.

    With 2018 almost gone I ran Tamaki Drive between Ngapipi Rd and The Strand and the path on the Hobson Bay side is still undulating, narrow, overgrown in places, ankle rolling shit quality, just like it was 5 years ago, make that 20 years ago.

    This should be a premium pedestrian experience. Hilariously it has a centre line to split it between a bike lane and a pedestrian lane. The physically impossible has been achieved and the harbour side is little better but is at least consistent in its equal width.

    Do AT care? They do not!

    Maybe diverting the never ending Grey Lynn spend ups there would be good, or using funds from the fuel tax money mountain would also be good.

    Still as the road goes underwater with regular monotony they’ve done nothing there also.

    1. Nice whinge. Actually AT are doing the detailed design for raising Tāmaki drive and widening for cycleways and new footpaths currently.

      1. Its been talk for years and nothing has ever stopped AT from improving that excuse for a footpath, they just chose not to.

        No one should just rejoice in the fact these paths have been terrible for years and just praise the gods that there’s a path at all.

        And they were out on Monday with cones to direct motorists away from the edges in case the road went under. Not sure the cones would have remained in place however

        It is good that AT have plans so if that qualifies as caring, then I was wrong.

  8. It is the new subdivisions, such as Paerata and Huapai Triangle, that have been built with “last mile” scooter, or whatever, options in mind, either by accident or by design. It is the existing streets and footpaths we need to work on because at present the footpaths are pretty much neglected in favour of roads. But this is understandable because until very recently the footpaths did not get all that much use, and what pedestrians that did use them could easily step over the potholes and changes in the surface where they had been dug up for service maintenance and roughly repaired. I am worried that the same standards that the new subdivisions are being built to will not be carried over into Phil Twyford’s new housing areas, which he has promised will be built in a more “affordable” manner.

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