Fate of rentable e-scooters in Wellington to be decided

A Flamingo e-scooter.
A Flamingo e-scooter. Photo credit: File

By Harry Lock of RNZ

Councillors will vote this morning on whether to allow e-scooter companies such as Flamingo to continue to operate in the city.

A survey done by the council showed the vast majority of people are in support of them, but people are worried about the danger they pose - to the rider, and to pedestrians.

The presence of e-scooters on Wellington's streets is something Ann Mallinson has to deal with on a daily basis.

She lives on Oriental Bay, where it's often a free-for-all: bikes, runners, skateboards, pedestrians, and now e-scooters all sharing the same space.

"It's really quite dangerous on the Oriental Parade," she said.

"It isn't just our area - people come from all over Wellington to Oriental Bay and walk round."

A survey conducted over June to December last year showed her concerns are shared - 38 percent of the 6,000-plus who took part said they felt unsafe when sharing a footpath with e-scooters.

Over the period, there were 539 reported crashes, about one third of which became a claim to ACC.

Mallinson - who's the President of the Oriental Bay Residents Association - said they've reached out to the council previously to try and establish clear spacing on the Parade for all people.

"We suggested we went back ot the white line that they used to have on Oriental Parade about 15 years ago.

"And so you'd have wheeled traffic on one side: e-bikes and e-scooters and things; and pedestrians on the other. Anything is going to have the odd problem, but that's what we would like."

She said the idea was dismissed by the council.

Rentable e-scooters hit Wellington's streets just last June, with two companies, JUMP and Flamingo, given licenses to operate for a six-month trial period.

Now, the decision has to be made on whether to make them a more permanent fixture.

The survey conducted during the trial was overwhelmingly positive of their overall impact.

Around two thirds of those who participated had used an e-scooter, and the results showed over 60 percent said the scheme had a 'positive' or 'very positive' effect on the city.

Micromobility campaigner Oliver Bruce, said it would be wrong for the city to turn its back on technological progress.

"Don't think of this as being something that's just annoying, and you want to get rid of. This is a wider transformation of our how our transport system will work. It's really well paired to the short trips that most people make most of the time.

"Yeah, there are teething problems, but Wellington is the best city I can think of in New Zealand to adopt this new micromobility technology.

"We want them in the city, because they make it a way more fun and accessible city for everybody."

What is currently happening on Wellington's streets will be ironed out, he said.

"When the car originally came to the city, there were massive problems with it, as well. Where on earth did we park the cars? We didn't in the beginning. People would just park them anywhere.

"Until we worked out that actually that wasn't on, we wanted to have a bit of order to it, and so we developed a car park. We're really at the very beginning stages of the same thing happening here."

The survey also showed people were using e-scooters to replace car trips, or using taxis.

Additionally, of the roughly 280 people surveyed with accessibility needs, 82 percent said they would intend to use them if they remained on the streets.

City councillor Dr Jenny Condie - who heads the roading and transport portfolio - said the answer could be in making the city more liveable for both the riders, and the walkers.

"NZTA are working on their accessible streets package that will propose to make it legal for scooters to go into bike lanes and that would make a big difference.

"We're bringing in some pop-up bike lanes across the city as a response to Covid, so those sorts of things, providing alternative infrastructure, is really important."

She said it helps in the short term that just Flamingo scooters are operating on the city's streets, while Lime is currently in the process of buying JUMP.

The issue around e-scooter parking will also be looked at, with the council able to pursue the option of working with operators to implement low-cost parking solutions until more permanent options become available.

A decision will be made later on Thursday.