BEST OF 2023: A word of warning from Canberra: e-scooters aren't all they're cracked up to be

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Neuron’s orange e-scooters have been in Canberra since 2020 – and from next Friday they will be launching in Wollongong. Photo: Neuron.

Year in Review: Region is revisiting some of the best Opinion articles of 2023. Here’s what got you talking, got you angry and got you thinking this year. Today, James Coleman has some words of warning about e-scooters.

When ‘micro-mobility’ rental providers Neuron and Beam introduced 750 electric scooters each to Canberra in October 2020, it was lauded by the local government as a new age for active travel in the city.

Now, three years of hindsight later, it turns out this has a better ring to it than, say, “A lot of you are about to get hurt”.

So when I heard Wollongong was about to become the first city centre in NSW to follow suit, and Transport Minister Jo Haylen was going on about how they will offer an “exciting, new and sustainable way to get out and explore Wollongong”, I felt compelled to tell the full story.

At this point, I have to admit I’ve never actually ridden an e-scooter.

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Partly that’s because I’ve only ever walked past one when I’ve been in a rush to get somewhere and figured that the time it takes me to scan the QR code – and then scan it again because it didn’t work the first time – is longer than it would take for me to just keep walking.

But mostly it’s because I don’t trust things on two wheels – they are intrinsically destined to fall over at some point.

If you think I’m wrong here, a recent study by the ACT branch of the Australia Orthopaedic Association (AOA ACT) recorded 623 hospital admissions from e-scooters over 15 months, 17 per cent of which required surgery. Think broken bones.


Neuron and Beam e-scooters neatly parked in Canberra: but how often does that actually happen? Photo: Michelle Kroll.

From Friday, 29 September, we’re told Wollongong locals 16 years or older will be able to jump on a shared orange Neuron e-scooter as part of a trial that’s expected to run for 12 months.

The scooters will be limited to eligible roads and shared paths and speed capped at 10 km/h for shared paths and 20 km/h for bicycle paths and roads with a speed limit of up to 50 km/h. They will not be permitted for use on footpaths.

Geofencing technology will serve as the electronic nanny, controlling where the scooters are ridden and parked, and how fast they can travel in certain areas.

To those in Canberra, all of this is familiar language. But as we also know, it failed to hold back the bounds of human imagination when it comes to finding loopholes.

First, you only have to look at the average car park – wherever you are – to know not everyone gets the whole ‘driving-to-the-conditions’ thing. One minute you’re strolling along a footpath and the next you’re nearly mowed down by an e-scooter doing Mach 2.

Next, there was the dumping. Riders are incentivised to park the scooter upright with the helmet in a place where someone might actually find it – you aren’t slapped with an extra fee. But there seems to be a black-market award for getting scooters into awkward positions. Upside down in Lake Burley Griffin is a common one.

Up to this point, Canberrans have come to know the ecosystem of our lakes and rivers is made up of carp, blue-green algae, shopping trolleys and a bit of water to make up the difference. But now there’s a new element in the mix – e-scooters. Clean-up crews are constantly dredging them up.

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To minimise these occasions and the consequences were an intoxicated person to have free reign on footpaths at 25 km/h, the ACT Government had to pass new ‘drink-riding’ laws in April last year. There are now fines of up to $3200 for “dangerous behaviour” while on an e-scooter.

Then Australia’s biggest petrolhead festival of Summernats rolled into town in January 2023, and a small contingent that previously held no regard for pinching numberplates and hooning around found a new way to satisfy their need for speed for between 38 and 45 cents a minute. I didn’t know there was a way to do burnouts on an e-scooter, but there they were. Lots of them.

Of course, it will always be this way. You have a good thing, bad people ruin it for the good people, but that doesn’t mean good people shouldn’t have good things.

But a warning for Wollongong: just don’t do what we did and go into the e-scooter trend all rosey-tinted.

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