Business Technology

Wednesday 19 December 2018

Electric scooters are on right path to less congestion in cities

People ride electric scooters in San Francisco, California. Photo: Bloomberg
People ride electric scooters in San Francisco, California. Photo: Bloomberg
Adrian Weckler

Adrian Weckler

Are electric scooters good or bad for Irish cities?

Because they're certainly getting more common. My walk to work each day takes me through the inner city areas of Ballybough and the North Strand. Both have had their share of trouble in recent years and are regarded as 'tough' neighbourhoods.

But now I see young tech workers zipping about on electric scooters there. It's the same around other areas of the capital.

I can't blame people for resorting to the electric devices. For many, there are few better transportation options to fit their requirements. A car in Dublin is a non-starter, while buses often take three times as long. There's always a bicycle, but this can often be difficult to stow in an office.

Scooters are very popular in US cities. The gadgets are charged up using an ordinary electric socket and can travel at around the same speed as a bike.

Now they've affordable to buy in Dublin. For example, a standard model costs €440 at shops like Gyrowheel.ie. Such a standard model (the 'E4') has a 15km range and can move along at up to 28km an hour thanks to its 250w motor. It's only 10kg in weight, meaning you can easily bring it in and of an office, workplace or apartment. It takes around three hours to charge.

In other words, it's perfect for someone living in or around a largely flat city like Dublin and who works somewhere just a few kilometres away.

But there's a problem.

In Ireland, electric scooters are specified under law as "mechanically-propelled vehicles".

This means that, unlike some countries, electric scooters are regarded in the same way as motorbikes and cars in Ireland.

So you need to have a licence, insurance and tax.

It's fair to bet that many, if not most, of those currently whizzing about on such devices have none of the above certifications.

This makes them illegal to use for anyone thinking of one as an alternative to a normal bicycle.

Should they be regarded as such, though? Isn't it a bit odd to see no licensing difference between a tiny electric scooter and a car or motorbike? Might it not be better to ease congestion in cities by incentivising transportation methods such as small electric scooters over cars and buses?

This idea has some support among the current batch of TDs.

"Electric scooters have great potential to act as a complement to our public transport network in our capital city and in other smaller cities, getting people out of their cars and encouraging them to use public transport," says Noel Rock, a government TD for Dublin North West.

"In most other European countries, electric scooters are regulated for. In Ireland, they currently fall between several regulatory stools. It's clear that these silent, non-polluting vehicles should be classed in the same category as electric-assisted bicycles.

"I think we should be looking to regulate them in a more effective way, as classifying them in the same way as a car or motorbike is, quite simply, ludicrous."

Not everyone agrees with this assessment.

Critics of electric scooters point out that those who use them are prone to doing so on public footpaths because the scooters themselves are smaller than bicycles.

As well as being illegal, this is dangerous, particularly with a device that travels at up to 30km per hour.

If you want to see a city where scooter commuting is already highly developed, go to San Francisco.

There, scooters weave in and out among pedestrians on footpaths.

It's not a new thing - non-electric scooters have been common there for at least a decade.

But the advent of electric scooters brought about new commercial transportation companies, with firms such as Lime and Bird littering pavements with thousands of electric scooters for short-term rental.

It may be very handy for those who need to get somewhere in a hurry and want to avoid taxis, but it makes life for ordinary pedestrians a lot more annoying. It got to be too much, even for San Francisco, which has temporarily banned the electric scooter companies from its streets.

Is there a middle ground that can be explored? Somewhere between Dublin's effective electric scooter ban and San Francisco's scooter infestation?

A decision is going to have to be made soon. Hundreds, if not thousands of electric scooters (and electric bikes) can be seen every morning in Dublin city as an alternative to bicycles or gridlocked public transportation.

Maybe it's time to reclassify electric scooters as alternatives to bicycles. We can (rightly) insist that they use bike lanes and stay off the path.

But overall, it's surely preferable to encourage these devices over cars and buses.

Indo Business

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