Lime rental e-scooters could be hitting the streets of Tauranga streets as soon as October 21.
Tauranga City Council staff have finalised negotiations with the company for a year-long trial of the e-scooter sharing service, with elected officials due to decide on October 6 whether to go ahead with it.
The app-based "micromobility" service would see an initial rollout of 200 e-scooters scattered around the city for riders aged 18 or over to rent by the minute. The e-scooters would be collected each night and recharged.
Tauranga is coming late to the e-scooter rental party, with services already available through Lime or other operators in Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch, Hamilton, Dunedin and more, plus hundreds of other cities around the world.
Lime was the first operator to launch in New Zealand in 2018, in Auckland and Christchurch, but controversy and safety concerns followed.
It was kicked off Auckland's streets temporarily in 2019 after a braking issue caused dozens of injuries. The issue was addressed by a firmware update but Lime later lost its permit.
Lime returned to Auckland earlier this month after obtaining a council permit to operate Jump e-scooters and e-bikes, a brand Lime acquired from Uber in June.
In a report received in a Tauranga City Council meeting yesterday staff said only Lime brand e-scooters were expected in Tauranga.
A New Zealand-first usage fee structure had been agreed that would see Lime pay based on the number of rides taken, rather than the number of scooters deployed.
Council director of transport Brendan Bisley told the Bay of Plenty Times the fee would be 15c per ride.
Bisley said the fee structure was "more realistic" for Lime, which may have to stop and start operations due to Covid alert level changes.
The earliest possible start date for the trial was October 21. Initially, 200 e-scooters would be rolled out in Mount Maunganui, Pāpāmoa and the city centre, but Lime could have up to 400 before having asking to add for more.
Other brands had approached the council but only Lime submitted a detailed proposal.
"The trial is to gauge whether e-scooters were a good fit for the city and to do this, we only needed one operator – Lime," Bisley said.
He said community safety was a priority and the trial would have conditions.
These included a ban on operating in cemeteries and on Mauao trails and unsealed paths in council parks and reserves.
A speed limit of 15km/h would apply in the CBD, Greerton Village and downtown Mount Maunganui. Lime says its scooters have a top speed of about 25km/h outside of restricted areas.
There would also be restrictions on hours of operations with extra curfews in some areas, and places where the e-scooters could be ridden through but not left.
Geofencing technology could detect e-scooters entering areas with extra restrictions and cap their speed, bring them slowly to a stop and other actions.
Lauren Mentjox, Lime's manager of public affairs in New Zealand, said the company operated more than 150,000 e-scooters and e-bikes daily in more than 120 cities in 24 countries.
"Safety is at the heart of everything we do.
"In Tauranga, our top priority will be to deliver a consistent and safe service, while paying special attention to public spaces, pedestrians and vulnerable populations.
"This includes introducing geofences to limit speed and rider action in certain areas, and offering hands-on rider safety training sessions."
New Zealand rules for e-scooters allow them to be ridden on footpaths and at the edge of the road.
Helmets are not legally required but are recommended, and posted speed limits as well as other road and local rules must be obeyed.
Tauranga mayor Tenby Powell said he was excited about the prospect of another alternative mode of transport in the city.
"It's what we are trying to encourage."
While he hoped the e-scooters would offer "a bit of fun", the other side of the coin was ensuring they could operate safely and that was why it would just be a trial.
Tauranga's streets needed to be able to be shared by young and old alike: "Lime scooters and mobility scooters".
"We have a lot of work to do to make sure we get to that point."
Bryce McFall, chairman of the Tauranga disability advisory group and of Parafed Bay of Plenty, said he was satisfied any concerns about e-scooters could be mitigated by the trial conditions.
Glen Crowther of the Sustainable Business Network said he was interested to see how Tauranga people would take to e-scooters.
"In some parts of the world, it has been a game-changer. But the big issue will be, will people be hooning around and causing mayhem?"
Because Tauranga had waited, it could learn from other cities' experiences.
He said Tauranga's streets were becoming increasingly crowded with people moving around in different ways.
"We need to fast track catering for all different modes and roll out changes on main arterial routes ASAP."
Jean-Paul Thull is a Whakamaramara-based transport researcher and executive council member of national pedestrian advocacy group, Living Streets Aotearoa.
He questioned whether Tauranga needed rental scooters as serious riders would buy.
"The rental ones are more for opportunists or those looking for a buzz with a new gadget as testing them to the limits, a reason crashes happen. Since they are priced on the minute, most users will want to do the most of it."
He recommended the trial be limited to Greerton/Tauriko/Fraser Cove, and only on the roads.
"You certainly do not want them in the Mount as it will just create more annoyance to anyone walking peacefully or walking their dog."
He said footpaths should generally be for pedestrians only.
"Just imagine any fragile elderly person being passed by a fast Lime scooter."
Waka Kotahi, the New Zealand Transport Agency defines e-scooters as "low-powered vehicles". These don't require registration or a licence if they meet the criteria of that definition. Rules for using e-scooters include:
- They can be ridden on footpaths or as close as practicable to the edge of a road
- They cannot be ridden in designated cycle lanes
- Helmets are recommended but not legally required
- E-scooters must give way to pedestrians and mobility devices on the footpath
- They must operate at a speed that does not put other footpath users at risk
- On footpaths, e-scooters must operate in a careful and considered manner.