The days of rolling out of a Viaduct bar then jumping on a rideshare e-scooter or e-bike might soon be over.
Riders could have to pass a "drunk test" in the smartphone app they use to unlock a ride-share, Auckland Council environmental health manager Mervyn Chetty says.
Chetty said the council was working with incumbent Jump by Uber, Flamingo, Neuron and Beam. He hoped a drunk-test could be introduced by the end of the current six-month licensing period, which expires on June 1.
He said Auckland would be a world-leader in introducing such a test.
Details are still pending, but it will be more involved than the "cognitive task test" that Lime announced, toward the end of its stint on the city's streets. If someone hired a scooter after 10pm, Lime required them to type "yes" to a question about whether they understood its rule against driving under the influence - something all but the most trolleyed rider could manage, given the three-letter word is spelled-out for them, and they got several goes. (Lime's test still applies in Hamilton, Christchurch and Queenstown, where it continues to operate.)
For example, a short-lived, opt-in Google experiment in the mid-2000s required Gmail users to solve a series of maths challenges before they sent an email after a certain time to prevent embarrassing late-night messages.
Chetty and council principal specialist Veronica Lee-Thompson spoke to the Herald after the OECD-backed International Transport Forum released a report on micro-mobility safety, including a list of 10 recommendations (Auckland Transport declined direct comment, saying the council managers would also speak on its behalf). See the full list below.
The report says authorities need to define and enforce limits on alcohol and drug use for all traffic participants - including e-scooter and e-bike riders. It says alcohol and drug use has already lead to a number of micro-mobility fatalities worldwide. And it cites a number of US studies, including one in San Diego that intoxication was a factor in 38 per cent of rider in e-scooter trauma cases.
Police confirm that it is not illegal to ride an e-scooter or e-bike when drunk, because neither meets the definition of a motor vehicle under Section 8 of the Land Transport Act (1998) - although a rider can be prosecuted for careless use.
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The International Transport Forum report also notes that the use of helmets (not currently a legal requirement) is rare on ride-share e-scooters.
It also recommends that safe spaces be created for micro-mobility riders, regulated speed limits, and that authorities "Eliminate incentives for micromobility riders to speed" - namely, pay-by-the-minute rates that it sees incentivising riders to break road rules and speed. The report favours monthly subscriptions (offered by Neuron in Auckland) or measures such as pausing the meter at a red light.
Chetty and Lee-Thompson said new cycleways were on the way - as widespread roadworks around the CBD attest.
But they pleaded it was just not within their regulatory remit to order scooters off footpaths, to set speed limits, to define how operators charge or to create or enforce any drunk-driving rules (although they are trying to take action on that front through the aforementioned ride-share booking app drunk-test challenge).
The council needs law changes by central government before it can move on any of those fronts. A range of measures to address e-scooter and e-bike concerns, collectively known as Accessible Streets, has been talked up since July last year.
Low change in the slow lane
An Accessible Streets discussion paper was expected to before cabinet before Christmas, followed by a period of public discussion. That was shifted to the New Year. Earlier this week, Associate Transport Minister Julie Anne Genter said the document would be with cabinet "soon".
Chetty and Lee-Thompson said they hoped the Accessible Streets package would be in place by June 1. The pair said that was why the first commercial licensing period had been set for just six months. They anticipated a need to reframe licensing conditions once the Accessible Streets central government legislative update was in place.
Asked whether they wanted Accessible Streets to lead to a footpath ban or compulsory helmets, Chetty responded that the council's view would be "guided" by the final form of the Accessible Streets package.
In the meantime, Lee-Thompson said the council had a strong relationship with e-scooter operators, and there was a lot of collaboration. "There's a lot of encouragement around safety and nuisance areas," she said. Voluntary conditions under the current licence period came with curfew areas including the waterfront, downtown, Ponsonby and K-Rd, where e-scooters are banned from 9pm-5am, and a 15km/h speed limit, automatically-enforced by GPS, in crowded areas.
Joe Oliver, a spokesman for the Singapore-based Neuron, pointed to the fact that his company attaches a helmet to the stem of all of its e-scooters to encourage safety.
Neuron offers 3-day ($25), weekly ($33) and monthly ($89) passes in addition to the industry-standard $1 to unlock then 38 cents per minute.
Auckland Council six-month licence period to June 3, 2020
• Total e-scooter allocation: Raised from 1875 to 3200
• Beam: 880
• Neuron: 880
• Jump by Uber: 735
• Flamingo: 630
• Yet-to-be-allocated: 75
But the multi-day passes were introduced as a point of difference with competitors, not because of any concern that pay-by-the-minute encouraged corner-cutting.
"We have not seen any noticeable differences in rider behaviour between an ad-hoc trip and a group rides trip," Oliver said.
A spokesman for Uber said: "Jump e-bikes have a motor that cuts out at 25km per hour. Similarly, our JUMP e-scooters are limited to 15km per hour in select areas as agreed with Auckland and Wellington Council. These restrictions give users a smooth ride but ensure they use the e-bikes and e-scooters in a safe manner."
A spokeswoman for Flamingo said, "There has been no substantial evidence of people rushing their rides and not following traffic rules in order to finish their ride sooner." Per-minute pricing was the most affordable model.
Councillor Chris Darby, who heads the planning the committee that will influence the next licensing period, said he was broadly in favour of all 10 recommendations.
He said the forum's document "really opens up some good discussion about how micromobility can fit into urban living" - but added it was up to central government to put the relevant new laws in place. He was not concerned that the Accessible Streets package was taking some months to reach Cabinet.
"Genter is a hands-on minister. She won't just be waiting for the report. She'll be asking questions of officials," Darby said.
The International Transport Forum's 10 recommendations for e-scooters and other micro-vehicles:
1. Allocate protected space for micromobility
Create a protected and connected network for micromobility. This can be done by calming traffic or by creating dedicated spaces. Micro-vehicles should be banned from sidewalks or subject to a low, enforced speed limit.
2. To make micromobility safe, focus on motor vehicles
The novelty of e-scooters should not distract from addressing the risk motor vehicles pose for all other road users. Where vulnerable road users share space with motor vehicles, speed limits should be 30km/h or less.
3. Regulate low-speed micro-vehicles as bicycles
Micromobility can make urban travel more sustainable. To prevent over-regulation, low speed micro-vehicles such as e-scooters and e-bikes should be treated as bicycles. Faster micro-vehicles should be regulated as mopeds.
4. Collect data on micro-vehicle trips and crashes
Little is known about micro-vehicles' safety performance. Police and hospitals should collect accurate crash data. Road safety agencies should collect trip data via operators, travel surveys and on-street observation. The statistical codification of vehicle types must be updated and harmonised.
5. Proactively manage the safety performance of street networks
Many shared micro-vehicles possess motion sensors and GPS. These can yield useful data on potholes, falls and near crashes. Authorities and operators should collaborate to use them for monitoring and maintenance.
6. Include micromobility in training for road users
Training for car, bus and truck drivers to avoid crashes with micro-vehicle riders should be mandatory. Cycle training should be part of the school curriculum. Training programmes should be regularly evaluated and revised.
7. Tackle drunk driving and speeding across all vehicle types
Governments should define and enforce limits on speed, alcohol and drug use among all traffic participants. This includes motor vehicle drivers and micromobility users.
8. Eliminate incentives for micromobility riders to speed
Operators of shared micromobility fleets should ensure their pricing mechanisms do not encourage riders to take risks. By-the-minute rental can be an incentive to speed or to ignore traffic rules.
9. Improve micro-vehicle design
Manufacturers should enhance stability and road grip. Solutions could be found in pneumatic tyres, larger wheel size and frame geometry. Indicator lights could be made mandatory and brake cables better protected.
10. Reduce wider risks associated with shared micromobility operations
The use of vans for re-positioning or re-charging micro-vehicles should be minimised, as they impose additional risks on all road users. Cities should allocate parking space for micro-vehicles close to bays for support vans.