COMMENT: The deployment of Lime scooters, which were seemingly dropped by Martians on the streets of Auckland and Christchurch on or about October 15, 2018 — and just prior to the Christmas crush — was an extraordinary exercise.
Of course we should all agree and accept that there will be the requirement for multiple responses to reduce congestion of a city growing as rapidly as Auckland. Lime scooters — which were also rolled out in Hutt Valley 11 days before Christmas and in Dunedin in January — will be part of that equation.
Auckland has a number of traffic issues to deal with. We have yet to discuss the outdated ferry system, phasing of traffic lights, land needed for park-and-rides and plans to cut the speed limit to 30km/h for another 700km of Auckland roads in the name of safety.
The problem is, the policy of forcing congestion requires a public transport system that allows for that to happen. Clearly that system is not in place.
Now back to the Lime scooters.
Somewhere, someone must have negotiated the deployment of 1000 vehicles on to the Auckland central business district. The first citizens knew about it was when they were launched in October.
Ten days later, Mayor Phil Goff called for an urgent council report to look at safety concerns after one of his councillors was almost run over by a Lime scooter travelling at 30km/h on the footpath.
At this time, a spokesperson for Lime responded: "Keep in mind that with any level of transport comes a level of risk."
At no time was the Auckland citizen ever made part of the conversation on the deployment of these scooters. Worse still, nor were the elected governing board.
The Auckland Transport agency for the last seven years has been chaired by Dr Lester Levy. He is a medical doctor by training but more importantly, since 2009 — as chairperson of the Waitematā District Health Board, followed by his appointment in 2016 to chair the Auckland District Health Board and in 2017 to chair the Counties-Manukau District Health Board — has overseen billions in health money across Auckland.
How could the chairperson of Auckland Transport, with such a significant record in health, deploy these scooters on to the streets of the central business district over a busy Christmas period without any rules or regulations?
He knew, as readers know — and as the mayor's office must have known — that those riding bicycles in Auckland are obliged to wear helmets. Furthermore, major cycleways, at great cost, are being built, and where they are being placed and how they are being delivered is causing major difficulty. We also have bylaws to keep skateboarders out.
If you are looking for any accountability or transparency from Auckland Transport — one of those council-controlled organisations — in the deployment of Lime scooters, you'll find it very difficult.
Given the lack of information from the mayor's office and his transport agency, you then have to look to the New Zealand Transport Agency rules for electric scooters.
It would appear from reading those rules, scooters do not have right of way over footpath users and pedestrians. It would appear that they must not use cycleways.
So with knowledge and forethought, Auckland Transport, the chairperson of Auckland's planning committee, councillor Chris Darby, and the mayor's office must have known they were going to deploy 1000 vehicles travelling at speeds of up to 30km/h on to the CBD of Auckland without any structure or rules.
We are told that the scooters were consented behind closed doors under a regulation known as Trading in Public Places Bylaw. That is an Auckland Council and Auckland Transport bylaw. It was never designed to empower the rollout of 1000 vehicles by way of an open-ended trial.
In my view, it is an abuse of regulation to bypass prudent and appropriate scrutiny by the governing board, elected by the citizens.
The mayor's office, Darby, Levy and senior executives of Auckland Transport must have known about the application of this regulation and the fact it was being utilised for more than consenting a food vendor to provide hot dogs at an event hosted by the city.
There are questions hanging over the owners of Lime scooters. Do they pay ACC levies? The answer is no. Has the New Zealand taxpayer had to pay out hundreds of thousands of dollars in healthcare for accidents on Lime scooters? Yes. Does the company that owns Lime scooters pay taxes in New Zealand — given that every dollar goes directly to a bank account in San Francisco, USA?
What we do know is that the mighty Auckland Council received $7500 for the trial period October 2018 to March 31, 2019.
So a multinational company gets total access to the largest urban area in the country, can deploy up to 1000 scooters and can earn whatever they earn.
The app to swipe the Lime scooter says you should wear a helmet, you should have a car licence, you should be 18 and you ride at your own risk, which shows that even the Yanks understand risk.
Having said that, there is no way that Lime can police its own rules, nor is it attempting to.
The problem in New Zealand is that the taxpayer foots the bill. In the US, where this company is hosted, Lime would be paying by way of medical insurance for every accident that occurs. But here in New Zealand, we just pick up the tab.
If there is a causation of harm, as there has been with cigarette companies, there must be penalties or taxes.
The message from this shambles is that where health-related matters are to the forefront and risk to fellow citizens is raised, before deploying any vehicles on to the streets of Auckland you must surely have had a conversation with stakeholders and the citizens about how they should be deployed, when and with what regulations.
• John Tamihere is a candidate for the Auckland mayoralty. His column will be suspended before the election.