COMMENT:

Three steps out from the kerb came the dreaded metallic clash of skateboard wheels dropping onto the road just behind me, as a 20-something year-old rider set-off across the Wellesley St intersection, weaving between stunned pedestrians.

Further down the footpath he came to a sudden halt, grabbing a side rail to avoid bowling a cluster of approaching pedestrians with nowhere to scatter.

I'll be generous and say that at least he was more or less in control of his vehicle. But beginning next month, all bets are off.

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Up to 5,000 rental electric scooters, with a top speed of around 27kph plus, are to be dropped on Auckland's pavements for novice drivers to step aboard and open the throttle. They're to be let loose amongst pedestrians whose walking speed averages 5kph. Skittles come to mind.

It's as though the lunatics really are running the asylum.

Last Thursday the New Zealand Transport Agency quietly gazetted a special notice making this madness possible. Forthwith an "E-Scooter" with an electric motor that does not exceed 300 watts in power or has wheels greater than 355mm in diameter is no longer to be classified a motor vehicle.

This, despite it being patently obvious that the machine in question is a motor-powered vehicle capable of speeds of 27kph plus and a range of 30-odd kilometres!

This official lie allows it to be used on either a road or footpath, with the wishful proviso that on the footpath, the driver has to be "careful and considerate" and "give way to pedestrians and drivers of mobility devices".

In the past I have suggested that public transport bosses be forced into the real world by having to catch a bus or train to work each day as part of their job description. I'd better add a kilometre of compulsory walking to that.

Force them out into the badlands of the public footpath network, with its uneven surfaces and mercurial users, wandering this way and that without wondering if a silent killer is rocketing towards you from behind.

The oldie trundling along the footpath on their motorised scooter I am willing to share it with - and hope it will never be me. The kids on their leg-powered bikes and scooters, I might mutter about from time to time but accept because, well they're kids and the roads are obviously dangerous for them, But otherwise footpaths are for pedestrians, not for adults on wheels.

Cameron Swanson who is launching San Francisco-based e-scooter giant start-up company Lime into Christchurch and Auckland is delighted with the new rules. He told Radio New Zealand

"If there's quite a few pedestrians on the sidewalk maybe you'd want to scoot down to the road. If there's too much traffic on the street you can move back up to the sidewalk. It allows consumers a lot of flexibility and ultimately it makes it more safe."

Safer for the scooter rider perhaps, but not for the pedestrian, whose only protection from wheeled traffic for the past 100 years has been the sanctuary of an exclusive walking strip.

Also promoting itself is Onzo which has 500 e-scooters en route to Auckland with a further 2,000 to follow.

Peter Knight, Auckland Council's manager alcohol licensing, who as befits this bizarre story, is also in charge of e-scooter licensing, says no application has been received from Onzo, but that council has agreed to a three-month 1,000 scooter trial with Lime, which has plans to add another 1,500.

As for Auckland Transport, it is sitting on the fence working closely with the council "on ensuring the number of e-scooters offered in a service is appropriate for our streets". It claims that, "Safety is our number one priority and we are working to create safer streets to support the multitude of healthy travel options now available."

Well the healthiest travel option is the oldest – walking. And forcing pedestrians to share their footpaths with thousands of ankle high, motorised planks, driven by inexperienced amateurs, hardly fits AT's mission of creating safer streets.

What possessed NZTA to draw up last week's ridiculous Gazette notice is anyone's guess. It needs to be de-Gazetted before pedestrians start tumbling.

NOTE: I referred to the scooter company Onzo as Chinese. I was wrong. It is a New Zealand-based company, owned by a Chinese citizen, who is a NZ resident.