Auckland Council lacked evidence about safety matters when Lime e-scooters were launched in the city, according to a briefing paper from council chief Stephen Town.
The revelation comes only days after the publication of a New Zealand Medical Journal study which found e-scooter crash victims are arriving at hospitals with the sort of traumatic, multiple injuries associated with car crashes.
It also coincides with a crusade by Auckland Transport and the Government to tackle road safety and reduce the number of deaths and serious injuries.
The findings have prompted the authors of the study to issue a warning to the public and policymakers about the potential dangers of riding e-scooters.
Surgeons in Auckland are operating on more e-scooter users than on motorbikes, and the public health costs are starting to mount.
In the first detailed look at the public health cost of e-scooter crashes, University of Auckland researchers looked at acute operations at Auckland City Hospital between October 15, when Lime launched in Auckland, and February 22, when the company's license was temporarily suspended over safety concerns .
Of 708 acute orthopaedic operations at the hospital, 98 of which related to wheeled vehicles (excluding cars), 23 operations were for e-scooters riders, 34 for bicycles, 20 for motorbikes, 11 for skateboards and 10 for mopeds.
"E-scooters appear to pose an increased risk compared to other wheeled vehicles; likely due in part to the speeds possible and their inherent instability," the study said.
A paper released to the Herald under the Official Information Act contains the advice and options presented by Town to Mayor Phil Goff and councillors on November 1 last year to mitigate safety issues for rental e-scooters
A high-level analysis about the pros and cons around safety said there was a "lack of evidence to inform decisions" and potential gaps in infrastructure and legislation, including no requirement to wear helmets and rules about use in cycle lanes.
'As bad as car-crash trauma': The mounting injuries of e-scooters
Council employee badly injured on Lime scooter before licence issued
The paper said safety is a key priority but council only had anecdote and little evidence of the extent of safety incidents between e-scooters, pedestrians and vehicles.
In the first week of the launch there were about 40,000 trips and 14 mainly minor injury claims reported to ACC, compared to 32 injury claims for push scooters in Auckland and Christchurch, the paper said.
It said staff advised in the short term to implement a safety communication and education campaign immediately, noting a downside was criticism at council and Auckland Transport "for not taking stronger action to address safety concerns".
"Reducing rental e-scooter maximum speeds, reducing the number of e-scooter rentals and revoking the pilots are not advised at this stage," said the paper, which said it was important to support new modes of transport.
Council director of regulatory services Craig Hobbs defended the council decision not to implement stricter safety measures earlier, saying e-scooters are relatively new globally and in New Zealand and there is still a lot to learn and how council might influence or manage use.
He said the council has licensed scooter companies and worked with operators on safety initiatives.
"While we have no legal or regulatory ability to limit speed or impose rules on the wearing of helmets, our recent trial has included more stringent requirements on maintenance, safety and risk management," said Hobbs, saying all three operators have implemented low speed zones.
The trials for e-scooter rentals ends on October 31 when council will evaluate the year-long trials alongside other research, meeting with interest groups and talking with other councils and Government to look at options for the future.
Lime NZ public affairs manager Lauren Mentjox did not directly answer questions about the researchers' findings, but said the company encouraged safe riding through education, design and the speed limits agreed on with Auckland Council.
The NZ Transport Agency(NZTA) is responsible for managing the Road User Rule, which governs how e-scooters are used on the roads, while police are responsible for enforcing these road rules.
Current rules for e-scooters do not require riders to wear helmets but do require them to ride "in a careful and considerate manner", according to an NZTA spokesman.
This included giving way to pedestrians and mobility scooters, not riding at hazardous speeds and - if on the road - then riding as far left as possible.
NZTA safety tips for e-scooter use
• Be as safe as possible and be aware of cyclists, other road users and pedestrians who may not hear you approaching.
• NZTA strongly recommends e-scooter riders wear helmets.
• E-scooter riders who do use the road rather than the footpath, are required to keep as far to the left as is practicable for their safety and the safety of others.
• Anyone riding dangerously on any part of the footpath, cycle lanes or road may be subject to police.