Christine Fletcher arrived late to a meeting of the governing body of Auckland Council today and breathlessly announced she had nearly been knocked off her feet by a speeding e-scooter outside the town hall.
A heady debate ensued. To be clear, Councillor Fletcher did not want the scooters banned. But she did want an urgent report into their use and she hoped that would lead to regulations about dangerous riding.
Others agreed. Several councillors said that allowing them on footpaths was a recipe for disaster. "Bikes aren't allowed on the footpath as far as I know," said Mayor Phil Goff, "so I do wonder if e-scooters should be".
It turned out Cr Fletcher didn't have her near-miss on the footpath – she was crossing the road at the pedestrian crossing when the e-scooter sped through.
This didn't mean the scooter rider was in the right, but it did highlight that more regulations would not have saved Cr Fletcher. We already have a perfectly good law that bans everyone from speeding through a pedestrian crossing, whatever vehicle they're on, or in.
Cr Chris Darby pointed out that Lime e-scooters have been introduced in a trial being run by Auckland Transport. AT is monitoring their use and will be reporting soon. He expected that report would include issues like speed, helmets and where they can be used.
Darby suggested that because AT was already on the case, council did not need to commission a separate report.
But Goff said he'd like to "get an early report, rather than waiting till after the event and responding to an accident".
He said he would ask the council CEO, Stephen Town, to produce a memo by the end of next week.
"The intention of this is not to stop the trials nor the scooters," Goff said. "I'm quite favourable [towards them]."
That memo will not be the "urgent report" initially proposed, but more of a fact sheet.
Cr Richard Hills said he wasn't opposed to regulating scooter use but he did not want to see them "demonised". Any regulations should be accompanied by more cycleways and "an immediate 30km/h restriction on all traffic in the inner city".
"Most road injuries are not caused by scooters," he said. "They're caused by cars."
Cr John Walker agreed with that. He said he supported the e-scooter trial and did not want Auckland to become a nanny state. "I was almost hit by a car this morning," he added.
Cr Linda Cooper questioned the need for more bylaws, pointing out that public nuisance bylaws can already be used, as can the rules of the road.
No councillors spoke against the scooters, but most were concerned at their apparently rapid introduction.
Has it been rapid? E-scooters are in use in many cities overseas and Auckland Transport has spent several months considering applications from Lime, Onzo and other companies for their introduction here. It's a little hard to see why any of this has come as a surprise.
The Government is also looking at the issue. Transport Minister Phil Twyford says they need to consider if they have the right speed limits for "low-powered vehicles". Whether they should be allowed on the footpath is an issue for councils.
One obvious problem is that dedicated cycle lanes are protected for use by cyclists, to stop cars and pedestrians using the lanes. But the legislators didn't consider e-scooters and the law is already out of date. Dual-use lanes, like Te Ara I Whiti, the pink path, are fine, but single-use lanes like the one on Nelson St are not.
ACC reports that 14 e-scooter injuries have been reported so far. It's not clear how many of those were to scooter riders and how many to other people. But with tiny wheels and limited manoeuvrability, e-scooters are clearly more dangerous to ride at speed than bikes – and Auckland streets where the surface is disrupted by tree roots and the like are especially risky.
There's more than a hint of panic about all this: omg, look at this new terrible thing young people are doing. We've been here with skateboards and roller blades and we'll be here again. We're lucky no one has introduced ride-share personal hovercraft yet.
The fact is, it's dangerous on the roads and sometimes on the footpath too. On the whole it's drivers and riders ignoring the rules who make it dangerous. So we need rules that are fit for purpose, but we also need a better culture around road use.
Lime already asks its users to look out for other people on the footpaths and to obey the road rules. Here are three more things Auckland Transport and the council could do right now:
•Advise all e-scooter users to use dedicated cycle lanes, not footpaths, where that option exists. If that breaks the law, well, who's going to argue?
•Put a 10km/h speed limit on footpath use – and require e-scooter companies to instruct users to stay within that limit.
•Require those e-scooter companies to tell users not to speed down hills.
The most important safety measure, though, is not one that can be regulated. When courtesy rules, safety comes to the fore. It's true for drivers of cars and trucks, and for bike riders, and now for e-scooter users too.
One more thing. There are just a few hundred e-scooters in Auckland right now, but, courtesy of other ride-share companies, several thousand more on the way. For the sake of everyone, we're going to need more bike lanes.