Consultancy helping with e-scooter introduction in US says new way of thinking required.

It may be that lessons learned from the humble supermarket trolley may help Auckland and Christchurch embrace the new future of e-scooters.

Louise Baker, sector leader for smart mobility and advisory at infrastructure consultancy WSP Opus, says the 3000-odd e-scooters about to take to the footpaths of the two cities shortly will need an adjustment by citizens.

That's because the e-scooters (capable of hitting up to 27 km/hr on the flat) are quick and quiet and because much of New Zealand's current infrastructure is geared up for cars, not scooters and other means of prising commuters out of their cars.

However, Baker says the possibility of scooter vs pedestrian accidents can be greatly reduced by the adoption of e-scooter "etiquette" As well as slowing down when riders are approaching people on foot, "it could be as simple as having a bell or shouting out, 'scooter to the right', as you near pedestrians," she says.

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"In the short term, there will have to be some recognition by scooter users about responsible use. They are guests on our footpaths and if people on scooters honour this, then we won't need to apply speed limits as they have in Santa Monica."

Baker also points to the efficient use of another potentially problematic set of wheels – the common or garden supermarket trolley.

While there was the facility for trolleys to be misused and littered around car parks and streets, the systems adopted by supermarkets evolved into something easy for patrons to use and easy return of the trolleys to parking bays. She envisages something similar developing with e-scooters.

"People will have to get used to them but the etiquette could grow in the same way as most of us now return the shopping trolleys to the bays "There will have to be some recognition by scooter uses about responsible use – though I don't think we need to apply speed limits, as they have in Santa Monica. It will take an adjustment from pedestrians too – making sure they are aware of what is around them."

Perhaps the single greatest sign that the e-scooters are heralding a new era of transport and city living is the prospect that, in time, residents could be financially rewarded for taking an e-scooter home, charging it, and then returning it to designated use areas in the city.

Some e-scooter sharing businesses pay residents $20 for doing so per each e-scooter – and Onzo said last month they would be paying Auckland users to charge them overnight.

"I think in New Zealand we have a great opportunity to learn from what's happened overseas, good and bad," Baker says. "While our infrastructure is set up for cars, we have to find a way to get more people out of them and into public transport – I think everyone realises that.

"In Auckland, we have the space to re-purpose or widen some roads to cater for things like e-bikes and e-scooters, if that's not already been done. Christchurch is re-building their city to welcome bicycles."

WSP Opus have seen some of the mistakes overseas first hand. The international consultancy is working with local councils in San Francisco – which banned e-scooters initially after hundreds blocked transit stations as commuters used them to get to public transport.

Baker says part of the problem was the scooter companies involved simply made the scooters available without entering into any agreement with city authorities. Three months later, and with WSP Opus advising, San Francisco is allowing 1200 e-scooters to take to the streets there (notably not those who proceeded without permits).

The two companies in New Zealand, Onzo and Lime, are setting up 2500 scooters in Auckland (Onzo) and 700 in Christchurch (Lime) in conjunction with local authorities so Baker says there is unlikely to be the backlash that accompanied the launch of the e-scooters in San Francisco.

However, she says both scooter riders and pedestrians will need to learn how to live with each other.

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Here's how it works: the scooters are unlocked by an app; that costs $1 and then 30c per minute to hire. Because they are not certified as a road vehicle they will be operated on footpaths and riders do not have to wear a helmet (though it will likely be strongly encouraged).

At the end of each day, the e-scooters are collected and returned to heavy use areas, like around train stations and other public transport hubs.

Their advent has already drawn some intake of breath from citizens who imagine they will forever be side-stepping as scooter riders flash past at nearly 30km/hr. Baker says: "I don't want one of those things crashing into me either.

"However, there is a bigger goal here – finding alternative, sustainable ways to get people out of their cars and using public transport. That's where e-scooters and e-bikes can play a big role – getting people to hubs like train and bus stations.

"I think, too, the element of better health, more exercise, getting people outdoors for their commute – all that outweighs the possibility of someone involved in an accident with an e-scooter, especially if that e-scooter etiquette is heeded."