E-scooters allowed on Wellington streets despite calls to ban
Meriana Johnsen, Journalist
The Wellington City Council has backtracked on banning e-scooters from footpaths, after it found it couldn't legally enforce a ban.
It was announced on Friday that Wellington start-up Flamingo, and Uber's e-scooter company JUMP, have been chosen for a six-month e-scooter trial in the capital city.
Councillors voted in favour (9 - 4) to ban e-scooters from footpaths at a meeting last month but a newly-released report has advised the council against this.
Council officials have advised there be amendments to say that it "agrees that the code of practice require provider/s to ensure that electric scooters are not ridden on the CBD footpaths or suburban centre footpaths unless it is unsafe to do otherwise."
There has been a lot of confusion as to whether e-scooters, which can travel up to 30 km/h, are classified as motor vehicles.
But a notice gazetted last September clarified that they were not.
Wellington City Council transport portfolio leader Chris Calvi-Freeman said that means legally, the council cannot stop scooters from going on the footpaths.
"We have moved away from a suggestion that e-scooters should not be allowed to be operated on the footpaths in the CBD - our legal advice was that could place us into a position that we would otherwise not want to be in," Mr Calvi-Freeman said.
"The scooter riders have to operate within the law, and the law as it stands at the moment allows those scooters to be ridden on the road and on the footpath - we want scooter riders to make their own decisions and to ride these scooters responsibly so they will have to decide where the best area is."
"We are stuck between a rock and a hard place because national legislation has not kept up with these new technology devices like e-scooters. We can't overrule legislation, the only way you can overrule legislation in the longer term is by by-laws, and they are something that needs to be consulted on."
The Blind Foundation raised concerns with the council at the last council meeting that e-scooters were dangerous to the vision impaired.
"I was talking to one of our clients yesterday who actually got hit in the arm a couple of times by e-scooters. They're looking at what's coming not what's behind, he just didn't hear them," environmental awareness advisor Chris Orr said.
"The risk there is that they may not go out because they perceive what should be a safe environment for them to walk on as somewhere that's not safe anymore."
"What's wrong with enacting a bylaw to keep your pedestrians safe? Surely that's the whole idea of a council, is to look after ... and I applaud Wellington City for taking this step but we're concerned that council officers are now taking a backward step in allowing scooters to be on the footpaths."
Ellen Blake from the pedestrian group Living Streets Aotearoa said she didn't care how the council did it, she wanted e-scooters off the footpaths.
"The key consideration seems to have been that some people want to use e-scooters so they feel they like they should be able to do it anywhere but really who's using the footpaths? The key consideration has got to be that pedestrians can be there safely."