Wednesday, 24 March 2021
Road Traffic (Amendment) (Electric Scooter Trials) Bill 2021: First Stage
That leave be granted to introduce a Bill entitled an Act to make provision for time-limited trials of electric scooters through approved rental schemes and to require the Minister for Transport to regulate their use for the period of the trials, and to provide for related matters.
I thank you, a Cheann Comhairle, for granting me leave to introduce the Bill. This topic has been close to my heart for two years. I have followed the evolution of e-scooters from clumsy lightweight vehicles to the position they are in now. They encapsulate the latest technology and are robust machines, which are very safe on the roads. I believe that they can be a real game changer mainly in our cities and towns, but not exclusively there. Dublin Bus, for example, believes that the introduction of e-scooters has been a significant contributor to those commuters who need to travel an extra 1 km to get to the bus or when they leave the bus to go from the bus to work. We could envisage that people would carry their e-scooters onto public transport, carry them off and make the final leg of their journey on them.
I am aware that the Minister has flagged his intention to introduce legislation governing this and I want to make my contribution to it. My Fianna Fáil colleagues and I would have strong views on the matter borne out of the experience of having dealt with manufacturers of the latest kit and seeing the technological advances in that regard. We have seen that when e-scooters were introduced in a blanket manner in other jurisdictions, they ended up being banned in some cities and on university campuses because they became litter and became a nuisance.
While not explicitly stated, the underlying intent of my Bill is against the blanket introduction of regulations governing the use of e-scooters in Ireland but rather favours the introduction of a local-authority-regulated and controlled sharing or hiring scheme, along the lines of DublinBikes, which has been really successful and has been introduced in other local authority areas. These could be publicly or privately operated.
This is what has been done in the UK. The authorities there have not legalised the use of e-scooters, but they have regulated for them on a pilot for 18 months. At that stage, the public can decide if they really work very well and are safer than expected. Their speeds can be governed through a local authority-governed share scheme. Technology involving geofencing means that if someone uses an e-scooter along St. Stephen's Green and comes across a pedestrian area such as Grafton Street, the e-scooter comes to a halt. It is possible to geofence e-scooters to prevent them going on footpaths, pedestrian areas or other areas on which they might be prohibited.
However, if we introduce a blanket scheme whereby any individual can go out and buy an e-scooter, it is not possible to govern the speed of a privately purchased e-scooter and it cannot be geofenced. In other words, it is not possible to determine where it can and cannot go. Using geofencing will determine where someone can return their e-scooter. There would be a number of geofence locations in villages towns and city centres. If we have the blanket introduction of a purchase scheme allowing anybody to buy an e-scooter, they do not need to comply with specific standards and their speeds cannot be governed whereas with a shared scheme or a rental scheme their speeds can be governed at approximately 20 km/h to 25 km/h, as is done in most cities most cities that use them.
These pilot schemes have been so successful in the UK that a number of constabularies have ordered multiples of these to assist them in policing, particularly in towns and cities. The Bill represents my contribution and that of my colleagues to the e-scooter debate. We should introduce a pilot scheme for 18 months controlled by local authorities which would impose by-laws regarding speed and geofencing to limit where they can go, and apply health and safety standards.
Evidence shows that 50% of people who used e-scooters in Berlin got up on a scooter for the first time. We need to impose a certain number of restrictions and regulations on that. That cannot be done if we introduce a blanket scheme that allows anybody to go out and purchase e-scooters. I am convinced that if after a period of 18 months such a scheme were introduced, it would allow the public to have significant confidence in the scheme and to realise that it can add value to cities and towns. They will then recognise that it is a smart mode of transport, represents micro-mobility at its best and very definitely plays its part in our climate action challenges.