Seanad debates

Tuesday, 14 May 2019

Nithe i dtosach suíonna - Commencement Matters

Electronic Scooter Pilot Scheme

2:30 pm

Photo of Catherine NooneCatherine Noone (Fine Gael)
Link to this: Individually | In context

I thank the Minister of State, Deputy Stanton, for dealing with this matter. I received an email from the Minister, Deputy Ross, to say the Minister of State would be taking it because the Minister is unavailable, and I understand it is not an issue on which the Minister of State would necessarily be very focused. Nonetheless, he will have a response for me and we can take it from there.

The issue speaks for itself in the sense that I am asking the Minister to initiate an e-scooter pilot scheme to test the viability of e-scooter sharing as a means of clean transport for locals and visitors, and its potential for larger cities. I acknowledge the Department's position is that the Road Safety Authority is currently looking at the safety and other implications of having e-scooters used in our cities and on our roads. We should be embracing innovation that exists and the idea that we would move to make these illegal makes no sense at all. Are we complete dinosaurs or what? We need to look at the National Transport Authority's strategy of achieving zero carbon transport.

Our colleague, Deputy Rock, has done a lot of work on this matter. It is because I have been speaking to a few people who are involved in this area and have looked into the issue a bit more that I am supporting Deputy Rock in his efforts to try to get policymakers to see some sense on this.I have heard that the Garda is setting up checkpoints to confiscate these scooters, which cost people €500, €600 or even more. They must then pay a fine to get their scooters back. That is unacceptable. There is law in place. To my legal mind, though, there is an issue with its interpretation. It depends on whether the scooter needs to be pushed to get it started or whether someone can just get on and start it straight away.

The technology exists to make these safe for use on our roads and limit the speeds at which they can travel. There was a time years ago when cyclists were told to get off roads because they were a danger to cars. We need to embrace this innovation. Other cities have done so. It should be done in a way that is organised, suits our cities and operates in conjunction with cycling. The more ways that we can find to have people out of their cars and not using pollutants, the better. It would also take pressure off public transport. If it can be done in a way whereby helmets are provided, the scooters are parked in specific spots and whatever else is deemed to work well for the NTA's national strategy is done, we should not just leave the issue in a grey area. That would be unacceptable. We cannot be complete dinosaurs. We must examine this issue and sort it out. Legally, it does not make any sense to suggest that the Garda should confiscate them. I do not understand that. We must put a pilot in place in an organised way so that we can see how it works and what its potential pitfalls and problems are. Irish providers need to be involved. Irish individuals and companies can, in conjunction with city and county councils, the National Transport Authority, NTA, and the Road Safety Authority, RSA, put these in place throughout the country in a safe way. That would make sense. In this way, the scooters would not be a nuisance to anyone and people could use them to get around effectively. I would welcome a response from the Minister of State.

Photo of David StantonDavid Stanton (Cork East, Fine Gael)
Link to this: Individually | In context

I thank Senator Noone for raising the issue of electric scooters. I apologise on behalf of my colleague, the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Ross, who cannot be present to take the matter himself. He thanks the Senator for raising this issue and providing him with an opportunity to discuss it.

The Minister is aware of the increasing number of electric scooters, electrically powered skateboards and similar small vehicles on our footpaths and roads, and he asked me to start by outlining the current legal situation relating to such vehicles. The Road Traffic Act 1961 defines a mechanically propelled vehicle as:

A vehicle intended or adapted for propulsion by mechanical means, including-(a) a bicycle or tricycle with an attachment for propelling it by mechanical power, whether or not the attachment is being used,

(b) a vehicle the means of propulsion of which is electrical or partly electrical and partly mechanical,

Electric scooters and powered skateboards fall into this category and are therefore considered to be mechanically propelled vehicles. Any user of such vehicles in a public place, as defined in the 1961 Act, must have insurance, road tax and a driving licence, with penalties under road traffic laws, including fixed charge notices, penalty points, fines and possible seizure of the vehicle, for not being in compliance with these requirements. As it is currently not possible to tax or insure electric scooters or electric skateboards, they are not considered suitable for use in a public place.

The Minister has asked the RSA to research how electric scooters and other such vehicles are regulated in other countries, particularly EU member states. He is keen to understand the road safety implications of the use of such vehicles on public roads, especially when interacting with other vehicles. He is due to receive the outcome of the authority's research within the next few weeks. He will need to be satisfied that permitting such vehicles on our roads will not give rise to safety concerns for the users themselves as well as all other road users, including cyclists, pedestrians and motorists. However, the Senator should note that, should the Minister decide that the benefits derived from the use of electric scooters outweigh the risks associated with using this type of transport, an amendment to primary legislation would be required. He will not be supporting a pilot scheme for the use of electric scooters in our cities while the use of such vehicles in a public place, as defined in the Road Traffic Acts, is ultra vires.

Photo of Catherine NooneCatherine Noone (Fine Gael)
Link to this: Individually | In context

I will make a brief response, although I could respond all day.I have alluded to the fact that there is an interpretation problem in the sense that one could argue that the fact one must manually propel some of scooters before the electric element kicks in indicates there is a grey area here. The fact that e-scooters and powered skateboards are deemed to fall into the category covered by the two paragraphs and are considered, therefore, to be mechanically propelled vehicles, MPVs, meaning users must also have insurance, road tax and a driver's licence, while at the same time we are unable to provide that option to people if they wish to get these vehicles, outlines how crazy and grey the situation is for everybody, including the Garda and the Minister. I have spoken to the Minister about this matter and know that he does not wish to make these vehicles illegal.

The Minister of State said that the Minister "will not be supporting a pilot scheme for the use of electric scooters". In the context of the foregoing, of course the Minister is not going to support a pilot scheme. We need to sort out the legal situation and then we can have a pilot scheme. That can be done pretty quickly. I hope that the Minister of State will encourage the Minister along those lines and I will speak to him as soon as I get the opportunity.

Photo of Gerard CraughwellGerard Craughwell (Independent)
Link to this: Individually | In context

I thank the Senator. Does the Minister of State wish to respond?

Photo of David StantonDavid Stanton (Cork East, Fine Gael)
Link to this: Individually | In context

Yes. Again, I am sure that Senator Noone will make her views known to the Minister. I note that he awaits a report on this matter.

Photo of Catherine NooneCatherine Noone (Fine Gael)
Link to this: Individually | In context

That is fair enough.

Photo of David StantonDavid Stanton (Cork East, Fine Gael)
Link to this: Individually | In context

I hope the report is imminent and that clarity will be brought to this matter.