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Visually impaired Kiwis concerned about increasing e-scooter trend, fear for safety

Electric scooter brands say they're working with the Blind Foundation and councils to make sure the e-scooter trend is safe for all, but some people from the blind community are concerned with the growing popularity of the transport option hitting New Zealand streets.

Uber-owned Jump and Kiwi-owned company Flamingo both arrived in Wellington earlier this week, but a tweet quoting Blind Citizens NZ says: "Is anyone really listening? Blind Citizens NZ, and the Blind Foundation, have publicised our respective opposition to e-scooters on footpaths. And what do we find on the first day of Wellington’s trial. Four of them lined up outside our buildings."

The tweet also shared a photo of four Jump scooters, apparently outside a Blind Foundation building, lined up diagonally on the footpath.

Jump general manager for Australia and New Zealand Henry Greenacre said the company is working with Wellington City Council (WCC) and was notified on the first day to say the "four scooters had been deployed in a poor location".

Robyn Hunt's tweet about Uber-owned Jump e-scooters
Robyn Hunt's tweet about Uber-owned Jump e-scooters

"Our team removed these before 8am on the same day," Mr Greenacre said, adding that riders get a push notification through the app if they try and end the trip out of the service area or in a no parking zone.

There are also on the ground teams who retrieve scooters left outside the boundary or in no parking zones, he said.

"We take safety and responsible riding practices seriously. Riders are notified in-app if they try to end a trip in a no parking zone and there is a $15 fine for parking in a no parking area. Riders who do so repeatedly may also lose access to the app."

He said areas around the Blind Foundation, as well as other parts of the city, including around the hospital, were no parking zones and had a reduced speed limit.

"We’re focused on the safety of our riders and all the people of Wellington," Mr Greenacre said, adding that the company was working with WCC on a responsible riding campaign.

But the Blind Foundation access and awareness advisor Chris Orr told 1 NEWS there was a big concern about the increasing number of brands coming out with e-scooters.

He said he did not oppose the form of transport - in fact he supports people getting out and about and using the sustainable form of transport - but he wants them off footpaths.

"Our position at the Blind Foundation is we support e-scooters and e-bikes. They are the way to the future."

He said, however, "footpaths are for feet", adding that visually impaired Kiwis already have to deal with sandwich boards, prams and other obstacles as it is.

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The scooters are being launched in Auckland and Christchurch, and can be found using a smartphone app. Source: 1 NEWS

Mr Orr wants riders to be allowed to use cycleways and the far left of the road to travel - just like bikes, saying they essentially go as fast.

He accepted most ride-sharing e-scooter brands lowered the speed limits around the Blind Foundation but said that's not the only areas blind people walk, and he wouldn't like to be hit by an object going 15km/h either.

In April, the Blind Foundation released survey results which showed 184 of the 200 people who responded wanted footpaths to be prioritised as safe and accessible for pedestrians, and that therefore e-scooters should be used on cycle paths or the road.

People also said parked e-scooters posed a trip hazard for visually impaired people. Many respondents had personal stories to tell of their own encounters with e-scooters on the footpath, with consequences including injury, loss of confidence in using the footpath and an increase in travel times.

Mr Orr called out the NZ Transport Agency, saying e-scooter brands needed rules put in place by authorities. He said he had been in contact with NZTA about a 10km/h limit, but had not heard back for a while.

An NZTA spokesperson told 1 NEWS a 10km/h limit was previously considered for the use of e-scooters on footpaths, adding that the Ministry of Transport is currently leading work to develop a regulatory package called Accessible Streets to improve safety and accessibility for footpath users and to encourage more people to use active transport.

"As part of this work (which is being supported by the NZ Transport Agency) the MoT is considering what and how different vehicles, including e-scooters, should be used on footpaths, shared paths and cycle paths," the spokesperson said.

"E-scooters are an increasingly common way for people to get around. The primary focus of the NZ Transport Agency and the MoT is to ensure that they are a safe part of the transport system."

Flamingo founders Jacksen Love and Nick Hyland told 1 NEWS in a joint statement, "Safety is our number one priority, both for Flamingo e-scooter users and pedestrians."

They are working with Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch councils to identify areas where speed restrictions should be put in place, as well as no riding and no parking zones. Around the Blind Foundation was on their list.

The rules are enforced using GPS and geofence technology which allows the company to create low-speed zones and restrict riders from riding and parking in designated areas. In speed restricted areas, the speed permitted drops from its usual max speed of 25km/h to 15km/h.

"If a user was to enter a no riding zone, the scooter’s throttle would immediately disable and likewise, users are unable to end their rides inside no parking zones and will be informed to relocate their scooter elsewhere," the statement said.

Restricted areas also include landmarks and public areas, including outside parliament, Te Papa and the hospital. E-scooters will also be collected by 9pm each day to avoid people using them in the dark.

There was compulsory on-board training for riders.

When asked how else the public, and specifically blind people, can be protected since they won't necessarily be in those speed restricted areas, they said anyone can report unsafe riding, including in instances where scooter-users are not giving way to pedestrians. Each e-scooter has a unique registration number to do so.

The brand Lime has been on New Zealand streets the longest after launching in October last year. The company's NZ public affairs manager Lauren Mentjox told 1 NEWS the brand has restrictions of 15km/h in place around the Blind Foundation, as well as Auckland's CBD, Ponsonby Road and in Newmarket. The speed can go up to 25km/h in other areas.

"Lime proposed all these zones around safety," she said. "Why we're doing it is because safety is our number one priority, that's really why we've done it."

Albert Hoeft, the founder of e-scooter brand Wave, told 1 NEWS the company had been "proactively engaged" with Mr Orr since March, and also had a 15kh/h speed limit in busy areas. 

It would consider low speed zones around schools if it became an issue. 

AUCKLAND - OCT 15 2018: Lime electric scooters in Auckland, New Zealand. The scooters have a 48km maximum range. Users find, unlock and pay for them using an app and leave them at their destination.
Lime scooters in Auckland. Source: istock.com