New audio warning for illegal footpath riders in e-scooter crackdown

New audio warning for illegal footpath riders in e-scooter crackdown
David Schout

New “in-app communication” trial on Swanston and Elizabeth streets sees e-scooters telling off their non-compliant riders.

A fleet of camera-equipped e-scooters has been rolled out in Melbourne, with new technology giving riders an audio warning for tandem riding and illegal travel on footpaths.

The 25 scooters from operator Lime feature “advanced camera capabilities” and will tell non-compliant riders to cease footpath travel, which is illegal in Victoria.

The “in-app communication” trial, now under way on Swanston and Elizabeth streets and in Jolimont, will also direct riders to park in designated zones to avoid footpath clutter in busy areas.

Early reports suggest the trial had reduced complaints by 55 per cent.

Unlike most other states and territories where electric scooter users can ride on footpaths, travel in Victoria is restricted to streets and bike/shared paths.

The City of Melbourne wants to crack down on those doing the wrong thing, to prevent incidents with pedestrians.

Lord Mayor Sally Capp praised operators Lime and Neuron, but said she still received high levels of complaints about riding and parking on pavements.

“[They] have been very responsive to discussions with us. But there are a range of issues with how e-scooters are used. A lot of that comes down to human behaviour, which is the hardest thing to moderate, change and control,” Cr Capp said at the August 15 Future Melbourne Committee meeting, where councillors endorsed the trial.

“We do believe that the way the technology works means that there’s more we can do to ensure safety, and a big part of the safety is compliance. We want to be proactive in this.”

Deputy Lord Mayor Nicholas Reece, who owns a private e-scooter, said that prior to the meeting the council had received “a lot of complaints”, and that bad behaviour on scooters was particularly evident “late in the evening”.

“I reckon they’re a lot of fun. I’d like to see them continue in Melbourne, but we’ve got to crack down on the hoon element and work better than what it is at the moment,” he told 3AW.

In addition to the new audio warning on e-scooters, other technologies were being developed, including AI systems that prevent riders from “ending” a trip unless they provide a photograph of their e-scooter correctly parked.

Improved “dual band” GPS systems were also being developed, which the council has suggested could be looked upon favourably in future procurement processes.

Most providers currently use single frequency band technology to locate devices and create “no-riding” and “no-parking” zones.

And while this worked well in large locations such as Fitzroy Gardens or the Shrine of Remembrance, it is not accurate enough to prevent riding on a footpath while allowing riding on an adjacent street.

Operator Beam has said it would deploy 200 e-scooters in the City of Melton that can only travel at four km/h on footpaths, which would prove a significant deterrent.

A report from council officers suggested providers who could not deliver accurate geofencing technology in future would be left behind.

“In any future agreements with e-scooter operators, officers would include requirements to take advantage of up-to-date technology as part of the procurement process,” the report said.

 

Management would also seek to ensure that agreements are flexible and able to incorporate new technology as it develops and to exclude operators which cannot deliver appropriate technologies.

 

Dangerous e-scooter use on footpaths continues to be a key complaint among CBD residents, workers and visitors.

However, there is also concern about poor parking practices that obstructs access, particularly for elderly and disabled pedestrians.

Cr Rohan Leppert said e-scooters’ impacts on accessibility were considerable, and the issue was something that required urgent attention.

“I am constantly reminded … that if we can’t find a way to regulate or provide the adequate incentives through a contract to prevent footpath travel and parking in an inappropriate spot, then we’re preventing a class of people from participating in public life,” he said. “And that’s older Melburnians and Melburnians with access issues, those who require aid with mobility. So, we have to get it right.”

A report from council management has advocated for expanded designated e-scooter parking areas, something it says is supported by Lime and Neuron.

This would include, in busy areas of high scooter use, “readily identifiable” parking zones spaced approximately 150 metres apart and large enough for five or more scooters.

The zones would be located on both kerbside spaces and footpaths, and riders would be directed to park by line marking and the app itself.

Council officers were currently identifying locations to trial the marked e-scooter parking zones.

“Many cities around the world are moving from free-floating e-scooter parking to designated parking, often clustered with other micro mobility vehicles [like] bicycles,” the report stated.

At the August 15 meeting, councillors requested management work with Lime and Neuron to “expedite the rollout of designated parking zones”, emphasising the need to find a solution soon.

The Victorian Government’s shared e-scooter trial – which involves the municipalities of Melbourne, Yarra and Port Phillip – began in February 2022. In March this year the trial was extended by six months and expanded to include private e-scooters.

The latest City of Melbourne report said it “appears likely that e-scooters will be permanently legalised in early October 2023”.

According to the council, Melburnians “have embraced the e-scooter trial”, surpassing five million rides since February last year, with almost 6000 trips a day, one of the highest rates in the world.

Both Lime and Neuron have argued that Melbourne’s shared e-scooters currently has a “higher-than-optimal rate of use per day” and said the fleet should be expanded from the current 750 per operator. •

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