E-scooters have proven to be a successful experiment in Darwin – but their legal status across Australia remains complex

COVID-19 may have inadvertently made a case for e-scooters in Australia.
  • E-scooters have as been hailed as “essential” to Darwin’s economic recovery by the city’s council.
  • It comes as different Australia’s cities grapple with how to adapt to COVID-19.
  • However, the transport option maintains a complicated legal status in Australia, with public use still illegal in some states and no major plans in many cities.
  • Visit Business Insider Australia’s homepage for more stories.

Electronic scooters could become unlikely heroes to solve Australia’s transport woes as COVID-19 reemerges.

With capital city commuters continuing to shun public transport, those in the Top End have rediscovered a different way to get around on two wheels.

Darwin, home to 130,000-odd people, has found surging demand for the 250 scooters in its inner-city as it opens back up, particularly around its waterfront precinct.

“We’ve seen that the e-scooters are bringing more people down to the precinct, and giving us all a boost to help the recovery process,” local restauranteur Jason Hanna told Business Insider Australia. “I’m always seeing e-scooters parked outside bars and restaurants, and even if someone is just using one to go for one drink, they are making an impact.”

“Tourists and locals alike can explore further, see more, do more and spend more, giving a boost to our businesses.”

It could make a compelling case for the transport, with e-scooters retaining a unique legal status around the country. In some jurisdictions, like New South Wales and Western Australia, they are entirely banned.

In other parts of the country, they have either been legalised, such as in the ACT and Queensland, or must not exceed certain power limits, as is the case in Tasmania and Victoria.

In the last 12 months, however, restrictions have been loosened as some capital cities begin flirting with the new mode of transport. E-scooter companies like Lime and Singapore’s Beam have jostled for the chance to participate in city trials, where councils make a certain number available to locals to test the waters.

Darwin’s is one such city, with e-scooter company Neuron beginning a 12-month trial in January. While few anticipated the rise of a global pandemic, it presents a unique opportunity for e-scooters to prove their worth as an alternative means of transport.

While public transport presents fears of contagions, many of the country’s largest cities simply aren’t prepared for residents to all begin driving or catching rideshare companies like Uber.

With respect to getting people moving again, the City of Darwin says e-scooters have been “essential” to the economic recovery.

“With the city’s average temperature over 30 degrees Celsius, Darwinites aren’t fond of walking if they need to travel a short distance – it’s common for people to jump in the car to drive one kilometre away,” Joshua Sattler, the city’s general manager of innovation growth, said.

“E-scooters have become an alternative solution for residents, who can now take a quick ride to where they need to be, without working up a sweat.”

The partnership with Neuron has also provided a trove of data on how people are using the scooters. The average trip covers 1.7 kilometres, with more than one in three rides used as part of a daily commute.

With scooter use initially restricted to a 5km stretch covering Darwin’s Waterfront district, the city itself and Cullen Bay, Sattler says the trial is now looking to be expanded.

“The e-scooter programme hasn’t just proven to be an economic consumption multiplier, it has also effectively dispersed last mile transport, replacing short car trips and reducing the congestion and emissions in the city,” he said.

“Now that we can see the success of the e-scooters and the role they are playing in helping our city recover, I can’t imagine a future without them.”

However, while the scooters have receiving high praise, Darwin is far from a typical Australian city, and more akin in size to a regional town in other states.

With less foot traffic and wider footpaths, it also doesn’t pose the kind of safety issues raised in cities like Sydney, where despite discussions and the endorsement of MP Dave Sharma, no trial is currently being considered.

The question of where exactly one would ride them in a city like Sydney, with limited bike paths and crowded pedestrian thoroughfares, hasn’t yet been resolved.

Certainly, they aren’t without their risks. Brisbane’s experiment produced Australia’s first scooter-related death, after a man in his 50s fell from one.

Elsewhere, Adelaide has also commenced a trial with Neuron as well as competitor Ride, while Brisbane’s permanent ones have managed to usurp the city’s bicycles.

In Melbourne, legislation has reportedly led to an entire warehouse of Lime scooters being slated for sale in Asia with the company blaming its failure on a lack of state government support.

However, with COVID-19 threatening to transform the way Australians move around cities, e-scooters may well see a new life.

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