By David Schout
Over 10 dockless electric scooter companies are vying to enter the Melbourne market in a bid to replace the “last mile” transport void left by O-bike.
But ambitious operators are waiting on the state government, whose tough scooter laws remain unchanged.
Despite big plans from companies to launch in Melbourne – including a recent demo event by Uber-backed Lime – the scooters are still illegal in Victoria.
Current legislation dictates that any electric scooter that exceeds a top speed of 10kmh is considered a motor vehicle, and must be registered and ridden by a rider with a motorcycle licence.
These laws essentially prevent the launch of all dockless e-scooter operators, whose vision is for anyone to ride the “last mile” to their destination – that is, the distance between their train or tram stop, to their workplace or meeting point.
Users unlock the scooter via a designated app and are charged per minute.
For months, operators have been lobbying the state government to change the laws, which they say were designed for toy vehicles.
But thus far, the state government has remained unmoved.
Most e-scooters can travel at around 25kmh and, while operators can speed-regulate them, they consider speeds below the 10kmh threshold as impractical.
Startups such as Lime, Bird and RIDE have been granted trials in other capital cities but Melbourne remains untouched, to their frustration.
Lime general manager for Melbourne George Morrison told CBD News it was time the government changed the law.
“We hold great ambitions for Melbourne,” he said. “There’s clearly an appetite for micro-mobility here. We recently had 500 people turn up at a demo event.”
Mr Morrison lamented the fact that “more modern, progressive states” had more accommodating regulations in place and he wants a trial permit to prove they can work.
“For us to not be operational – you can read into that what you will. Ultimately the laws should be revised, but in the short term we’re asking for a sandbox trial to be put up. Our model is tried and tested.”
Lime even resorted to asking demo event attendees to lobby their local MPs to lift the speed limit.
Greens MP for Melbourne Ellen Sandell confirmed she had received several inquiries, but said the issue needed to be further investigated.
“The Greens are very supportive of looking at new, innovative ways of getting around our city,” she said.
“However, any bike or scooter share scheme also needs to make sure it doesn’t repeat the mistakes of the past where we’ve seen, for example, abandoned oBikes clutter up footpaths and our rivers and creeks.”
Mr Morrison said concerns a scooter rollout would see a repeat of what he termed the oBike “fiasco”, where bikes were found dumped on footpaths, trees and the Yarra River, were unfounded.
Lime’s model involves independent contractors, or “juicers”, picking up the scooters at around 10-11pm daily to charge overnight, deploying them again between 5-7am.
He said this eliminated the key issue in oBike’s “idealistic” rollout, which saw a large excess of unused bicycles. “If there’s a scooter that’s sitting around, there’s something wrong with it,” Mr Morrison said.
But the state government remains tight-lipped on any regulatory changes.
“Be it cars, pedestrians, cyclists or e-scooters, the safety of all road users is our highest priority,” a government spokesperson said.
“We continue to work closely with our road safety partners to determine how e-scooters may safely integrate with our existing transport network.”
The City of Melbourne confirmed that more than 10 companies had been in contact with it about launching in the city.
But the council said it too was waiting for a regulatory framework from the state government before it could proceed.
One of the council’s key concerns surrounds the scooters impact on already congested footpaths within the Hoddle Grid.
Many dockless scooters are parked on walkways.
“We are absolutely for efficiency of transport modes and helping people get around our city, but it’s got to be done in a way that’s respectful and that doesn’t create more clutter,” Lord Mayor Sally Capp said on ABC radio.