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“Micromobility is a young term in our transport vocabulary and makes a statement about the ways we move around our cities.”
E-scooters will soon be gracing Victorian streets in four Council areas, following the Department of Transport’s recent announcement of e-scooter trials.
The 12-month trial period will occur in three metropolitan council areas; Melbourne, Port Phillip and Yarra, as well as one regional area, Ballarat City Council. Operators are yet to be announced, however the Expressions of Interest (EOI) process is well underway.
The e-scooter trial has been in the works for several years, with the result of outcomes from earlier implementations (i.e. the oBike) influencing public bodies to adopt a different approach to the introduction of commercial micromobility in Victoria.
A coordinated approach to these trials has been undertaken by state and local bodies and the commercial providers, with aims to ensure that once micromobility reaches the streets, it’s here to stay.
Melbourne bike share
If we look at Melbourne’s current shared micromobility position, our bike share history is the best place to start.
With a slew of unregulated dockless bike share schemes been and gone, and with the original Government-backed docked bicycle share scheme winding up end in mid-2019 , Melbourne’s micromobility opportunity is currently limited to Lime’s e-bike offering (itself born out of JUMP by Uber dropping out of the micromobility race) across three inner-city jurisdictions.
Media coverage of the eye-catching red bikes has been lacking from our screens following a small launch in March 2020. The incremental launch of the bikes into the streets has abated vandalism and complaints with a network management structure achieved via onboard GPS and geo-fencing technology. Although some users still struggle to use the service responsibly, the City has come a long way with the use of shared mobility devices.
The rise of the e-scooter
While bike share is making positive steps, the prominence of different micromobility devices is soon to grow.
Already, two-wheeled vehicles zipping down our streets are a familiar sight. These retail-available options are likely to be owned by those who have tried the shared versions in other cities or were looking for a no-fuss mobility option.
However, current laws in Victoria restrict the use of private e-scooters in bike lanes. To commute legally, private e-scooters must have the speed limit and power output fixed at 10km/hr and 200ccs respectively which, to many users, is a barrier to utilising alternate modes of transport.
The National Transport Commission (NTC) Australian-wide legislation to reform these restrictions was circulated to infrastructure and transport ministers in December 2020. Since then, the proposed amendments to the Australian Road Rules have been adopted for Personal Mobility Devises (PMD) as of June 2021 . Creating a legal framework for the use of electric mobility devices paves the way for greater uptake of micromobility as, currently, shared commercial platforms are more accessible to Australians through legislation compared with their privately owned next-of-kin in Victoria.
While the NTC framework now enshrines the use of mobility devices into law, the dimensional restrictions on what can be classed as a PMD produces limitations on electric-assisted devices. This is something that isn’t applied to bicycles, as seen with Cargo bikes. While the introduction of shared fleets will allow for a greater number of individuals to experience the benefits of micromobility with try-before-you-buy access, the current framework still has gaps in covering technological advancements in PMDs.
Is Melbourne ready for shared e-scooters?
MetroCount recently shared cycling trends across Australian cities pre, during and post COVID-19 restrictions. In these counts, they compared the number of long cycle (e.g. cargo bicycle) and short cycle (e.g. e-scooter/child’s bikes) devices in use from 2018 to 2020.
There has been substantial growth in the short cycle counts on two key routes surveyed in Melbourne; Albert Street in the City and the Bay Trail near Brighton. The growth of short cycle numbers point to a rapid overall increase in micromobility demands on our path and trail networks. In particular usage along the Albert Street route increased from 281 trips in 2018 to 2455 trips in 2020.
So whilst trials are only about to take off this summer, the growing demand for e-scooters is apparent now.
If the e-scooters are coming, how can we ensure trials succeed?
Ahead of the trials commencing, here are some key considerations for any partnership entered into by the government, operator and end user.
- Firstly, having the commercial providers partnering with the public sector to provide trials enables progressive rollout of capped supply, thus avoiding oversaturation of the market, a key failing of the original dockless bike share schemes.
- Being able to appropriately locate the e-scooters is a must. The newer e-scooter models are all GPS enabled which allows for features like geofencing, better management of fleets and improved accessibility for the end user. Managing a fleet can be done in a partnership arrangement, such as the JUMP bike’s partnership between Lime, Local Council and Good Cycles, allowing for social enterprise and positive impacts.
- Clear guidance on how shared schemes inform the end user once operating is also crucial. Information such as parking requirements and where devices can be used informs users how to best enjoy and care for the devices. Bringing the end user on board to care for and consider their interactions with e-scooters will be crucial to public acceptance. Maintenance crews and individuals who participate in the secondary market for recharging e-scooters can further improve an operator’s standing in the market.
Next steps to success
Creating repeat customers is pivotal to sustained uptake. With the progression of trial infrastructure or tactical urbanism approaches to redistribute our road space over the last 18 months, the focus should be on addressing gaps in the active transport network. The allowance of shared micromobility to utilise this infrastructure can improve the individual’s convenience and ability to feel safe when on the move.
How these trips then link into the public transport network is the grand finale – one that has unlocked the full potential of shared schemes like e-scooters and e-bikes. Where there is a provision of infrastructure around public transit nodes, this creates the greatest opportunity to encourage a major shift, with micromobility options offering a tangible last mile option that will drive down the reliance on private vehicles.
The results of these trials will provide a key data set for the Victorian Government and will help shape the regulatory framework for wider micromobility adoption in Victoria and Australia. A two-year timeframe has been committed for these trials within the recently released 5-year priorities to the Victorian Infrastructure Plan 2021.
Benefits of an e-city
Both private and public micromobility use as part of a daily commute can empower cities to ween off the car-centric diets we have been adopting over the past century.
By creating a transport network supportive of moving people, we are creating opportunities to improve the daily commutes of many locals and pave the way for more liveable and sustainable urban futures.
Article by Senior Transport Engineer Ben Thomson
 End of Melbourne Bike Share: https://cyclingtips.com/2019/08/melbournes-bike-scheme-to-be-scrapped/
 RACV tips on e-scooters: https://www.racv.com.au/royalauto/moving/news-information/ e-scooter-faqs.html
 RACV – e-scooter use in Victoria: https://www.racv.com.au/royalauto/moving/news-information/ e-scooter-faqs.html
 Current restrictions on e-scooters in Australia: https://medium.com/zipidi-intel/australias-dangerous-mostly-unknown- e-scooter-laws-d89c54720b1a
 Future Melbourne Committee 1 June 2021: https://www.melbourne.vic.gov.au/about-council/committees-meetings/meeting-archive/meetingagendaitemattachments/942/16718/jun21%20fmc1%20agenda%20item%206.7.pdf
 Port Phillip Council Minutes 19 May 2021: https://www.portphillip.vic.gov.au/media/pbjlqfbw/report-10-1-dockless-electric-scooter-trial.pdf
 Summary of 48 studies on micromobility: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1361920920308130