Rental E-Scooters – Last Mile Saviour or Unsavoury Street Clutter?

E-Scooters have become a familiar sight on the streets of many New Zealand cities since they arrived in 2018.

They are a controversial mode of transport; some argue they fill the vital ‘last mile’ function, allowing people to jump on a rental e-scooter between public transport stops and home, or to pick up rental cars, and that they provide street activation and transport for tourists. Others argue that rental e-scooters replace walking trips, parked scooters block footpaths creating street clutter, and their irregular users do not operate them with the skill and responsibility required to avoid conflict with pedestrians.

While rental e-scooter companies are now operating in cities around the world, a couple of recent European bans of rental e-scooters in Paris (in April 2023, ban from September 2023) and Malta (October 2023, ban from March 2024) reflect a changing sentiment towards rental schemes. In Malta, the ban focuses on the safety risks of e-scooters and the inability to enforce appropriate behaviour. Paris voted rental e-scooters out by public referendum. Interestingly, a recent study indicates an uptick in demand for rental bikes has followed the rental e-scooter ban in Paris – so the appetite for shared devices is strong.

There is a difference in opinion towards privately owned e-scooters and rental e-scooters. It seems that private e-scooters are here to stay. However, a spot poll of Abley staff revealed a relatively even split regarding rental e-scooters: approximately 66% favoured retaining rental e-scooters with 34% in opposition. We sought the views of two staff members, one for and one against. Let us know what you think?

Pro Rental E-Scooters: Ashrita Lilori

A good e-scooter would cost at least $1,000 in one go, an amount I would not spend lightly. However, a few dollars to get me from Auckland’s waterfront to the Wynyard Quarter is affordable, and scooting is a fun way to travel. E-scooters have a key transport and recreational role in CBDs and inner-city suburbs where walking distances can be longer than is comfortable or on hilly terrain. They are a legitimate alternative when a car isn’t an option and allow zipping through town without getting stuck in traffic and give an endorphin rush. They are also great for tourists, and for occasional short trips where public transport doesn’t serve – like going to pick up a car from the mechanic or meeting a friend.

In recent years, there has been a welcome push for helmets and many rental companies provide these. One change I recommend is better visibility and wayfinding for rental e-scooter and e-bike parking so that designated spaces can be correctly used. It would also be great to require users to park in designated hubs throughout urban areas, so that visual eyesore and cluttering of rental e-scooters are not a problem for business communities, pedestrians, and other road users. These dedicated e-scooter and e-bike spaces could even be retrofitted to include charging and operate like a micro-mobility parklet.

Rental Bike and Scooter Parking on Fort St, Auckland, September 2023

At the recent Trafinz conference 2023, Professor Narelle Harworth from Queensland University shared her studies on micromobility outcomes in Australia, comparing rental and owned e-scooters. Unsurprisingly, one of her major findings was that many tourists and students used rental e-scooters to get around Australian CBD areas. In contrast owned e-scooters were a popular choice for daily commuters. Rental e-scooters are clearly serving a need for a group of travelers for whom purchasing a device is impractical or unaffordable.

Overall, rental or owned micro mobility modes are here to stay in urban areas and tourist hotspots, providing us with cheap and easy ways to travel for tourists and locals alike. If only we could encourage people to park their e-scooters in assigned spaces after they’ve had their share of fun.  

Rental e-scooters parked in Auckland CBD, 2021
Rental e-scooters parked in Auckland CBD, 2021
Anti Rental E-Scooters (as they exist currently): Jae Morse

The case for rental e-scooters hinges on the relatively cheap access to a fast and fun transport method. This is a selfish perspective, based on the profile of rental e-scooter users.

The user of the rental e-scooter has a fast and efficient method of transport for a relatively low price. However, typically rental e-scooters are ridden on the footpath, competing with footpath users travelling at walking pace. 

E-scooters are legally allowed on the footpath in most places (they are banned on the footpath along Wellington’s Golden Mile), yet they can travel at up to 27 km/h on the flat, while the average walking speed is closer to 5 km/h. This creates a new conflict for pedestrians. It is far too common to see e-scooter riders weaving through crowds during peak hours, creating an uncomfortable situation for pedestrians. A recent study from five countries showed only 26% of pedestrians believe the footpath is an appropriate place for e-scooters.

A 2020 survey of university staff in Arizona, USA, found that 55% of scooter riders (private or rental) were between 18 to 34. Young people have more travel choices than older, less able people. Are e-scooter users introducing new risks to older pedestrians with fewer alternative transport options? I note that in Auckland rental e-scooters are geocoded to have a lower power output in CBD areas, to try to restrict speeds.

Rental e-scooter on the footpath, Wellington CBD, November 2023
Rental e-scooter on the footpath, Wellington CBD, November 2023

Another issue is that when the user is finished with their e-scooter, there is no requirement to park it sensibly. Recommendations and guidelines are about as enforceable as “Keep off the Grass” signs.

Rental e-scooters routinely block footpaths, narrowing the available space for pedestrians and limiting the walkability of our inner-city streets. A rental e-scooter parked so that it blocks the footpath would be unnerving and potentially dangerous when encountered by a person with a visibility impairment. It would be difficult to avoid for a wheelchair user or person with a buggy or stroller.

Rental e-scooter parked in suburban Wellington, October 2023

The problems I’ve outlined are primarily associated with rental e-scooters. I have rarely observed private e-scooters being parked on the footpath, and they are also more likely to be ridden on the road. This puts rental e-scooters and users in competition for footpath space with vulnerable road users who may not have alternative modes of transport.

Overall, rental e-scooters are a reliable and cheap means of transport. However, restrictions on speed, ride location (ie footpath/road), and parking location are required to avoid ongoing risk to other footpath users.

I don’t believe all e-scooters should be banned, but without more restrictions and enforcement on rental e-scooters, I believe they cause more harm than good.

It’s clear that e-scooters are here to stay – but there appears to be a difference in behaviour between those using own e-scooters vs. rental e-scooters. The issue of competition for the use of footpaths between pedestrians and rental e-scooter users highlights the challenges of inequity in transport, particularly for vulnerable road users who perhaps do not have access to public transport or a driver’s license. While rental e-scooters fill a convenient transport need in some situations, using these devices mustn’t discourage those with few choices from traveling by making the footpath a more intimidating space. Careful regulation must play a part in the future of these devices.