On behalf of the Irish Wheelchair Association, I thank the committee for the opportunity to appear before it alongside my colleagues from the NCBI and Irish Guide Dogs for the Blind to discuss our concerns regarding the Road Traffic and Roads Bill 2021, with a particular focus on the use of e-scooters.
The IWA is one of Ireland's leading representative organisations and advocates with and on behalf of our 20,000 members, who are people with physical disabilities and limited mobility. We do this to address matters that are important to their lives. Our voice is here to represent that community on what is a matter of concern.
In recognising the advent of e-scooters and their increased usage in our society, we also recognise that e-scooters could contribute to addressing climate change and traffic congestion issues as part of a broader strategic approach. However, critical to this is the necessity that e-scooter use be implemented in a safe and practical manner and that the required legislation, regulation and practices not place disabled people or those with limited mobility in a vulnerable position and compromise their independence.
In advance of the draft legislation being published, the IWA created a position paper highlighting our concerns and, given the shared nature of our concerns, worked jointly with the NCBI and Irish Guide Dogs for the Blind to create a joint paper to raise awareness and support us all in having informed debate on this issue. Both papers have been submitted for the committee's attention. Having reviewed the legislation, a number of the issues previously raised are not addressed and amendments are required to ensure the safety of disabled pedestrians and those with limited mobility. This afternoon, committee members are hearing from all three organisations on issues of shared concern, including reduced speed limits, prohibited use on footpaths, usage controls, parking infrastructure and management of behaviour in both private and scheme-managed ownership.
The two areas that I will address are those of parking infrastructure and private e-scooter use. As a wheelchair user, I have a lived experience of bicycles and scooters and of how badly planned and managed parking can severely impact and significantly impede the day-to-day lives of disabled people and those with limited mobility, including the elderly and parents with buggies. The impact of unmanaged and careless parking of micro-mobility vehicles blocks pathways and places obstacles that result in disabled people being unable to proceed with their daily tasks or placing themselves at risk by going out on roads to circumnavigate the blockages, should they even be able to do so.
Added to obstacles such as illegally parked cars, wheelie bins, etc, we cannot compound the issues and place an additional obstacle to this list. My own experiences will testify to this challenge. When out on my own, or with my son in his buggy, I have frequently faced blockages from badly parked cars and bikes, forcing me to turn home as I have been left with no alternative. Unless addressed, e-scooters can, and will, add to this challenge. Legislation does not mandate designated parking areas or prohibit free-floating, lock-to parking. Feedback from our membership experience from both home and abroad is that free-floating, lock-to parking must be prohibited and that designated parking bays-areas are a necessity. Placement of designated parking bays must take into consideration the recommended circulation spaces with pathways and approach routes remaining unobstructed.
The other significant area of concern is the management of private e-scooter ownership and behaviour. Having spoken with several e-scooter scheme providers, use of e-scooters operated though a scheme structure can offer technologies and controls which can help manage driver behaviour. While such technologies are not a silver bullet for all issues, they will not exist on those vehicles that are privately owned. Therefore, it is important to address key concerns in this area. Given the potential growth in private ownership, the proposed legislation makes it an offence to supply an individual under the age of 16 with a e-scooter. However, it is essential that this provision is coupled with a minimum age requirement for the use of e-scooters. Maturity and the ability to behave responsibly means we must ensure we are consistent and appropriate in the age requirements that we set. Alongside reduced speed limits and prohibited use on footpaths, this is an important provision, among a suite of others, for the safety of all concerned, e-scooter users, people with disabilities and the general public.
As always, subsequent to the important first step of creating the right regulatory framework will be the implementation of those controls. The reality is this a global trend and that e-scooters are becoming a growing presence in Ireland. However, in all the key areas to be mentioned today by me and my colleagues from NCBI and Irish Guide Dogs for the Blind, there are lessons to be learned which have been made elsewhere in other countries, ones that can be avoided. Ireland has the opportunity here to lead the way with safety at its core. People with disabilities are not vulnerable. It is the constructs of the society around us that creates the vulnerability. I am here today to urge the committee to act upon our representations by proposing and supporting necessary amendments to the Bill to ensure that we do not create the circumstances where disabled people, yet again, are adversely impacted by the environment created around them. I again thank the committee for the opportunity to present to it today. I am happy to address any questions members may have and to hear the contributions they wish to make on this issue.