I thank the Chairman and members for the invitation to address this meeting on the issue of e-scooters. I am accompanied by Ms Sharon Heffernan, senior researcher and Mr. Aidan McGinty, the RSA's vehicle standards engineer who is fast becoming the subject matter expert in the area of micromobility and e-scooters.
The Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport requested the RSA to research how e-scooters and other such vehicles are regulated in other countries, particularly in other EU member states. A report was submitted by the RSA to the Department for the Minister's consideration. I will summarise that report including the recommendations made by the RSA at that time. I have also included some information on recent studies, events and publications for the committee's information.
In January 2019, the RSA commissioned the Transport Research Laboratory, TRL, a world leader in transport innovation and research, to review current practice and the safety implications of powered transporters. Powered transporters were defined as a variety of novel personal transport devices which are mechanically propelled, that is, propelled by a motor, as well as or instead of being manually propelled. These include devices such as electric scooters, commonly known as e-scooters, segways, hoverboards and powered unicycles. The aim of this work was to inform considerations for future policy and regulatory framework updates by the RSA regarding the operation of powered transporters in Ireland. To achieve this, TRL adopted a two-pronged approach, first completing a literature review and then a series of international case studies.
Following a stringent search and selection process, 45 items of literature relating to powered transporters were reviewed. Although there was a noted lack of robust evidence available for review, the findings of the literature review indicated that policy and legislation should be developed to encourage the use of personal protective equipment such as helmets, when using powered transporters. This could be completed via a targeted public awareness campaign and by placing responsibility with the powered transporter providers to promote safety. It also indicated that training be undertaken by operators of powered transporters prior to their use in public, the specification of safety standards for powered transporters, for example, weight or size restrictions, minimum lighting and conspicuity standards, which could possibly be enforced through a type-approval system or certification process, as well as the specification of user requirements such as age limits, licence conditions and how and where the different devices can be used, for example footpaths, cycle paths or roads, and the rules for each of these.
It is important to note, however, that there is currently little evidence on which to base these proposed standards and requirements. Although direct evidence is lacking, it was clear from the literature reviewed that these devices have potential benefits for active transport, reducing traffic congestion and improving air quality. However, anecdotal evidence suggests that e-scooter-related injuries increase with greater e-scooter use. It was also noted that regardless of legislation and enforcement in relation to powered transporters, in most countries there has been increased uptake by users and as such, an outright ban would not be practical to enforce.
Eleven countries were investigated for the case study portion of this report, including Ireland, the UK, the US, Germany, France, Switzerland, Spain, Belgium, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Australia and Israel. Summaries were produced for each country in terms of current powered transporter-related legislation, if any, safety standards and policy recommendations, restrictions on usage including minimum age requirements, restrictions to certain roads and the next steps in those jurisdictions. The findings of these case studies highlighted the difficulties being faced by regulators, policy makers and the public in respect of these devices. In particular, there is a lack of consistency in how different types of powered transporters are being defined and named. The same make and model of a device can have different names in different countries.
This kind of technology is developing at a rapid pace, such that some countries have had to take a reactive approach when developing and revising policy and legislation as usage and the legislative context changes.
On the Road Safety Authority's recommendations, in light of the findings of the report, recommendations were made to the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport to guide the Minister if he was of a mind to legislate for the introduction of such devices. The overall recommendation is that a restrictive approach be taken in terms of regulating for these devices in Ireland in the interest of road safety. Specifically, this means applying restrictions to the devices themselves, the operators who provide these, such as the names with which we are familiar already in other jurisdictions, the roads on which they can be used and the age of user.
Specifically, we recommended that consideration be given to the following items. Electric personal mobility devices, including e-scooters, should be defined in legislation and, as such, any such definition should be sufficiently broad to be future-proof and to take account of legislation and the pace of development in this area of technology. Consideration could be given to revising the classification of a mechanically propelled vehicle, MPV, or the creation of a new category of electric MPV, an eMPV. Devices permitted on Irish roads should adhere to minimum safety standards, for example, a maximum speed of 20 km/h. In addition, design features for devices permitted on Irish roads should prioritise safety features such as brakes, lighting and audible warning mechanisms. A review of the draft EU standard, CEN, could be considered in this context. Some jurisdictions allow such devices on footpaths provided they do not exceed a speed of 6 km/h. However, from a practical perspective this would be very difficult to enforce, therefore, because of the risk these devices would pose to pedestrians if travelling at higher speeds, the recommendation is that they should not be used on footpaths.
There is merit also on safety grounds to limit their use to roads with a speed limit of 50 km/h or less. Ideally, they should not be allowed travel outside 30 km/h zones. They could be used in cycle lanes, where available. A system should be put in place whereby device operators must seek a permit for leasing these devices, either from a national authority or a local authority. They must adhere to certain guidelines, for example, the safety features of devices and the parking of devices while not in use. These proposals need to consider congestion and street littering for the granting of a permit. Each local authority should oversee compliance with these guidelines and mandate training as part of the permit approval process. They could also limit the number of permits to ensure an over-proliferation of these devices does not occur because we cannot underestimate the volume of them in cities that have permitted them.
In some countries an age restriction applies to the user, depending on the power of the device. This is a pragmatic approach that should be considered, for example, a minimum age of 16 for use of a device with a maximum speed of 20 km/h. This does not include, however, making personal protection equipment, PPE, mandatory. Users should be encouraged to wear helmets and high visibility clothing, as per our recommendation for cyclists.
Rather than regulating for the use of these devices at national level, it may be appropriate for local authorities to pass by-laws to regulate for these as they also have powers to introduce by-laws in terms of speed zones, depending on the suitability of local infrastructure. Local authorities will need to give consideration to the future-proofing of infrastructure to account for the growth in popularity of these devices.
Overall, from a safety perspective, it is critical that Ireland’s infrastructure is fit for purpose to accommodate the safe use of these devices and that dedicated parking spaces are provided or adequate collection measures are implemented, such as the city bikes systems, to avoid a proliferation of hazards on pavements or roads and cycle lanes. The Transport Strategy for the Greater Dublin Area 2016 - 2035 calls out the inadequacy of the current infrastructure in section 3.2. Consideration must be given by transport planners to ensure the current infrastructure is enhanced for all vulnerable road users and capable of accommodating electronic personal mobility devices.
Finally, legislation will need to be considered to give An Garda Síochána the necessary powers to enforce the safe and legal use of electric personal mobility devices, and any legislation will have to be enforceable.
With regard to personal transporters and casualties, from a safety perspective it is widely acknowledged, both nationally and internationally, that there is a lack of data in this area on collisions and injuries resulting from the use of powered transporters. This is typically due to the difficulties in classifying the various powered transporter devices when they are captured in national collision data. Definitive statistical information on safety and also mobility patterns, for example, modal shift and the proportion of modes that are being displaced by powered transporter trips, are needed to further inform policy and legislation regarding powered transporter use. A series of studies referenced in the Transport Research Laboratory, TRL, report on electric personal mobility devices provides snapshots of injury rates from powered transporters. For example, Kim et al. in 2018 reported that 65 patients were admitted to hospital in Korea between January 2016 to December 2017, while Do et al. in 2016 reported on 35 cases in the Canadian hospitals injury reporting system. That was between 2015 and 2016.
There are other recent publications and events. There was a micromobility conference in Ljubljana, in October. A recent European Commission conference highlighted the need for renewed planning to ensure road safety as the popularity of these devices continues to grow. Among the topics the conference participants discussed was the need to integrate micromobility solutions into public transport, such that they can be complementary to one another rather than replacing or displacing it. Tailored infrastructure to accommodate this will likely be needed, which may be city or jurisdiction-specific.
The need for a minimum technical standard for powered transporters was also discussed, as was the recommendation that different modes of transport be kept separate to minimise potentially dangerous interactions with other road users. It was suggested that over-regulation be avoided but that a common regulatory framework must be drafted which addresses safety aspects such as speed limitations, guidance for parking, minimum age requirements and technical requirements.
The European Transport Safety Council, ETSC, PIN Flash report 37, Safer Roads, Safer Cities: how to improve urban road safety in the EU, was published in June 2019. It examined how best to reduce road traffic collisions that occur on urban roads, the majority of which involve vulnerable road users. It focuses in part on the safety challenges facing cities and towns across Europe in light of the rapidly changing means that people are using to travel in urban environments. The need for tailored infrastructure, education and awareness campaigns, and national legislation and city-level regulations to accommodate growing use of shared and personal powered transporters, is highlighted, as is the unfortunate lack of data to further inform policy and legislation regarding their usage. Given the often restricted space in urban areas for travel, this must be used efficiently to ensure road users are not put at increased risk.
Key recommendations regarding the use of powered transporters, particularly e-scooters, included that traffic regulations on space sharing be defined, for example, whether e-scooters should travel on the pavement, cycle paths or on the roads with motorised traffic, that e-scooter collision data are collected, and that further research on the road safety implications of powered transporters be conducted.
A report by the International Transport Forum, ITF, in August 2019 considers how new, app-based mobility services, including car-sharing, bike-sharing and e-scooter sharing services, can be effectively regulated to ensure innovative forms of urban mobility deliver their full benefits for society while ensuring the safety of road users. Based on an ITF round table discussion, this report discusses the various benefits, including cheaper, more comfortable and timely transport options and risks, including safety and security concerns and cluttering public spaces with bicycles, e-scooters and associated vehicles with app-based mobility services. Among a series of recommendations, the authors propose that the broader urban policy environment is taken into account when designing regulations for app-based mobility services. Mitigating greenhouse gas emissions, reducing congestion, improving air quality and enhancing mobility particularly through the promotion of active travel are of substantial societal benefit and regulatory design for mobility services should account for such factors. In line with this, it is recommended that suitable infrastructure is invested in to ensure these benefits are maximised while reducing road user risk.