I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."
Road Traffic (Amendment) (Use of Electric Scooters) Bill 2019: Second Stage [Private Members]
Is the Deputy sharing time?
I am sharing with Deputies Lahart and Butler, as well as Deputy O'Keeffe if he arrives in time. I am glad to bring the Bill before the House on behalf of Fianna Fáil. In so doing, I wish to single out Deputy Troy. The Bill had its genesis in his work and that of our Dublin spokesperson, Deputy Lahart, who is beside me. They undertook considerable work on the issue rather than procrastinate on it endlessly like the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Ross, who is not present. The Minister of State, Deputy Griffin, who is present, predominantly focuses on the areas of sport and possibly tourism. It is surprising that the Minister did not see fit to be here to discuss this important Bill. No doubt, there is a pressing photo call which trumps the need for e-transportation and support for those commuting in misery in Dublin in particular, as well as in many large towns and cities. It is regrettable that he is not present. Perhaps the Minister of State will enlighten us as to the current location of the Minister and his reason for being absent from the debate.
This issue is very much in the here and now. All Deputies see e-scooters every day, particularly in Dublin and large towns. Many people are at their wit's end trying to navigate congestion, over-capacity in rail and bus transportation and difficulties in going about their daily business when travelling to college, school or work. For such people, electric scooters work.
Under the current legislation, the 1961 Road Traffic Act, it is illegal to operate an e-scooter without tax and insurance. That anomaly must be addressed. As far back as 2017, the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport discussed prevailing on the Road Safety Authority to introduce appropriate guidelines and considering legislating for e-scooters, but we are still waiting. Indeed, a Fine Gael Deputy saw fit to issue a press release last weekend to state that the Minister must stop dragging his heels on e-scooter legislation. That move was, no doubt, prompted by our Bill which has been on the Order Paper for several weeks. The Deputy stated that he had been raising this issue with the Minister for many years and so on. Needless to say, I agree fully with the Deputy. The Minister of State will be glad to hear that the Deputy in question is not an Independent but, rather, a member of his party. No doubt, he completely shares the sentiments outlined through the Fine Gael press office at the weekend in terms of the unnecessary delay and procrastination which is a hallmark of the Government. It tells us, "Leave it to us; we will look after this", on matters such as national broadband, the children's hospital, universal healthcare and countless other measures. However, all we get are photo calls, profile launches, celebrations, back slapping and so on.
I note the amendment tabled by the Government. Clearly, a significant amount of thought went into it. It can be paraphrased in one sentence: "Let us kick this can even further down the road." The most recent budget took a smoke and mirrors approach whereby capital expenditure is down €150 million compared with the mid-year forecast but current expenditure is up approximately €27 million.
We are robbing Peter to pay Paul. I know the Minister of State's aspect of the Department will be the larger beneficiary of that. There will be support for other photocalls during the Tokyo Olympics and the European under-20 championships, which we will be hosting.
The time for procrastination is over. We will not be supporting the Government amendment. We hope our colleagues in other parties are prepared to support this vital legislation. It is new territory for this country. It is new ground. We are open to useful amendments as we seek to regularise the situation for the many people who are already using e-scooters and to help us build on that. We know that public consultation is under way. It will be finished at the beginning of November, which is two weeks away. There is no need for a three-month delay. We need to press ahead. The outcome of the public consultation will coincide precisely with the Committee Stage debate on this Bill, if the Government is prepared to order it as such. We are open to any suggestions the Government may have with regard to this legislation that would help us to regularise the situation for people who use e-scooters.
This Bill seeks to amend the definition of a "mechanically propelled vehicle" in the Road Traffic Act 1961, thereby removing the need for tax and insurance in the case of e-scooters. It also seeks to amend the Road Safety Authority Act 2006 to give the RSA the ability to advise on the safest and best regulations we can use. This legislation will provide for the mandatory use of helmets. As my colleague, Deputy Lahart, has clarified, people will not be required to carry helmets the size of footballs under their arms. As technology comes forward from manufacturers, foldable and non-intrusive helmets are becoming available.
There are many good things in this Bill. If the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport had seen fit to be here today - he may participate in the Committee Stage debate - he might have made some tangible suggestions and we might even have embraced them. We look forward to doing so on Committee Stage, which is the appropriate time for such discussions. There should be no further procrastination. Delay is the hallmark of this Government. This was epitomised by Deputy Rock in his press release at the weekend. It came from the Department's press office. The Deputy said we need to see action because we have had enough delay on this matter.
This legislation is being proposed on behalf of people who are trying to think green, to get away from the misery of commuting and to take advantage of the technology that is available to them. They want to travel to work in an efficient manner on e-scooters with a carbon footprint that is a fraction of the carbon footprint of the standard combustible engines of buses, cars and vans, which we are all so used to.
I will hand over for now to Deputy Lahart and my other colleagues who wish to make some points on this legislation. I appreciate that the Minister of State may have been given a hospital pass in this regard. I am guessing that the Minister, Deputy Ross, is jetting off to the rugby match in Tokyo on Saturday. No doubt the Minister of State will be able to inform us. I hope his response will embrace the fact that this legislation is being introduced with sincerity and genuine thought for people who are bring criminalised, in effect, because of the Government's failure to bring forward appropriate regulations.
I thank the Minister of State for being here today. It is a much more difficult task to have a go at him because his personality absorbs these kinds of things seamlessly.
I will take that as a compliment.
We are depending on the Minister of State to pass on our comments to the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport. As my colleague, Deputy MacSharry, has said, the context for this debate is the worsening congestion in Dublin. As my party's Dublin spokesperson, I am conscious that congestion in the city is increasing on a daily and weekly basis. As the Minister of State is aware, Dublin is now known as the slowest moving city in Europe. When all of the accumulated hours are added up, it is estimated that the average person in Dublin spends ten days sitting in traffic each year. As I have said in this House previously, congestion is costing the economy approximately €350 million. It is predicted that this will increase to almost €3 billion by 2030.
The Minister, Deputy Ross, has weighed in on other Government portfolios, including social protection and - most notably - justice. Nobody from Fine Gael other than the Minister of State, Deputy Griffin, is present for this debate. Nobody in Fine Gael seems to weigh in on the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport. Transport has been neglected. The Minister is broadly disengaged from the issues that will fill the gap between now and 2027, when the metro will come on stream and BusConnects will be delivered. We are trying to fill the gap by bringing climate action-friendly legislation before this House.
Deputy MacSharry and I admit that e-scooters are not a silver bullet. They have a small part to play. They are one of many things that can contribute in a small way to lessening and overcoming the chronic congestion we are increasingly experiencing. Given that this is one of the first genuine climate action Bills to have been brought before the House, I am disappointed no Green Party Deputies are present. I exhort them to support this legislation when it is put to a vote. I would be very surprised if they did not do so.
The Minister of State, like all Deputies who are worth their salt, will know that the whole transport technology space is evolving very quickly. Two years ago, e-scooters would not have been considered as a possible response to traffic congestion other than in places like China. As a result of a splurge of activity in the US, many people have been trying to make money quickly. Our Bill is perfectly timed to take advantage of the mistakes that were made in other countries where e-scooters were introduced in advance of the introduction of regulations. In many such countries, e-scooters were banned from certain campuses, cities and towns because they were seen as a nuisance. As Deputy MacSharry has said, in this Bill we are trying to create a legal framework for ensuring e-scooters are safe for the public to use.
I would like to refer to an interesting article that was published in The New York Times last year. I read it because I was aware that the US has a great deal of experience in this area. It was written by a journalist who wanted to experience the scooter craze for himself by spending a week using shared e-scooters, like the Dublin city bikes scheme, as his primary mode of transportation. The article states:
I rode them to meetings, ran errands across town and went for long joy rides on the Venice Beach boardwalk. In all, I took more than a dozen scooter rides, from just a few blocks to several miles. And here's my verdict: E-scooters might look and feel kind of dorky, but they aren’t an urban menace or a harbinger of the apocalypse .... Like the earliest ride-hailing providers, many e-scooter companies have taken a cavalier approach to growth, dumping thousands of vehicles on city streets with no permits and little advance notice. This tactic has not endeared them to cities [which have ended up paying fines, etc] .... Emerging technology should always be scrutinized.
In this legislation, we are trying to put in place a model of best practice which learns from the mistakes of other countries. As we have said, we are completely open to amendments in this regard.
According to the article in The New York Times, the perception among the public is that there are three major issues with e-scooters. The first perceived issue is that "Scooters are a public safety hazard". As Deputy MacSharry has pointed out, the RSA could approach this issue by setting speed limits and requiring people to use crash helmets. Some providers are providing lessons because some people fall off when they take a ride on an e-scooter for the first time. However, people are far less likely to fall off than they anticipate. The second perceived issue is that "Scooters are cluttering sidewalks, roads and other public spaces". Our legislation reassures the public that this simply will not happen. The third perceived issue is that "Scooters are annoying symbols of tech-world elitism". In fact, they are incredibly cheap, incredibly affordable, flexible and agile. As we have said, e-scooters alone will not solve the congestion problems of Dublin or any other urban area. I know Deputy Butler will speak about them from a Waterford perspective. E-scooters should be a small part of our effort to deal with the problem of chronic traffic congestion.
The technology in this area has evolved since e-scooters started to be introduced. It is continuing to evolve. It is clear that in respect of technology and e-technology, the Government has put all of its eggs in the basket of e-cars. The climate action plan, which is a laudable document, does not mention the role of e-bikes, which are playing a critical role in cities in countries like Belgium, Austria, France, Denmark and the Netherlands. The plan does not mention the role that e-scooters can play. It is all about e-cars. It suggests that there will be 1 million e-cars in Ireland by 2030. When the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport spoke after the budget last week, he did not mention the provision of tax incentives, tax deductibles or general funding for the provision of e-scooters and e-bikes. Equally, there were no incentives for associated infrastructure.
The Government has had eight years to try to introduce these initiatives. Its cupboard is clearly bare when it comes to technological solutions and using smart technology to solve some of the problems that face us.
In summary, we do not see why we should delay our Bill for three months. No representative in the House cannot bring the arguments the public are bringing to the public consultation which is finishing in a few weeks. By the time this moves to the next stage, the fruits of the public consultation will be available to everybody. Why kick this into January next year? In his response, the Minister of State, Deputy Griffin, must defend that in a way that the public finds acceptable.
I thank the Ceann Comhairle for the opportunity to speak on this issue. I commend my colleagues, Deputies Lahart, MacSharry and Troy, who worked very hard to bring the Bill forward.
The use of e-scooters is growing in popularity with commuters, and companies in our cities are offering e-scooter rentals to tourists. The Bill is timely. Whether one is a fan of e-scooters, they have become very popular in European countries. I will concentrate on health and safety issues because whether one likes them, health and safety have to be paramount.
Clarity needs to be brought to their use as they are in a legal limbo. The Road Safety Authority, RSA, has recommended that e-scooters be legalised, with important safety regulations laid down. The RSA carried out research into how other EU member states regulate the use of these vehicles. The report recommends that legislation should be developed which encourages the use of protective equipment by users, the provision of training and safety standards regarding their use and guidance on where they can be used. It also found that the use of such vehicles could help Ireland to reach its climate emissions targets. Providing these alternative travel means is sustainable and will ultimately reduce carbon emissions and provide a benefit to the environment.
E-scooters offer a green alternative to commuters making short journeys around cities and suburbs. They have the potential to reduce congestion and emissions. As it stands, e-scooter users should have insurance, road tax and driving licences, with penalties under road traffic laws, including fixed charge notices, penalty points, fines and possible seizures of vehicles for not being in compliance with these requirements. Despite this, it is currently not possible to tax or insure an e-scooter. Therefore, they are, essentially, illegal on Irish roads, and that is a worry.
The Bill aims to create a legal regime for the use of e-scooters that is based on a common-sense approach and lessons from other jurisdictions. It first removes the requirement for these vehicles to be taxed and insured, which are overly onerous requirements that do not recognise the nature of the vehicles. It also sets out a speed limit as well as a requirement to wear a helmet, which is very important.
With Christmas approaching, we will see more and more e-scooters on our roads and paths. As I thought about what I would say during this debate I did some research. I am not as familiar with these vehicles as other Deputies. They are prevalent in Dublin. I walked down a street at lunchtime and somebody whizzed past me on one. They are growing in popularity. I looked up what they cost. A lightweight e-scooter is available for €325 online and more expensive models cost anywhere from €600 up to a couple of thousand euro. My worry is that many young children and teenagers will be using e-scooters and that is why it is important to have this conversation. These scooters will be used by young people in particular, and health and safety has to be our main concern. I especially welcome the provision in the Bill on wearing a helmet as this will be the only protection for people's heads if accidents happen.
We need to invest seriously in Ireland's transport network and it is evident that in urban and suburban areas in particular new alternatives are needed. As we consider the route forward, the pressing issues of climate change and air quality need to be factored in. The reality is that e-scooters, like e-bikes, present an exciting new possibility in terms of personal transport. The current ban on their use on Irish roads is pointless, inconsistently applied and stuck in the dark ages.
Safety considerations must be taken into account when it comes to e-scooters, which have caused a number of serious and minor injuries abroad. The Bill sets a speed limit of 25 km/h, a limit which is mirrored across other jurisdictions. The Bill requires that all e-scooters be fitted with a limiter, a device that prevents them from travelling above a certain speed. Experience from other jurisdictions underscores the need to set down sensible regulations on the use of e-scooters before their use becomes commonplace. The Bill is timely and merits support.
Of course, e-scooters will always be safest where there is high-quality segregated infrastructure available to those who use them and to cyclists. Given the pressing nature of the issue, as my colleagues have said, they are open to accepting amendments on Committee Stage and hope the Bill will receive cross-party support.
I move amendment No. 1:
To delete all words after “That” and substitute the following:
“Dáil Éireann resolves that the Road Traffic (Amendment) (Use of Electric Scooters) Bill 2019 be deemed to be read a second time this day three months, to allow for the consideration of the outcome of the Public Consultation on Powered Personal Transporters, as commissioned by the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport to be finalised and to allow for that outcome to be then taken into account in the consideration of the Bill.”
I thank Deputies for bringing forward the Bill. The Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Shane Ross, sends his apologies. He is unable to be here because of departmental commitments.
It is fitting that we are having this discussion. When I first came to Dublin almost nine years ago after the 2011 general election, I was able to drive in, out of and around Dublin city very easily. The congestion in Dublin, which is heavy at times, is a result of the growth in the economy and the fact that we are now in a very different place compared with 2011. That said, there may well be a place for e-scooters in the future in terms of how we address that problem.
It took me 44 minutes to drive to Tayto Park from Merrion Square today. Sometimes we talk about congestion in Dublin city, but it is not the worst city to drive around. Sometimes we can talk it down too much, which can be detrimental. I am not ignoring the fact that there are crunch times where the city is at a standstill. There are also times when one can travel around Dublin more easily, which was the case during rush hour earlier today. As Deputies know, lowly Ministers of State do not have access to bus lanes.
Or to rugby tickets.
We can sometimes talk down our city and I do not think we should do that.
I thank Deputy MacSharry for bringing this Bill before the House, which proposes to regulate the use of e-scooters and provide for their safe use on Irish public roads and streets. While I can state that the Minister, Deputy Ross, appreciates the broad thrust of the Bill in that respect, rather than opposing the Bill outright, he is proposing to table a timed amendment to the motion that the Bill be now read a Second Time to allow three months for the consideration of the outcome of the current public consultation process, which concludes at the beginning of next month. Following that consideration, should the Minister decide to legislate for the safe use of these mechanically propelled vehicles on public roads or in public places, any necessary amendments to existing legal provisions will be identified and the necessary legal advice obtained in respect of such amendments.
One of the difficulties in proposing amendments to road traffic legislation is that such amendments can never be constructed and put forward in isolation from other existing provisions, particularly when it comes to key road safety measures such as intoxicated or dangerous driving offences. This is an important consideration to be borne in mind when reading Deputy MacSharry's Bill. The Bill aims to amend a key cornerstone provision in road traffic law, namely, the definition of a "mechanically propelled vehicle", to allow for the use of e-scooters on public roads and in public places. However, in doing so, the Bill inadvertently removes certain necessary legal obligations that give protection to other road users from the misuse of these vehicles, such as using an e-scooter while intoxicated or in a dangerous or careless manner. This would be the end result of the proposed amendment contained in section 2.
Is it the Deputy's intention, through this Private Members' Bill, to try to define an e-scooter and then allow for its use on a public road or in a public place without any restriction or prohibition being applied under existing road traffic law? The media coverage of this Bill claims that it will provide for a fine of €2,500 for users of e-scooters exceeding a speed limit of 25 km/h. There is no such speed limit provided for in legislation. This section is silent on where such a restriction may be applied. Perhaps the Bill is intended to cover a maximum vehicle speed limit of 25 km/h. However, that is not achieved by section 4 either.
In attempting to impose a maximum speed restriction on e-scooters, notwithstanding that the Bill defines such vehicles as having a design speed of 35 km/h in section 1, it proposes to impose that maximum speed restriction through a requirement in section 3 "to bear a speed limitation device which limits the scooter to speeds of 25 kilometres per hour". In the ordinary meaning of the word "bear", this means that such a vehicle will be required to "carry" such a device but the Bill is silent on any requirement regarding its use. It is also noted that no offence is proposed for using the vehicle without having such a device on it.
The restatement of section 51A of the Road Traffic Act 1961 at section 6 of the Bill dealing with driving without reasonable consideration is yet another example as to why the Minister cannot accept the Bill as drafted. The inclusion of such a provision in this Bill would seriously undermine the existing important provision in respect of such behaviour, and in doing so, however, actually fail to include e-scooters. I doubt that any of these consequences were intended by the Deputy. They are what we would call unintended consequences that would arise as a result of the Bill being implemented as it is.
As Deputy MacSharry will be aware, the use of e-scooters and suchlike vehicles, commonly referred to as powered personal transporters, PPTs, is an issue being examined by the Minister along with his officials. They are not alone in that regard as many other member states across the EU and other international jurisdictions are trying to address the sudden proliferation of such vehicles in their respective cities and provide for their safe use. This is not a straightforward task by any means.
At this point, the Minister and I would like to make it very clear that the use of such vehicles on public roads and in public places in this country is currently strictly prohibited. Despite some claims to the contrary and inaccurate references to a legal grey area, that position has been clarified on a number of occasions, including a public notice to retailers regarding such vehicles. This reflects the approach taken in a number of other countries, including the UK.
To be better informed when making a decision as to whether the Minister should legislate for the use of such vehicles in this country, in November last year he tasked the Road Safety Authority, RSA, with carrying out research into the use of PPTs in other countries and the implications for their interaction with other vulnerable road users along with other, what be termed normal, vehicular traffic.
The RSA commissioned the Transport Research Laboratory, TRL, Limited in the UK to carry out the required research. Notwithstanding the lack of robust evidence available to the researchers, because e-scooters and such vehicles are emerging around the world as new and innovative forms of personal transport at this time, the key findings were that there was no clear universal consensus and much confusion as to how to approach the issues surrounding PPTs, and there was significant variation in how different countries are regulating for their use. Obviously, there cannot be a one-size-fits-all way of regulating the use of these vehicles since each jurisdiction has its own road traffic laws.
Ireland is not unique in its attempts to legislate for this relatively new transport phenomenon. Many other jurisdictions have attempted to legislate for their use, with some reverting to an outright ban following fatalities and serious injuries. The RSA and TRL have recommended that the legislation be amended but with significant caveats being applied, including the promotion of the use of helmets and other protective equipment, the need to provide training for the operators of these vehicles, and clarification as to who can legally use the vehicles, including age restrictions and possible licence requirements. I need not remind the House that a valid licence is but one of the requirements for driving a mechanically propelled vehicle.
However, recognising that the reviewers encountered significant difficulties in carrying out their research due to a lack of robust evidence being available at this time, the Minister initiated a two-month public consultation process, ending on 1 November, to investigate from a purely Irish perspective the conditions under which e-scooters and such vehicles might be legalised. I urge Members and anybody watching this debate to contribute to that process. I think there have been more than 600 submissions to date. The closing date is 1 November. People can make submissions through the Department's website. Making any decisions in advance of the completion of the consultation process would be unfair to the contributors. The Minister firmly believes that the submissions from the public consultation process will assist in providing a clear understanding of these issues. It is essential that the process be allowed to be brought to a conclusion and to give the appropriate respect to those who have gone to the trouble of making submissions.
That is not to say that a decision to legislate for their use can be done in isolation of careful consideration both in terms of other road users and the impact of any such amendment on existing legislation. I note that the Deputy is reported in the media as saying that his party is open to amendments to this Bill from other parties. This is important given some of the concerns I have outlined regarding the robustness of the Bill.
In saying all that, the Minister recognises the role that such vehicles can play in terms of dealing with traffic congestion and climate change issues. The question remains, however, whether that role can be undertaken in a safe manner. Providing for certain prohibitions and restrictions in road traffic legislation permits enforcement where irresponsible and unsafe usage arises. Such enforcement is used to change behaviour and make our roads safer for all.
As I am sure the Deputy is aware, any amendments to road traffic legislation involving the introduction of new road traffic offences will require changes to the existing administrative supports, such as amendments to the Garda IT systems, to include those offences. However, in responding to the Bill before us today, I am obliged to point out to the Deputy that such changes will incur costs to the Exchequer and will have implications for this Bill. Accordingly, should the Minister decide to legislate for the use of these vehicles on our roads, he can address the necessary amendments to the Road Traffic Acts, in consultation with the Office of the Attorney General, through a Committee Stage amendment of the current road traffic (miscellaneous provisions) Bill 2019. As that Bill is planned for publication before the end of the year, he proposing to table a timed amendment within a three-month timeframe.
I welcome the debate today on e-scooters. We are increasingly seeing these vehicles on the roads and footpaths across the city and they are becoming a familiar sight, for example, around the roads leading to DCU in my own area. I can see the attraction of this carbon-free, affordable mode of transport, especially among the younger population. However, I do have concerns about their use in pedestrian areas as well as the way some scooters are used on main thoroughfares. I also have concerns about the safe use of e-scooters, not just with regard to the person on the e-scooter but also the public. There is an obvious grey area in law with regard to e-scooters and this needs to be addressed.
I know there are some who are opposed to these vehicles and see them as a public nuisance. We are not talking about banning this form of transport but we must give serious consideration as to how we want to regulate e-scooters. A time-limited public consultation is under way at the moment, which I support. This consultation process will be complete in a matter of weeks. I hope that this consultation process is not being done in a cynical way and that when the process is completed, the outcome of the consultation will be given due consideration and acted on. We will be supporting the Fine Gael amendment, but in doing so, we need a commitment from the Minister that he will act when the consultation concludes.
A colleague of mine visited Brussels recently. The model there seems to be what is called the hire model, where a user hires an e-scooter and when he or she is finished with it, simply drops it wherever it ends up. This is convenient for some and maybe the community of users of such vehicles in Brussels can work this system, but it might be difficult to imagine e-scooters simply being dropped off in Grafton Street or Henry Street. A recent report by fora.ie stated that Paris has introduced new local laws to restrict where e-scooters can be parked to avoid obstructions. There may be a number of issues that will need to be considered as part of the consultation process. For example, should we have a licence plate or some sort of other visible ID for the vehicle? My experience in Dublin shows me that the reality is that we are far from having an advanced, developed first-class public transport system. Simply inviting companies to put thousands of e-scooters on the streets is not a magic solution to climate or public transport problems. The larger questions, which remain unanswered, are about the lack of investment and planning, particularly in public transport.
I agree that e-scooters should be regulated. However, I am also concerned that Fianna Fáil's Bill and its interpretation of how they should be regulated may not go far enough. I am a firm supporter of the need to adapt to changing technologies and encourage environmentally-friendly means of transport. We should be open to innovations that change our cities and the lives of those who live in them for the better. I welcome this debate but I also encourage the public to get involved and give their views on e-scooters as part of the current ongoing public consultation process, which will conclude on 1 November.
We do not only have to think about e-scooters, but also of what Bills we will be looking at next. Will we have to regulate hoverboards, wheel hoverboards or hovercarts? We have seen them around the city. Are they next?
They might be.
We need to look at this very carefully as we will also have to address other areas which have similar problems. I am referring to people flying around on two-wheeled units, many of them on footpaths. We will have to look at the latter very carefully.
This issue will affect all members of the public, young and old. As such, we should encourage people to let their voices be heard on this matter before we make a definitive decision about the way forward.
I welcome the opportunity to speak about e-scooters, which have become a common sight on the streets of Dublin. It is important to properly classify these vehicles as their current status, which ranks them closer to cars than bikes, puts them in an impractical legal limbo that has clearly been widely disregarded, given that we often see dozens of them on our streets at a time. Some people have called for an outright ban on these devices, while others such as the RSA claim that an outright ban would be counterintuitive and impractical. As legislators, it is our job to work towards what is most fair and workable. An outright ban is likely to be ignored. The Government has shown that even regulating scrambler bikes in city parks is beyond it. Sinn Féin does not support a ban on e-scooters. They are already on our roads and we should be doing what we can to ensure they are used in a manner which is safe and considerate of other road users.
If, however, we pursue the type of regulation contained in the Bill, the House will leave itself open to accusations of treating some road users differently to others. The system of fines in the Bill is completely at odds with the fixed-rate charge offences issued to cyclists. While riding a bike without reasonable consideration results in a €40 fine issued by a garda on the spot, an e-scooter user would be liable for a class D fine, which would rise to a class C fine on a second offence. Instead of a €40 fine, one would receive a maximum of €1,000 or €2,500 in addition to a court appearance. This is like using a hammer to crack a nut. I do not want to prejudge the public consultation process, but it seems fair to incorporate e-scooters into a fixed-charge system. Similarly, e-scooter users would be legally obliged to wear a helmet or high-visibility clothing where bicycle users are not. While all road users should make every effort to be visible for their own safety and that of others, we need to ensure a level of fairness.
In the age of climate change, we cannot simply disregard attempts to take more people out of fossil-fuel-dependent modes of transport. Fewer cars on our roads means less congestion and pollution, which makes sense. I am not suggesting that the Irish motoring community will suddenly switch to e-scooters en masse, but every little bit helps. Consideration should also be given to age restrictions and other restrictions regarding which roads are suitable for e-scooter use. That is why it is important to have all the facts available to us before rushing to judgment. We often take a risk in legislating hastily for new innovations, which does not necessarily result in good legislation. The most prudent course of action, therefore, is to await the publication of the public consultation on powered personal transporters.
E-scooters are increasingly found in many US and European cities. Ireland is proving no different. My daughter recently returned from two weeks of inter-railing across Europe, and she spent much of that time exploring cities on e-scooters. She said that everyone, even men in suits going to work, used them and that they are a magnificent way to get around. The company operating the scooters in some of these cities uses an app through which one locates and scans a vehicle, and off one goes. This particular company has a presence in almost every US state, as well as cities in Austria, Belgium, the Czech Republic, France, Finland, Denmark, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Poland, Norway, Romania, Sweden, Switzerland, Spain, Portugal and the UK. Many people, from tourists to commuters, use e-scooters as a cheap, convenient and green alternative to bikes or cars. As such, their existence in Ireland is not reversible, and will only increase.
Many people already own these scooters, and their practicality renders any ban unrealistic. However, regulations are necessary to ensure that they are used in a way which maximizes their potential without endangering their riders or anyone else already on the roads. These regulations are coming somewhat late to the game in light of the popularity of e-scooters. Not only do we need to retroactively pass legislation such as this Bill to address the current situation of e-scooters in Ireland, but we also need to work under the assumption that use of these scooters will continue to increase in the future. This Bill would establish speed limits, require devices to limit speed, require riders to wear helmets, and restrict driving conduct in public places, all of which would be enforced through fines. While this Bill creates some necessary safety guidelines, potential grey areas remain, such as what constitutes reasonable consideration for other persons when using an e-scooter in a public place. Additionally, the Bill does not address potential safety concerns regarding e-scooter visibility.
This amendment is a start in establishing workable safety measures for e-scooters. However, as has been acknowledged, the existence of these scooters is irreversible and they will only increase in the foreseeable future. Thus it behoves all parties involved, including e-scooter users, other road users, and the Garda to have clear and specific regulations in place regarding e-scooter conduct and safety. That said, it must be acknowledged that both the Government and the Road Safety Authority have been working on this issue. The Transport Research Laboratories, TRL, limited review of current practice and safety implications of electric personal mobility devices, which was published earlier this year, states:
Despite the limited direct evidence, it is clear these devices have potential benefits for active travel and possibly for improving air quality and reducing traffic congestion. In most countries there is increased uptake by users, regardless of the legal situation, and little enforcement of any regulations that exist and hence an outright ban would be both counterintuitive and impractical. Prohibition without justification is generally held to be unsustainable.
The report also states:
The key finding from the case study investigation was that there is no clear universal consensus – and much confusion - as to how to approach the issues surrounding powered transporters and there is significant variation in how different countries are regulating their use. In the absence of clear evidence on which to base detailed legislation, it is recommended that powered transporters should be allowed for use in certain circumstances, with a controlled and considered roll out to mitigate against potential negative safety implications.
In the aftermath of this report, the Department has opened a public consultation on the matter. It has been live since 1 September and closes two weeks from now on 1 November. We should let this consultation run its course and examine its findings. The Bill seeks to marginally jump the gun on this process. It is better to wait for the outcome of the consultation. The Labour Party will support the Government amendment as being a reasonable response. I am confident that the House will find a reasonable consensus on the regulation of e-scooters and similar vehicles. We should allow the public consultation to be completed. Then we can take up the next Stage of the Bill at the appropriate time. Fianna Fáil has suggested that this is kicking the can down the road. To some extent, I agree. Normally, I would not find such an approach acceptable. However, in this case, the Bill will have been deemed to have passed Second Stage in three months’ time when the public consultation will have been completed. The Labour Party is happy with that arrangement.
I commend Deputy MacSharry on introducing the Road Traffic (Amendment) (Use of Electric Scooters) Bill 2019. Road and traffic safety have to be the cornerstones of all legislation, along with regulation regarding transport vehicles and road traffic structures and systems. We have all noticed the growing popularity of e-scooters and electric-powered bicycles in many cities across Europe, including in our capital city and in other towns. The development of personalised powered transport vehicles in recent years by manufacturers and distributors like the Lime Company is reminiscent of the roll-out of Airbnb and Uber. Pedestrians, cyclists and drivers, however, are increasingly anxious that all the safety implications of powered scooters and bicycles should be closely invigilated by the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport and the Road Safety Authority, RSA, to ensure the current unregulated situation would be addressed. In that context, Deputy MacSharry's Bill is timely and welcome.
Google carries a long list of e-scooter supplies and machines highlighted by companies like Tomtop and iHoverboard with prices ranging from as low as €141.20 to €693.46 and higher for electric scooters. Many of the vehicles can travel at speeds in excess of 50 km/h. Across Europe, hundreds have been involved in crashes, resulting in several deaths. In London last month, the popular TV presenter and YouTuber, Emily Hartridge, was killed when her scooter was struck by a lorry. In Sweden last May – I noted on a visit to Stockholm during the summer that e-scooters are prolific there - a young man was killed in a crash that took place in a bicycle lane. In August, a 92 year old woman was hit and killed by an electric scooter user in Barcelona.
Some regulations have been introduced in several European countries, such as Germany, France, Austria and Switzerland, permitting the use of electric scooters. So far, however, these personalised motor vehicles are illegal here and in the UK. For example, Sweden has banned the use of motorised scooters capable of speeds above 20 km/h. Section 4(1) limits the speed of e-scooters to speeds of up to 25 km/h. Section 3, however, includes the necessity for all electric scooters to be fitted with speed-limitation devices which is a welcome provision for most road users. Section 3(2) and (3) will make it an offence to tamper with such devices.
Most citizens will welcome section 5, the requirement to wear a helmet and section 6, the use of powered personal vehicles to be driven carefully, as well as the sanctions for persons not driving such a vehicle in public without reasonable consideration for other, and perhaps vulnerable, road users, like pedestrians and cyclists. Section 8, which gives the Minister power to make regulations for motorised personal vehicles like scooters and battery bicycles, is also a key aspect of this legislation.
Section 7 is weak, however, because it refers only to the RSA’s power to make guidelines for the safe operation of electric vehicles rather than instructing the agency to implement detailed regulations which the Minister may make.
The Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport has tabled an amendment requiring the Road Traffic (Amendment) (Use of Electric Scooters) Bill to be read a second time this day three months from now in order to allow for consideration of the public consultation on powered personal transporters which began on 1 September and concludes on 31 October. The RSA already submitted a report on e-scooters to the Minister on 22 June. It is reported in the media that the RSA report looked at the proliferation and regulation of e-scooters across the EU. Apparently, it had broadly favoured the use of e-scooters but only under strict conditions, including licensing and possible insurance, speed restrictions and visibility. The latter point needs to be addressed in Deputy MacSharry’s Bill. It was also reported that An Garda Síochána and the traffic corps are not in favour of legalising these machines due to the danger to other road users and in light of the appalling road traffic deaths and injuries that have already occurred.
In France, where e-scooters are ubiquitous in cities such as Paris, fines have been introduced for riding electric scooters on footpaths and for the obstructive parking of scooters. Belgium originally had an 18 km/h speed limit for these vehicles but that has been raised to 25 km/h. Copenhagen will be introducing new regulations. Under our Road Traffic Act 1961, e-scooters fall into the category of mechanically-powered vehicles, all of which require insurance, road tax and for the owners or drivers to possess driving licences.
As with all motor or electric vehicles, plans for legislation in this area must address the performance of companies like Lime and Bird which manufacture personalised powered vehicles. Section 4 would be a key requirement for any such vehicles manufactured or imported into Ireland. For many cyclists or drivers, users of e-scooters seem particularly vulnerable on streets or in bicycle lanes. They are moving quite fast and the silhouette of the standing e-scooter user seems less visible than that of a cyclist, while pedestrians generally have the safety of the footpath. Perhaps designers and manufacturers should be required to look at more safe designs to protect the users of e-scooters first of all.
The requirement for helmets in section 5 is crucial given what we know about concussions and head injuries. Deputy MacSharry might also add a section on user visibility on Committee Stage.
The protection of cyclists and pedestrians must be absolutely central to any legislation on these vehicles. The implementation of current road traffic law is patchy. There are many lacunae in the administration of sanctions applied under these laws which also urgently need consolidation. That is why, in the context of the ministerial consultation, we must take the views of the traffic corps and An Garda Síochána most seriously. The Garda has to deal with the unending tragedy on our roads and continuing flouting of traffic laws by a small but significant minority of drivers, cyclists and pedestrians. Up to today, for example, 117 citizens have tragically lost their lives on our roads. While 76 of these deaths were those of drivers and passengers, 21 pedestrians and seven cyclists also died. As usual, the number of motorcyclists with 13 deaths so far this year is also unacceptably high. We know from research by heroic road safety organisations like Promoting Awareness Responsibility and Care, PARC, that this appalling death toll was accompanied, as it has been each year, by several thousand injuries, many of them serious and life-threatening. Looking back over Garda traffic statistics since the turn of this century, one will note the death toll on our roads far exceeds the appalling level of deaths in the northern conflict from 1968 until 1998.
Powered personalised transport seems attractive in terms of offering an alternative to the use of large vehicles, especially where fixed-line public transport is poor. Any proposal to regulate e-scooters and e-bicycles must incorporate road safety as absolutely paramount, however. I am a supporter of Vision Zero, the Swedish originated campaign to eliminate road deaths and injuries. Any legislation like that before us needs to be placed fully in the context of the necessity to implement a Vision Zero approach. Manufacturers could have made cars and trucks much safer for many decades. Until recently, companies such as Toyota, Nissan, Ford, GM, VW and Mercedes chose not to do so, mainly on cost grounds.
Therefore, we must require e-scooter manufacturers and distributors to put safety first and foremost. That is why the proposed speed limits in the Bill are welcome, and as I stated, perhaps they could be lowered on Committee Stage to at most 20 km/h. Also, the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport's final regulations, if any, must incorporate the other safety features of this Bill but also decide where exactly on roads and streets and which roads and streets are suitable for any type of e-scooters and e-powered vehicles.
The Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport's amendment that approval and development of this Bill should wait until the public consultation is completed also seems a reasonable request. The public has widely different views on these machines. Deputies will recall that the Amárach-"Claire Byrne Live" poll for journal.ie showed that 46% of people polled believe that the law should not be changed to permit stand-up e-scooters while 41% were in favour. There was also a significant majority in Dublin against change. Obviously, we have listened carefully to the debate. If we decide to support strictly regulated permission for these machines, the safety of pedestrians and cyclists will have to be ensured.
As I said, I would support Deputy Brendan Ryan's view that, in the ongoing consultation, it would be critical to hear everybody's views and then we will have an opportunity to have a detailed debate on this Bill in the House.
We will move on now to the Rural Independent Group. I call Deputy Michael Collins.
I welcome the opportunity to speak on this Bill regarding the use of electric scooters by the public as a form of transport. I am fully in favour of this. My belief is it will end up being over-regulated, like many matters that go through the Dáil, with people having to insure and tax them and every sort of thing. We must ease up and use a bit of common sense here in future.
Unfortunately, scooters will be of no benefit to areas of west Cork where the road system is not fit for cars, let alone electric scooters. The people of west Cork are blue in the face from repairing their cars from damage by potholes. I counted 11 punctures one morning in Bandon in the space of an hour and a half. I am afraid there will be no room for scooters in west Cork. No matter what legislation is brought before us here, that is important to the people there.
There are no cycle lanes to speak of in any of the towns in west Cork where an electric scooter could be used. Many of the roads do not have adequate markings or cat's eyes, which becomes especially evident coming into the long winter nights.
The Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport's Road Traffic Act has destroyed rural Ireland. If any politician tells me differently, he or she is completely out of touch with their constituents. An e-scooter will not work on roads in Baltimore, Union Hall, Castletownshend, Castletownbere, Allihies, Eyeries, Ardgroom, Mizen Head, Sheep's Head, Ballinadee, Timoleague or Kilbrittain.
While the Government announced recently a new Local Link bus service by night, looking at the front of one of the national newspapers, The Examiner, it was as if the whole of Cork was being sorted out whereas it is only Adrigole. There is nothing wrong with sorting Adrigole out because it is in my own constituency, but if that is the best effort the Government can make in the largest county in Ireland, there is something very seriously wrong. That is not resolving the issue of the complete mess the Government made with the Road Traffic Act. Unfortunately, we will not be able to use scooters to take people home in the night. The Government left people in very difficult circumstances.
The Government has no vision for rural areas. The only consultation is consultation on scooters. Even at the level of people wanting to go to the local test centre, I have been reliably informed this evening that a person can sit a category C test for big trucks, but if he or she wants a category D test for big buses, that person must go to Tralee or Cork city. It is a kick in the teeth to people in rural Ireland. Licences are badly needed for the big buses.
In my estimation, the Minister, Deputy Ross, is one of the worst Ministers ever in this country. He has not had the decency to face the people here in the Dáil. We do not see the Minister. We assume Deputy Ross is the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport. Deputy Griffin is the junior Minister. In fairness, he has often been here. I give credit where credit is due. Under Deputy Ross's brief, we would love to see funding allocated for the roads in Bandon and for bypasses. The southern relief road bypass is incomplete. The northern relief road might be only half complete. An Inishannon bypass is not even being considered.
On e-scooters, the House might be over-regulating them. We must be careful here.
As Deputy MacSharry indicated when he initiated this Bill on First Stage, the purpose here is to set legal parameters for the safe use of electric scooters. Currently, it is effectively illegal to use an electric scooter on Irish roads and such vehicles are liable for seizure by gardaí.
There is also a requirement that these vehicles be taxed and insured as mechanically propelled vehicles. Let us face it, every other vehicle has to be and it must be asked why these should be exempt. As I understand it, the Bill removes the requirement for electric scooters and electric bicycles to be taxed and insured by altering the definition of mechanically propelled vehicles. I would have major concerns here as regards fairness to others. We must be fair to everybody.
I see no reference to the Road Traffic Act regarding breathalysing or drug testing for these vehicles. Is it in the Bill? What is the story? Will we have one law for Dublin and a different law for the country because the scooters will not be used in Tipperary or Cork?
The scooters cannot travel at high speed, but they are capable of 25 or 30 km/h, and even 40 km/h in some of the more expensive varieties. That is a high speed if they run into somebody or as far as the ability to stop is concerned, because they have tiny tyres. It is Deputy MacSharry's prerogative to bring this in.
I had a young man in Cahir, Mr. Jason Maher, who has produced a tyre app. It is the finest app one could have. If the Road Safety Authority or insurance companies embraced it, we would cut down on a multiple of serious accidents and fatalities. He has put some ideas into it. We must think outside the box and listen to young men like him when they have researched this and have done tremendous work on it. I have yet to see a clear reason scooters should be exempt from tax.
The road safety campaigns in housing estates require the speed be kept under 20 km/h. They should be. Some years ago, we introduced Jake's law regarding cars. This is a clear recognition that mechanically propelled devices are capable of harm and should be used with due care and discretion.
Is there mention of age of user? Can a child drive them, as I often see, unfortunately? Is there an age limit? The fact that this method of travel is increasing, especially in the cities, only serves to highlight a greater necessity to treat them as we do other mechanically propelled vehicles.
Maybe the Minister, Deputy Ross, would consider one instead of his electric car that he plugged in outside his village. There was nothing there only a fake. It was fake news, fake Minister and fake green emissions. It was a total fake and a fraud. It is terrible the Minister of State, Deputy Griffin, has to come into the House every evening to represent him. We will have to get an effigy of the Minister made and put it over there in the seat an odd time so that we will not forget what he looks like.
I wish this Bill more investigation. There is another thing I want to see. Tail lights are luminous. They are very dangerous in the dark. One does not see these vehicles. There are many issues in this area.
I thank Deputy MacSharry and Fianna Fáil for bringing forward this important subject to debate here tonight. Certainly, the use of e-scooters has become more common.
Something I would dearly like to see would be the use of helmets by those using e-scooters because at present they do not use helmets. None of us wants to see anybody, no matter his or her age, being hurt, especially if that person is not wearing a helmet and he or she gets knocked off one of these things and hits his or her head off the ground. Having that bit of regulation would be great.
I do not want to see e-scooters being over-regulated. All we want is that they are made safe and that there is a bit of regulation. I do not want to see us becoming a nanny state altogether. All we want to do is mind people and make sure certain measures are put in place.
In talking about this, I thank Deputy MacSharry for showing, as has been outlined by my colleagues, the divide in Ireland. Here we are debating scooters and how they will work and will not work in Dublin and in other cities. The Minister of State, Deputy Griffin, should know, because I hope he gives a share of time in the county that I represent, County Kerry, but I know for a fact the hardship that people experience, especially after the Minister of State and the Minister, Deputy Ross, brought in the recent Road Traffic Act and the detrimental way that has affected rural Ireland. Indeed, many of the places that I have had the privilege of going to for many years have been very adversely affected by this anti-rural Government.
I am talking about the rural public houses that have closed in many areas. The Minister of State might not be too familiar with many of the places I am talking about. I remind him of where they are around south, east, west and north Kerry. These were pubs that wanted to stay open. Their proprietors desperately wanted to run their family businesses, but because of this anti-rural Government and because of decisions taken by this Government, they had to close. Sadly, instead of lights being on and instead of the pubs being vibrant, they are shut. Where there was music and people gathering, there is nothing but quietness and no light on. There is no tax being collected by those people anymore.
They were tax collectors and employers but not any more. Those premises are now shut because of decisions taken by this Government.
Another measure that hit us very hard, which the Minister and Minister of State supported despite requests not to do so from people involved in the business in County Kerry and throughout the country, was the increase in VAT in the hospitality sector. Since its introduction, it has had a detrimental effect on our hospitality sector. Many people who have their feet on the ground and are dealing with that industry know the effect that increase has had on the profit margin. Those people, who are tax collectors for this State, are finding it very difficult to pay their rates, public liability insurance and their employees at the end of the week. If a person is trying to employ people, pay their benefits and contributions and help them to continue in work, it tells us how difficult it is to be in business. I may have deviated from the Bill and I am sorry about that. When the Government is examining the issue of e-scooters, it should think about County Kerry and places like it in rural Ireland.
I welcome the opportunity to contribute to this debate on the Road Traffic (Amendment) (Use of Electric Scooters) Bill. I refer to a reply I received from the Minister on 8 May this year. It states:
The Road Traffic Act 1961 defines a mechanically propelled vehicle as a vehicle intended or adapted for propulsion by mechanical means, including a bicycle or tricycle with an attachment for propelling it by mechanical power, whether or not the attachment is being used. It also includes a vehicle the means of propulsion of which is electrical, or partly electrical and partly mechanical.
E-scooters and powered skateboards fall into this category, and are therefore considered to be mechanically propelled vehicles. Any users of such vehicles in a public place ... must have insurance, road tax and a driving licence, with penalties under road traffic laws ...
As it is currently not possible to tax or insure escooters or electric skateboards, they are not considered suitable for use in a public place.
There is no ambiguity about that. The Minister further stated he had requested the Road Safety Authority to do some research and, following that research, he would make a decision on whether to amend existing legislation. The Minister of State, Deputy Griffin, more or less used the same line earlier when he stated: "To be better informed when making a decision as to whether the Minister should legislate for the use of such vehicles" before referring to a report commissioned in November last year. Most Members who spoke in the debate were of the view that e-scooters are here to stay and that legislation is required to manage them in a safe manner, both for pedestrians on the streets and users of the e-scooters. What is missing from the Minister's reply that I cited and the contribution of the Minister of State is a commitment to introduce legislation. It seems there may be legislation and the matter is open to consideration.
I listened carefully to the contributions of most speakers and they are resigned to the fact that, regardless of whether the Minister likes it, e-scooters is one of the modes of transport we will see in cities and urban areas. It is not just a Dublin issue. People like them and have different views on them. They can be used for recreational purposes. In time to come, e-scooters will be deposited in different areas, as occurs with the bicycle schemes, but that is another debate. Members who spoke were clear that they want to see legislation to make these vehicles safe, both for the users and pedestrians, but there is no commitment from Government to do that.
I ask Deputies who said they would support the Government amendment to defer reading the Bill a Second Time for three months to think twice. This is a Private Members' Bill to go to Committee Stage. It is a slow process and rather than delay the Bill unnecessarily, there will be ample time to complete the public consultation, which concludes at the end of November. It was November last year when the Minister first requested the Road Safety Authority to produce a report. The Government is not acting with haste on this issue. It has been slow to act. I ask colleagues who said we must legislate not to support the Government amendment. I ask them to support this Bill and allow it proceed to Committee Stage where legitimate issues related to speed, drink driving and age can be dealt with methodically and properly. I urge colleagues to support the Bill and ensure that those who are using e-scooters are regulated as a matter of urgency.
I welcome the Bill my colleague, Deputy Marc MacSharry, has brought before the House. Some Members can use public transport to travel to Leinster House but those of us who live outside the Dublin area have to use our cars to do so, mainly because of the time at which we leave the building in the evenings. We can bear witness to the worsening congestion and overcrowding in Dublin and other urban areas. We have to think outside the box and consider alternatives to private cars and public transport.
Dublin city, as we know from research, is now the slowest city centre in Europe in terms of traffic. Dublin drivers now spend 246 hours, or ten days, per year stuck in traffic. This costs the economy approximately €350 million per annum. I know many people who commute to Dublin from south Kildare. Several commuters I know from Newbridge use e-scooters every day because they believe this is a far better means of getting to work in terms of time spent in congested traffic.
We need to seriously invest in Ireland's transport network and examine alternatives such as e-scooters. The pressing issues of climate change and air quality must be factored into that. The reality is that e-scooters, like e-bikes, present an exciting new personal transport possibility, provided they are properly regulated. The current ban on their use on Irish roads is pointless, inconsistently applied and stuck in the dark ages. Despite numerous commitments from Government Deputies and the Minister, Deputy Ross, to regularise the status of e-scooters, the users of these vehicles remain as much in the dark as ever. The fact that the Road Safety Authority has recommended that e-scooters be legalised is significant. However, we also recognise that safety regulations are laid down.
Last week, the Green Party leader, Deputy Eamon Ryan, stated that people living in rural Ireland should give up using their cars. That is a non-runner. Those of us who live in rural Ireland know that 30 cars for a population of 300 in a small village is a non-runner for people who have to travel to work or university or for health or social reasons.
As a party, we are invested in offering real solutions to people who want to avoid traffic and reduce their carbon footprint. It is about providing people with workable alternatives rather than penalising those who have to rely on their cars. The Bill Deputy MacSharry has introduced aims to create a legal regime for the use of e-scooters, one that is based on common sense and lessons from other jurisdictions. It removes the requirement for these vehicles to be taxed, which is an onerous requirement that does not recognise the nature of these vehicles. It also sets out a speed limit as well as the requirement to wear a safety helmet, which is very important. There are safety considerations to be taken into account because there have been a number of serious and non-serious injuries involving e-scooters abroad. Our Bill sets the speed limit at 25 km/h, which mirrors speed limits in other European countries. It also requires that e-scooters be fitted with a limiter, which is a device that would prevent them travelling above a certain speed.
I hope other Members of the House will support the Bill and oppose the Government amendment. It is not good enough to simply put off tackling legislation that is needed. We need positive, proactive action, as proposed in this Bill. I commend it to the House.
I wish to share a minute and a half of my time at the start of this time slot with Deputy Rock, if that is agreeable.
That is agreed.
I thank the Minister of State. The Fianna Fáil Bill is a positive move. It is a step in the right direction, as are the moves the Minister, Deputy Ross, has made in recent months. I have been raising this issue in the Dáil since 2018 by way of a number of Topical Issue debates and parliamentary questions. I am glad the Minister has recognised now the need, first, to legalise-----
After we put this Bill forward.
-----but, second, to regularise the usage of electric scooters.
Where did he say that?
He has commissioned the Road Safety Authority report. In fairness, I did not heckle the Deputy or any Member on the Fianna Fáil benches.
Deputy MacSharry read out my press release on the matter, which goes to show my commitment to the issue. I have been committed to this issue for two years. We need to be future-focused and facing forward in our transport policy and recognise that more than 5,000 of these devices are being used in and around Dublin. That number will only grow. Accordingly, we need to recognise the legislative challenges these vehicles pose and the grey area they inhabit. We must recognise that a legalised and regularised regime needs to be put in place. That means, for example, no usage on footpaths, the setting of a speed limit for their use and many of elements set forward in the Fianna Fáil Bill.
The Government amendment to the motion that the Bill be now read a Second Time is quite reasoned. Putting a three-month time limit on the progress of the Bill from Second Stage to allow for the consultation process to conclude is a reasonable compromise. I am glad we are moving forward and taking action on this issue.
Once again, on behalf of the Minister, Deputy Ross, I express my appreciation to Deputy MacSharry for bringing this Bill before the House but, for the reasons already outlined by Deputy Rock and the Minister of State, Deputy Griffin, we have tabled a timed amendment to the motion that the Bill be now read a Second Time to allow three months for consideration of the outcome of the current public consultation process, which concludes at the beginning of next month.
As Deputies are no doubt aware, road traffic legislation is the most contested legislation in the country and any changes to existing legislation must be drafted, settled and enacted with the utmost care. Any proposed changes to that legislation that undermines prosecutions, particularly those in respect of the more serious road traffic offences, must be rejected outright in the interests of road safety and the protection of all road users. One of the difficulties in proposing amendments to road traffic legislation is that such amendments can never be constructed and put forward in isolation from other existing road traffic provisions, especially when it comes to key road safety measures such as intoxicated or dangerous driving offences.
While the Minister, Deputy Ross, appreciates the intentions of Deputy MacSharry as expressed in the Bill, he wishes to make it very clear that he is determined to come to a decision that will address the issue of the use of these vehicles on our roads, not only in terms of the protection of potential users but also in the best interests of all road users, particularly vulnerable road users. Any decision he ultimately makes to amend existing legislation in that regard will be as a result of such careful deliberation and not on the basis of a quick legislative fix that many believe is the only option.
As Deputy MacSharry is aware, the Minister, Deputy Ross, on foot of the TRL report, initiated a two-month public consultation process to investigate from a purely Irish perspective the conditions under which e-scooters and such vehicles might be legalised. Making any decisions in advance of the completion of the public consultation process would be unfair to the contributors to that process. The Minister firmly believes the submissions from the public consultation process will assist in providing a clear understanding of the issues. It is essential that the process be allowed to be brought to a conclusion and to give the appropriate respect to those who have gone to the trouble of making submissions. It is clear even from the contributions in the House tonight that Members' views on e-scooters are divided to some extent, but as Deputy Rock has pointed out, e-scooters are here to stay. It is appropriate that the Minister's public consultation process would be allowed to conclude and that lessons would be drawn from it in the framing of any legislation or any changes that need to be made to make sure that e-scooters can contribute to our transportation issues in Dublin and throughout the country. They are visible on the streets of many parts of the country, not only on those of the capital city.
Deputy MacSharry's Bill aims to amend the key cornerstone definition of a mechanically propelled vehicle to allow for the use of e-scooters on public roads and in public places without giving recognition to the impact of such a change on existing legal provisions. The Bill also includes a restatement of existing provisions dealing with the offence of driving without reasonable consideration. The inclusion of such a provision in this Bill would seriously undermine the existing important provision in respect of such behaviour, but in doing so, it fails to include e-scooters. Notwithstanding other issues with the provisions contained in the Bill, these two sections alone raise concerns and are reason enough for the Minister, Deputy Ross, to be unable to accept the Bill, as drafted.
While at the lower regions of the vehicular type pyramid, pedal cyclists are still subject to certain important legal requirements when using our roads such as using a bicycle while intoxicated or in a dangerous manner. To exclude users of personal powered transporters, PPTs, from such road safety requirements, as this Bill does, is just wrong.
The Deputy may be aware that in recent times the police in Copenhagen arrested and charged 28 e-scooter users for being intoxicated, 24 of whom were drunk and four of whom were under the influence of drugs. This enforcement was carried out in the interests of the safety of road users. Surely Ireland would wish to have the same requirement. While we are often accused of creating a nanny state when legislating for issues such as these, a picture taken recently of an e-scooter user on a busy Dublin dual carriageway, wearing headphones and oblivious to the surrounding traffic, despite the fact that the use of this type of vehicle is currently prohibited, gives one pause when considering whether to legislate for their use. Any amendments to the current legislation must contain certain restrictions and prohibitions to ensure the safety of all road users.
As my colleague, the Minister of State, Deputy Griffin, stated earlier, Ireland is not unique in its attempts to legislate for this relatively new transport phenomenon. Many other jurisdictions have attempted to legislate for their use, with some reverting to an outright ban following fatalities and serious injuries.
Both the Road Safety Authority and TRL have recommended that the legislation be amended but with significant caveats being applied, including the promotion of the use of helmets and other protective equipment, the need to provide training for the operators of these vehicles, and clarification as to who can legally use the vehicles, including age restrictions and possible licence requirements. These will be important considerations for the future.
Once again, should the Minister, Deputy Ross, decide to legislate for the use of these vehicles on our roads, he can address the necessary amendments to the Road Traffic Acts, in consultation with the Office of the Attorney General, through a Committee Stage amendment of the current road traffic (miscellaneous provisions) Bill 2019. As that Bill is planned for publication before the end of the year, he is proposing to table a timed amendment with a three-month timeframe to allow for the current public consultation process on this matter to conclude.
Fianna Fáil has the remaining ten-minute time slot starting with Deputy O'Keeffe to be followed by Deputy MacSharry.
I thank my colleague, Deputy MacSharry, for his work on this Bill and acknowledge the support of Deputy Troy. Also, such work was ably assisted by Deputies Lahart and Curran who have a vested interest in ensuring its passage through the House. As a member of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Transport, Tourism and Sport, I support this Bill and hope it will pass Second Stage and proceed to Committee Stage where it can be further debated.
E-scooters are a green energy mode of transport facilitating people who want to get from A to B not at a fast but at a reasonable speed. Amendments will be put forward to the Bill and we will need to discuss how we deal with these vehicles. From a rural point of view, I wish e-scooters could be of benefit to me and others in rural Ireland, but previous speakers said we do not have the infrastructure to accommodate them. My concern is that with all the talk of green energy and different modes of transport, public transport as an option could be left lying idle. One reason it has been left lying idle is that our incumbent Minister does not see fit to be more proactive in providing for public transport in rural Ireland. He boasts of making money available to Local Link and rural link bus services, but more of these services need to be put in place.
We are discussing the use of e-scooters in an orderly manner and having a safe code for their users to protect pedestrians, but from experience of being in Dublin in recent years, I find it hard even to walk down a footpath at the moment because of the multicultural nature of the people in the city.
At one time, there was a gentleman's agreement that we walked down the left-hand side of a footpath. Now, we are zigzagging all the way up the footpath to avoid people coming against us because no one knows whether they should keep left or right. When we go abroad, we drive on the right-hand side of the road whereas in Ireland we drive on the left-hand side. Pedestrians should have the same attitude when they come to this country in regard to the gentleman's agreement about walking down footpaths. It is an issue that should be looked at as well.
I thank all the Deputies for contributing to the debate. Clearly, some are of a different point of view to ourselves. I thank Deputy Rock for speaking, and although I had to leave the Chamber during his contribution, I know he was in favour of this. I thank the Minister of State with responsibility for local government for taking the time to substitute for the Minister, Deputy Ross. The Minister of State with responsibility for sport kindly came to the house to give the Minister's view. It is an awful shame the Minister does not specialise in his own Department rather than taking the role of his junior Minister. The Minister of State with responsibility for sport is here in Leinster House while the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, or, as I like to call him, the non-executive Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, is on his way to the world cup in Japan. Obviously, there will be more photocalls there over the course of the next few days than there will be here.
Despite the good intentions of Deputy Rock when he said that the Minister is committed to legislating, in fact, he is not. The Minister of State with responsibility for sport, who spoke on behalf of the Minister, said: "To be better informed when making a decision as to whether the Minister should legislate for the use of such vehicles in this country ...". The Minister of State with responsibility for local government said "if" the Minister, Deputy Ross, chooses legislate. There is no commitment to legislate and, therefore, there is no question of us doing anything other than oppose this amendment. The amendment is laughable in that this Bill would be "deemed to be read a second time this day three months", which is 16 February.
It is January. Can Deputy MacSharry not count?
By then, the Minister could be Senator Ross again, the Minister of State, Deputy Phelan, could be the Ceann Comhairle and Deputy Rock could be chairman of the joint services committee. Who knows what anybody will be doing? It is standard procrastination, a case of giving a slap on the back and saying "keep up the good work" or "I would like to thank the Deputy for raising this very important issue" but let us kick it down the road. That attitude will ensure that all those scooter users in all of the urban parts of our constituencies will continue to break the law despite the fact they are seeking to ensure that their carbon footprint is only 26 g per mile as opposed to the 292 g per mile we are all guilty of at the moment.
There are issues with age and drink-driving, although it would never be envisaged that people would be under the influence while driving these scooters. There is also the issue of speeding and the issue of fines. However, these are all matters for Committee Stage. Do we no longer back ourselves in this House to be capable of handling Committee Stage of a Bill or to be cognisant of the outcome of a public consultation? Even the Road Safety Authority could not do a bit of googling to find out what the approach to this was internationally and it had to waste taxpayers' money talking to the Transport Research Laboratory in London to find out that there is no universal approach internationally. My seven-year old could have told us that.
Do we want to deal with this issue or do we not? We are being given the standard response that the Government does not have the time or interest in looking into it, so let us kick it down the road. I understand the political nature of this. My friends in Sinn Féin and other parties might take the opportunity not to support a Fianna Fáil Bill as it is easier to support procrastination by the Government because there may be electoral gain from doing that. However, I do not doubt the commitment of Deputies Ellis or Mitchell as both are urban-based Deputies and they see the need to deal with these issues.
Of course, there are many issues. It is safety first, but let us acknowledge the fact that these vehicles exist. We must legislate for them. We must ensure that decent people doing their best for the environment are provided with adequate regulations and guidelines. I am panicking because the Minister of State talked earlier about licensing. I suppose we will not recognise licences from the UK or the United States and we will create an administrative merry-go-round to do something that is simple. We cannot do what is simple in here because, in the main, the 158 Deputies in here are treated like muppets by the system. How could we legislate on our own? We will have to get KPMG to do that and get PricewaterhouseCoopers to do something else. When there is not one locally, let us go over to the Transport Research Laboratory in London to find out how to tie our shoes instead of using some basic common sense. E-scooters exist, they are being used and they are illegal. They have less of a carbon footprint, they are economical and they are positive in terms of congestion. However, we are incapable of doing anything and we have to be second-guessed by anybody.
We are forgetting that we are in here representing the people, defending them and trying to do what they need, not defending the system which is so strangled and obsessed with administration and bureaucracy, and needing to have the insurance that this was tried and failed in 100 countries before we could back our own ingenuity and initiative to make a few rules to cater for something that is simple. I hate to quote Boris the Brexit buccaneer, but if only the Minister could embrace one infamous comment that particular man in the UK has become famous for over the last couple of weeks: "Let us just get this done".
On that basis, we will not be supporting the Fine Gael amendment. There could be two general elections between now and then and, as both Ministers of State clearly underlined, the Minister "may" or "might" act based on an "if". As I said, the Minister may be Senator Ross by then, so I do not believe a commitment exists. We must, therefore, put this proposal to a vote.
In accordance with Standing Order 70(2), the division is postponed until the weekly division time on Thursday, 17 October 2019.