Wednesday, 22 May 2019

Ceisteanna (38)

Robert Troy

Ceist:

38. Deputy Robert Troy asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport the status of efforts to legislatively provide for the use of e-scooters here; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22270/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Oral answers (8 contributions) (Ceist ar Transport)

E-scooters represent an exciting new form of mobility that are low cost, low on emissions and accessible but under existing law, these vehicles are illegal on Irish roads. I ask the Minister to provide an update to the House on the Department's efforts to legislatively provide for the use of e-scooters in Ireland.

I thank the Deputy for raising this subject.

The Road Traffic Act 1961 defines a mechanically-propelled vehicle, MPV, 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, as defined in the Road Traffic Act 1961, must have insurance, road tax and a driving licence, with penalties under road traffic laws including fixed charge notices, penalty points, fines and possible seizure of the vehicle for not being in compliance with these requirements. As it is currently not possible to tax or insure e-scooters or electric skateboards, they are not considered suitable for use in a public place.

I have requested the Road Safety Authority, RSA, to research how e-scooters and other such vehicles are regulated in other countries, particularly other member states. I am keen to understand the road safety implications of the use of such vehicles on public roads, especially when interacting with other vehicles. I will make a decision on whether to amend existing legislation when I have received the outcome of the authority’s research and not before then. I will need to be satisfied that permitting such vehicles on our roads will not give rise to safety concerns, both for the users themselves and for all other road users, including cyclists, pedestrians and motorists, or otherwise adversely impact on other users of our roads and streets, whether on foot, cycle, MPV or public transport.

I am aware that the Deputy's party is eager to introduce a Bill relating to e-scooters and I welcome this. I gather the Bill may even be published today and I will certainly consider it in the light of what I have just said and in the context of the findings of the RSA. It is extremely constructive that Fianna Fáil will add to this debate, which is complicated and will inform what is coming down the line.

The use of e-scooters is rising rapidly because they are efficient, mobile and low-cost vehicles. People are responding favourably to them. Recently Mr. Conor Pope wrote an article on e-scooters in The Irish Times and reported that a 3 km journey from the Phoenix Park to College Green during rush hour took ten minutes. In that context, it is no wonder that people are using them. As well as being very efficient in terms of time, they are also hugely energy efficient.

Unfortunately, however, the Department is once again reacting to a trend. The Minister has not indicated today when the RSA will conclude its investigations into this matter. This should not take a long time because e-scooters are being used and regulated in many other international cities. We are not asking the Minister to reinvent the wheel. We are just asking him to introduce similar regulation to ensure that e-scooters can be used in a safe manner in this country.

I can understand the Deputy's impatience. However, this is a matter of road safety and it is important that we get it right. It is also very important that we get the views of the RSA. While I am not watching the authority line by line and day by day, I gather that it is collating information on how e-scooters operate elsewhere. It is somewhat revealing that various countries have reacted in different ways to e-scooters. I do not accept the Deputy's accusation that the Department's response has been slow because the explosion in the use of e-scooters has been pretty sudden. Various countries have reacted in different ways to the emergence of these vehicles, which has been akin to a flood. I am not taking any position on them until I have heard all of the arguments. I would point out to Deputy Troy that action has been taken in many countries. Barcelona has actually banned e-scooters, while Paris and Berlin have imposed restrictions because of safety concerns, as well as difficulties due to the interaction of e-scooters with other forms of traffic, including motor vehicles, bicycles and pedestrians. It is not quite as simple as it may appear on the surface in terms of regulating their use. The primary concern behind the survey and examination that is going on is safety. Belgium classifies e-scooters with pedestrians or bicycles depending on speed while Denmark has four classifications, depending on speed. France has different rules and in Sweden, the legislation treats them the same as bicycles. There have been different reactions in different places and we hope to be able to learn from those. We also hope to learn from the Bill to be introduced by Fianna Fáil and to act accordingly.

My position is that we should wait and see what the research shows before making a decision.

The Minister is open to persuasion. He is effectively saying that he does not have a view.

That is correct.

That is hardly surprising. He does not have a view on too many things. With regard to the report into the use of these scooters which he has commissioned the RSA to conduct, has the Minister set a timeline for when the authority must report back to him? How quickly can we then expect action from the Minister and his Government colleagues? In November last year the Minister's Government colleague, Deputy Rock, said that he was publishing a Bill. I understand that no such Bill was ever published. We have to acknowledge, as the Minister has, that the use of these scooters has exploded in the past 12 months. We need to respond accordingly. People are using them. They are effective and efficient and they help with congestion and with the environment. We should react positively to this development, while ensuring the safety of all road users. Will the Minister set down a timeframe as to when he will formulate his opinion? We will be bringing our legislation, which we will publish later today, before the Dáil for further discussion.

I will not set an exact date but I regard this as a matter of great importance because of the extraordinary surge in the number of these vehicles we see on our pavements, footpaths and roads. It is not something that can be tolerated for very long. Enforcement is not up to me, but I see the difficulties with having unregulated vehicles on our roads. We will have to make a decision as soon as possible. I emphasise the safety issue.

The convenience is of value to certain people, but research will show whether these vehicles are in line with our policy of getting people out of cars and onto buses, public transport, and bikes. We do not know whether these people are coming off public transport and crowding the roads. We do not know from where they are coming or what the effect of this development will be on overall policy. That will be a major factor in our decision. We will make a decision on this issue very quickly. We will consider Deputy Troy's Bill and what the report says, but safety is paramount with regard to this issue. Safety is what matters most. Other considerations are also important but we must accept that safety is what matters. We do not want to see the sort of incidents that have been seen elsewhere, that is, accidents caused by these vehicles.