In cities around the world, e-bikes and personal mobility devices (PMDs), like e-scooters and e-skateboards, are taking city pavements, bike lanes and roads by storm.
In Australia, these small battery-powered get-arounds are becoming more visible, as commuters look for new and more efficient ways to beat congestion and save time and money. But in maximising their potential, we first must overcome a few hurdles around their safe and legal use.
In WA, the Road Traffic Code 2000 specifies that e-scooters must only be capable of travelling at a top speed of 10km/h (when propelled by the motor on level ground) and the motor can only have a maximum power output of 200 watts. But despite this, many devices being sold in the State are higher powered, can travel faster and can’t be legally used on public roads and paths in WA.
If a PMD can travel above 10km/h it could technically be considered a ‘motor vehicle’ under the current regulations. However, motor vehicles must be licensed and operated in accordance with the Road Traffic Code, which isn’t possible for these devices. So, a rider could, again technically, be regarded as operating an unlicensed vehicle. E-bikes have a different classification and can travel up to 25km/h when propelled by the motor.
Weighing up the benefits and challenges
E-bikes and PMDs have the potential to reduce unnecessary car trips and harmful vehicle emissions. E-bikes are helping to make cycling a more convenient commuting option and PMDs are becoming increasingly appealing for shorter trips.
But there is a lot of confusion around the legality of devices and how they should operate in public areas, as well as safety considerations.
Current laws governing the use of roads and paths in WA are not really set up for PMDs and don’t recognise many new devices. We’re seeing a lot of e-scooters which don’t comply with current regulations, as well as other PMDs like e-skateboards which aren’t defined in the Code. What rules apply to these is unclear.
Keeping it legal
Riding non-compliant PMDs anywhere other than on private property could land you in trouble with the law.
The WA State Government is working to examine ways that PMDs can be safely introduced in WA and are closely monitoring their use in other cities.
“The National Transport Commission, with input from the states and territories, is examining the barriers to the safe use of PMDs and is expected to make recommendations about national regulations to state and federal transport ministers in November 2020. Refining the framework for the safe and legal use of new and emerging PMDs is crucial as demand increases.
Safety must be first and foremost and we need to give careful consideration to where and how PMDs operate to reduce potential conflicts with others sharing the same space.
A growing market
Market analysts Grand View Research estimate the global e-scooter market alone has an annual worth of more than $28.7 billion.
It says that the rising need for fuel-efficient vehicles, backed by increasing concerns over carbon and greenhouse gas emissions, is expected to drive the adoption of e-scooters over the next decade.
Grand View forecasts that advances in technology, and in particular battery life, will further the popularity of these devices.
Nationally there are around 1.2 million bicycles sold in Australia every year and e-bikes make up a small but rapidly growing share of that total.
Bike Industries Australia confirms electric bike sales in Australia have doubled every year for the past three years. At least 60,000 new e-bikes will have hit the road in the 12 months to July this year.
Segway is a popular brand overseas and is starting to make big inroads into the Australian market. Instant Fun stocks the full range of Segway scooters, unicycles and other great MNDs.
E-bikes are in a different vehicle category to the smaller PMDs and can be ridden on shared paths, bike lanes and roads in WA.
There are two main types of e-bikes defined under WA regulations: Power Assisted Pedal Cycles (PAPCs) and Pedelecs (which comply with European Standards).
PAPCs are permitted to have a motor with a maximum output of 200 watts, while Pedelecs are allowed a motor up to 250 watts. In both cases, the power assistance must cut out at 25km/h.
They cost anywhere from $1500 to $15,000 and have a range of up to 150km. They’re relatively cheap to run, costing less than a $1 for a full battery charge.
Riders must be 16 years or over to ride an e-bike with the motor engaged and all riders must wear protective helmets.
E-scooters, e-skateboards and hoverboards
In WA, e-scooters, where the motor has a maximum power output of 200 watts and the device has a maximum speed of 10km/h (when propelled by the motor on level ground), can ridden on footpaths and suburban roads with a speed limit of 50km/h or lower with no dividing line or median strip. They can’t be ridden on one-way roads with more than one marked lane or after dark. A helmet is required when riding these devices in WA.
E-scooters cost upwards of $400 and can be fully recharged for well under a dollar. Some e-scooters can be folded and carried on public transport.
E-skateboards and hoverboards can be bought for a few hundred dollars. The hoverboards currently available to the consumer market are electrically powered balance boards on wheels.
It’s important to note that e-skateboards and hoverboards are currently not defined under the rules that govern WA’s roads and paths, so if you’re thinking of buying one to use anywhere other than private property, contact WA’s Department of Transport first.
Segways and similar self-balancing personal e-transporters, are at the high end of the PMD market, retailing at around $10,000 to $12,000 each.
They are allowed on shared paths in WA in specific areas but only as part of commercial tour operations where they’re limited to speeds of 10km/h.
Their private use in public areas is banned in WA.
Segways can be ridden by most people and are even used in the disability sector to assist people with mobility issues.
The minimum age for riding this type of device in WA is 12 and helmets are mandatory.
Segways cost around 60c to fully recharge. The street models can travel distances of up to 29km, while the all-terrain vehicles can travel up to 19km.
Segways were originally designed 20 years ago as an alternative to the car and are used in countries around the world as transport devices, particularly in Europe. They have also been popular in tourist hotspots.
Use of e-scooters and other rideable electric devices on footpaths and shared paths can result in result in injury.
By keeping to the rules PMDs provide a relatively safe and efficient means to travel short distances. However, around the world these devices have a role to play in the broader transport ecosystem as demand for more innovative, efficient and affordable ways to move around cities and communities intensifies.
The wheels on the devices are relatively small, so they are susceptible to pavement irregularities like potholes and pavement cracks which could contribute to spills and injuries. But mandatory wearing of helmets goes a long way to preventing these spills from becoming medical incidents.