“One literally just went by the window,” says Martin Meany, on the phone in his home on Patrick Street on the end of the Liberties.
Meany, just like the person who zoomed past his window, owns an electric scooter. He can’t legally use it, though. That’s not allowed right now.
Meany stopped using his e-scooter after he was pulled over by Gardaí and warned he was breaking the law, he says. “I was actually kind of angry because I had just broken a law.”
Since then Meany has been lobbying the government to legalise e-scooters.
Now, though, with travel options upended by Covid-19 – and many wary of returning to public transport – some, like Meany, have said they think it’s time to look again at letting e-scooter riders get around the city.
Others say they are against the idea, or still cautious about letting e-scooters on the roads, and would want scrutiny of any fine print allowing for that.
Off the Road
At the moment, the Irish government defines e-scooters as a mechanically propelled vehicle (MPV).
In other words, a vehicle that can be powered by mechanical or electrical power. Or, according to the Road Safety Authority (RSA) guidelines, “it can continue without you pushing it or pedaling it”.
Under the Road Traffic Act 1961, MPV drivers must have insurance, motor tax, and a driving license to take their vehicles out for a spin.
But it’s not currently possible to tax or insure e-scooters, says An Garda Síochána’s website. So “they are not considered suitable for use in a public place”.
Last year, the government began to assess whether to legislate for e-scooters to be used on the road.
The RSA put out a report in June 2019, highlighting the pros, cons and safety considerations for micro-mobility.
After the report came out, Minister for Transport Shane Ross called for a public consultation on e-scooters and what are called “powered personal transporters”. That takes in things such as e-skateboards, or segways.
The public consultation wrapped up on 1 November 2019.
“Following that, general election 2020 happened and then that was pretty much the end of it,” says Meany.
With public transport disrupted by Covid-19, some say it’s timely to pick up the debate around e-scooters again.
“Now we have a very new and unexpected situation,” says Jean Jose Garcia Molina, the founder of eRide.ie, a forum for micro-mobility enthusiasts to organise meetups.
Molina is a project manager at Moby Move, an electric bike-sharing company that’s website says it is looking to launch in Dublin soon.
“Buses, trains, Luas, and Dart have severe capacity limitations due to the social distancing rules and people are unsure about the available alternatives to get to work,” says Molina.
Says Meany: “[E-scooters] do offer an alternative to public transport and I do believe that public transport poses a very specific risk.”
Molina thinks that e-scooters could help “free up seats on public transport”, and help people avoid “the risk of Covid-19 on buses and trains”, he says.
The British Government announced at the start of the month that it would be fast-tracking legislation to permit e-scooters on the road.
“It’s being brought in to alleviate the usage of public transport during the coronavirus pandemic,” says Craig Cunningham, a spokesperson for the UK’s Department for Transport.
The UK government had already decided that it was going to legalise the use of e-scooters next year but they brought the legislation forward by a year, he says.
“What we have said to local authorities is that if they want to, they can start working with companies who want to run trials,” says Cunningham.
A spokesperson for the RSA’s position doesn’t appear to have changed.
“The Road Safety Authority, An Garda Síochána and the Department of Transport have always made it clear that e-scooters are classed as an MPV and therefore illegal to use on a public road,” says its spokesperson.
“It’s not that NTA was opposed to e-scooters. We have simply drawn attention to the issues that would have to be considered if relaxing the regulations was being proposed,” says Dermot O’Gara, a spokesperson for the National Transport Authority.
These issues include speed, the position of lights on e-scooters, road surfaces and road design, says O’Gara.
Minister for Transport, Shane Ross hasn’t responded to queries about why e-scooters are not permitted on the road and if he would change his position considering the changes Covid-19 brought to public transport.
Introducing e-scooters is matter for the next government, Shane Ross told Meany in an email.
“The issue of whether or not to legalise or regulate the use of these vehicles will be a matter for the incoming Minister,” Ross said, in the email.
Fianna Fáil TD and transport spokesperson Marc MacSharry says that it is “our intention in government to revisit” the issue of e-scooter legislation.
Introducing e-scooters is part of their micro-mobility strategy, MacSharry says. But “as things stand you can’t introduce anything without a functioning senate.”
Vigilance On Footpaths
“At the moment they’re a constant worry for the disability community in Ireland,” says Gary Kearney, a spokesperson for the Disability Federation of Ireland.
“Getting hit by an adult on a scooter is the equivalent of getting a punch by a heavyweight boxer,” he says.
The nightmare though is when they’re on footpaths, travelling at 25km/h, which is within the range of speed that an e-scooter can achieve, with no training, he says.
“I’m profoundly deaf in one ear and I have partial hearing in the other,” he says.
Even when e-scooter riders ring their bells to alert Kearney of their presence on the footpath, he finds it difficult to tell where the noise is coming from, he says. “They miss you by a couple of inches.”
E-scooters should be banned from footpaths entirely because it is too difficult to enforce speed restrictions, the RSA recommended to the Department of Transport in a report from 2019.
“Because of the risk which the use of these devices would pose to pedestrians if travelling at higher speeds, the recommendation is that they should not be used on footpaths,” the report says.
Kearney is not against e-scooters being introduced, they just have to be regulated properly, he says. “I would insist on helmets. Helmets are essential.”
The RSA has said that protective equipment should not not be mandatory.
“This does not include making PPE mandatory, however users should be encouraged to wear helmets and high visibility clothing, as per our recommendation for cyclists,” the RSA report to the Department of Transport stated.
They also have to stay in the carriageway and off the footpath, Kearney says. “Whether it is the cycle lane or the roadway, it’s the carriageway. They are not to be used in pedestrian spaces.”
“My argument all along is to treat them like [push] bikes,” says Meany. They weigh less than a bike, they go at the same speed of a bike, he says.
Dublin City Council is doing “great things […] in terms of making the city ready for cyclists”, says Meany.
But why not make use of the many e-scooters that are ready for the road? he says.