US-based company Lime is eyeing off an electric scooter sharing scheme in Newcastle as the state government considers trialling the machines in NSW.
The company’s Asia-Pacific director of government relations, Mitchell Price, met with City of Newcastle representatives last week and with a Hunter delegation of civic and business leaders in Auckland on Monday.
Mr Price, who was born and raised in Maitland and is a former president of the town’s Liberal Party branch, said there was “no better place” than Newcastle for the trial.
“We’ve spoken to many councils around NSW, and the opportunity of bringing these to the city of Newcastle is something that any global business would do,” he said.
Lime launched e-scooter sharing schemes in Auckland, Christchurch, Brisbane and the Gold Coast late last year.
The green-and-black scooters travel up to 25 kilometres an hour and have an accelerator and brake mounted on the handlebars.
They do not need to be left in a charging dock. Contracted “juicers” collect them from the streets, take them home for recharging and return them the next day.
Customers use a mobile app to find the scooters, which cost $1 to unlock then 30 cents per minute, or about $18 an hour.
The e-scooters appear to be direct competitors to e-bike sharing schemes such as BYKKO, which launched a government-backed trial in Newcastle in May last year.
But Lime and other potential e-scooter operators have some regulatory hurdles to jump before they can operate in NSW.
A Transport for NSW spokesperson confirmed on Friday that it was illegal to ride e-scooters on the state’s public roads, footpaths and cycleways.
“Any future trial would require an exemption,” the spokesperson said.
“We are engaging with stakeholders on important issues like the safety of riders and pedestrians, as well as trial conditions, for example, geographic area, operating hours and curfews, and permitted number of scooters.”
The spokesperson said “several” e-scooter operators and councils had expressed an interest in hosting a trial.
“Any future trial would be subject to an expression-of-interest process to select an appropriate operator.
“Before a trial can happen, we need to finalise the trial conditions and take into consideration the learnings from trials in other jurisdictions, including Queensland and New Zealand.”
Gold Coast Council confiscated 23 Lime e-scooters in December, asserting the company had launched in the city without approval, and Lime quickly suspended its operations on the coastal strip.
The Queensland government passed legislation last year allowing “rideables” such as e-scooters to operate in public spaces and on “local streets” with speed limits of 50km/h or less.
They are not allowed on main roads or streets in the Brisbane CBD.
Riders must be at least 16 years old, wear a bike helmet and stay under drink-driving limits.
Mr Price said the e-scooters were designed as a “first or last mile” transport solution and a fun way to move around or explore a city.
“The important thing here is the state needs to provide the exemption … NSW is lagging behind,” he said.
“Sometimes we need to think outside the box. Let’s give the decision back to the locals. Get the cities to decide what their communities want.”
The Brisbane scheme has attracted more than 100,000 users in three months, but not without controversy.
Scooters have been left hanging from bridges or dumped in rivers, and some riders have suffered broken bones and head injuries in accidents.
Queensland Ambulance Service bicycle response team paramedic Madeline Shield said in January that crews had increasingly been called to scooter incidents.
Brisbane emergency services have responded to about 60 scooter-related accidents since November.
A City of Newcastle spokesperson said it had been approached by several e-scooter firms, including Lime.
“Any future shared electric scooter trial would likely be by expression of interest and be undertaken in conjunction with Transport for NSW,” the spokesperson said.