E-rideables surge as Perth's transport network lags and traffic swells – ABC News

E-rideables surge as Perth's transport network lags and traffic swells
It's no secret Perth is facing a massive traffic congestion problem.
In fact, road use has spiralled to an all-time high, while public transport patronage has been slow to recover from its COVID-induced all-time low.
But encouraged by the pandemic, another trend is emerging — the use of 'e-rideable' modes of transport, including e-scooters, electric unicycles, electric skateboards, electric roller skates, one-wheel electric scooters and hoverboards.
The WA government will implement new laws before Christmas, setting speed limits and safety features for e-rideable devices.
Under the laws, e-rideable users must:
The new laws, which do not apply to electric bikes, will come into effect on December 4. 
Rules prohibiting mobile phone use and drink/drug driving will apply, with the same restrictions as those applying to motor vehicle drivers.
Currently, children under 16 are permitted to use motorised scooters with a maximum speed of 10kph and this will not change.
The uptake of e-transport is surging across the nation, as people explore more active and socially-distant ways to commute.
But is Perth's transport network ready to handle the new technology? Are people ready to overcome their car obsession and make room for cyclists and e-riders?
Traffic monitoring company MetroCount has devices placed across the city which can differentiate between modes of transport.
"What the numbers are telling us is that we're increasing scooter numbers by 50 to 100 per cent over a year or two ago," MetroCount manager Maurice Berger said.
He said the convenience of electric-powered devices was getting people out of their cars.
"It's no longer necessary that they need end-of-trip facilities to change out of their lycra, or whatever they're wearing," he said.
"They can wear their business attire, get off the bike, lock it up and get into the office."
On the day coronavirus restrictions were initially eased in WA in April 2020, MetroCount recorded more bikes on the South Perth foreshore cycle path than ever before, with 5,152 counted.
The number of cyclists using that path now sits at a higher daily average than before that day.
Perth-based urban planner Andrew Brodie said while electric transport was convenient, the biggest hurdle to getting people off the road and onto the path was safety.
He said while Perth's major cycling routes were world-class, there were some dangerous gaps in the network.
"The problem is the gaps in between where people work and where people live, go to school and shop and in between those," he said.
"A cycle route can just come completely undone if on one route, there's just one really bad intersection or one really difficult road to cross.
"Just that one element of that route could be the difference between a parent allowing that child to take that route or someone choosing to commute to work on a bike."
Mr Berger said many of those vital connections were under the jurisdiction of local councils, which were already feeling the financial pressure to fund many other services.
"We're talking of millions of dollars … for some local government authorities, it's just too difficult to make that push," he said.
"[Instead] they'll do what is least required and unfortunately, that can be unsafe practices, and they don't know it — like painting a white line or green paint on the path.
"Then it stops at the most dangerous point, which is the intersection, and leaves you to it."
Mr Brodie said a simple rule of thumb could be applied when planning a journey.
"Would this route be safe enough for my 7-year-old daughter? And would it be safe enough for her 70-year-old grandmother?," he said.
"At the moment, the reality is that our cycle network does discriminate against certain people, it doesn't give all members of the community a real, viable option or choice to cycle.
"It's really geared towards the more confident cyclists and to increase ridership, we need to be appealing to all different types of cyclists, young and old."
Mr Brodie said painted on-road bike lanes were the most basic remedy for cash-strapped local councils.
"Painted bike lanes don't offer the protection that cyclists need from faster moving cars," he said.
"You've just got paint, and you've got no other protections.
"Cars are still moving up to 50 to 60 kph. We know that when a cyclist is hit at 45 kph or more, they have a 50 per cent chance or less of surviving.
"Whereas if you reduce that speed to 30 kph, you have a 90 per cent chance of surviving."
Mr Brodie said thoughtful street design could encourage slower speeds.
"So buildings closer together and having trees closer together at regular intervals, reducing people's perception of space and forcing them to be more cautious and driving more slowly," he said.
"Sticking up a sign post saying 40 kph and thinking your job is done is completely false."
Mr Brodie said e-bikes and e-riders competed for space in already crowded streets.
"It's hard enough accommodating bikes, pedestrians, cars and buses within a typical street, let alone trying to separate out another mode of transport. So, it's a case of which modes mix best together."
He said that should be dictated by speed.
MetroCount placed the average speeds of bicycles along the South Perth foreshore cycle path at 22.5 kph.
The continuous power of an e-bike motor is capped at 250 watts in Australia and the power must cut out when the speed reaches 25 kph.
But in the absence of government regulation, modifications allow people to reach speeds exceeding 100 kph.
Mr Brodie said dedicating a portion of peak hour train carriage space to cyclists and scooter riders could both increase public transport use and decrease traffic congestion, especially in the outer suburbs.
"What that means is instead of just getting commuters within a walkable catchment of the station, you can attract commuters that are within a cycling distance of the station," he said.
Mr Berger went further, saying that should extend to buses.
"Our bus network is huge. The highest patronage of public transport is by bus," he said.
"But we have no availability of connecting bicycle users with bus patronage, and being able to take your bike on the bus, putting it on a hook on the back.
"It happens in other cities, it doesn't happen here. We've got a disconnect."
The WA government's infrastructure advisory body said regulatory reform was needed to allow foldable devices like e-scooters onto all bus, train and ferry services to reduce traffic congestion and boost public transport use.
But Transport Minister Rita Saffioti said there were no plans to change the peak hour rules to ensure there was enough room for commuters.
Instead, she encouraged people to walk and ride to the train and use the bike lockers provided at some stations.
Mr Brodie said aside from infrastructure, it was about changing driver behaviours and public perceptions.
"In Holland, kids by the time they're 12 have to pass a cycling exam," he said.
"When you had your driving test, did you learn anything about cycling, and safe driving for cyclists?"
Mr Brodie admitted swaying the public and policy makers in a car-dominated city like Perth was a losing battle.
"There is research out there that shows that there are economic benefits (of cycling), but it's very hard to win that battle in Perth," he said.
"Bike paths don't win elections, unfortunately. Freeway widening does."
There are some green shoots in the community.
The Town of Cottesloe has become the first local government in Perth to support a self-serve e-bike hire service.
People can use their smartphones to scan QR codes printed on three docking stations around the neighbourhood to unlock an e-bike.
Local businessman Gary Shelton was behind the initiative, which is in a two-year trial phase.
"It's just a new technology, look at cars now going electric," he said.
"Everyone wants something that is clean, green and fun. I mean, riding these bikes is a lot of fun."
Mr Shelton said the demographic of people borrowing the e-bikes varied.
"It actually varies from middle-aged to elderly people hiring them and they're doing quite long distances from Cottesloe to Fremantle," he said.
"A lot of them haven't got bikes but they've heard about electric bikes and they wanted to give it a try. There's definitely a lot of enthusiasm."
Other councils were adopting different methods.
A concept known as 'safe active streets' had been rolled out in some neighbourhoods through the conversion of local roads to so-called 'bike boulevards' that slow vehicle traffic and give priority to cyclists.
More than 20 streets have been converted or are in development across the state.
Ms Saffioti said $265 million was being spent over the next four years to expand cycling and walking infrastructure.
That includes new protected bike lanes in Victoria Park, new shared paths across the city and a new $50 million river crossing for cyclists next to the Causeway.
Ms Saffioti also promised better local connections to Metronet train stations.
Long-term bike strategies are being developed across WA, while Ms Saffioti said the state government would fund up to 50 per cent of the cost of cycle projects under the WA Bicycle Network grants program.
Mr Brodie said Perth was well placed to be a cycling and active transport powerhouse.
"We've got the most days of sunshine, we're flat and we've got this amazing river through the middle of our city, the majority of which is public foreshore," he said.
"We've got this main artery through the city, which could be feeding all these cycle routes.
"Sydney for instance doesn't have that, it's mostly a privatised harbour shore.
"I think Perth has the opportunity to become Australia's cycling capital — I really mean that."
He pointed to Portland as an international example of a place with a strong cycle culture.
"What I find particularly inspiring about Portland is that it's an American city," Mr Brodie said.
"America has a typical love of cars, just like Australians do.
"It shows that we can do it, we can change over time."
We acknowledge Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as the First Australians and Traditional Custodians of the lands where we live, learn, and work.
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