Cairns Regional Council in the spotlight over ban on shared e-scooters on trails

Despite the Queensland government announcing tougher new rules for electric scooters, one city remains firm in its reluctance to allow shared vehicles on its sidewalks.

Cairns Regional Council has rejected several applications from e-scooter companies to work in the area while neighboring councils are expanding the reach of shared e-scooters.

Shared electric scooters allow travelers to rent the scooter with an app, drive the scooter to their destination, and then leave it in a designated area available for the next person to rent.

Last year, Beam scooters began operating in Port Douglas with just nine partner stations and companies, which have now expanded to 14.

Port Douglas council has followed in the footsteps of other Queensland councils like Townsville [including Magnetic Island]Mackay, Rockhampton, Bundaberg, Brisbane and Gold Coast to allow electric scooters on their streets.

In March, the Townsville City Council approved an additional 16 square kilometers of driving zones in the city.

Shared electric scooters operate in Townsville.(ABC North Queensland: Rachael Merritt)

No shared electric scooters for Cairns

The Cairns Regional Council (CRC) is a council that strongly refuses to allow e-scooters on the streets, having rejected several applications from e-scooter companies to work in the area.

An orange e-scooter with a list of penalties including exceeding the speed limit, not wearing a helmet, and drunk driving.
Queensland Penalties for Electric Scooters.(Twitter: Annastacia Palaszczuk)

In 2019, Lime scooters contacted CRC to test its electric scooters in the city’s central business district.

Council officers recommended not holding the trial, saying the trial would violate the council’s trail safety policy.

With the exception of Mayor Bob Manning, Terry James and Brett Moller, all councilors voted against continuing the lawsuit.

Mr. Moller said that if another company approached the council, he would always vote in favor of a lawsuit.

“While I respect the majority opinion of the board, my opinion at the time was why not have a trial and see how it works in our city?” he said.

“Especially with the adoption happening in other communities, I personally don’t see anything wrong with testing them, so we can see how it works in our beautiful tropical city.

“What is significant now compared to when electric scooters were first introduced is that the state government has now legislated safety rules regarding the use of electric scooters, which shall come into force on the first of November.”

In 2020, the CRC conducted the “Our Cairns” survey, including a question about the licensing of commercial e-scooter hire in Cairns.

According to the CRC website, only 38% of respondents were totally opposed to the introduction of electric scooters.

While 40% were in favor with conditions, such as “only in the CBD” and “only if they could use the road shoulder”, 19% were in favor, without conditions. Three percent chose not to answer the question.

Rear wheels of electric scooters aligned.
Cairns Regional Council says its view on banning commercial e-scooter operators in Cairns has not changed.(ABC News: Alice Pavlovic)

Despite the numbers in favor of shared e-scooters, the CRC said the council’s view has not changed when it comes to shared e-scooter operators.

“Council has considered several requests for electric scooters by bringing the matter to council and asking the community through consultation as part of the recent Our Cairns Inquiry,” a CRC spokesperson said.

Cairns is the next step

Sarah Taylor, policy manager for Beam Scooters, said she supports the new e-scooter rules.

“We have worked extensively with the Queensland Government on the new rule changes,” she said.

“We are very supportive of anything that increases the safety of cyclists and the wider community.”

Two people riding purple scooter near water
Beam Scooters says they are working with Cairns Council and Chamber of Commerce on the issue of shared electric scooters.(Supplied: Beam)

Ms Taylor said there was some confusion between shared electric scooters and private scooters.

“We don’t currently operate in Cairns; it’s private scooters you see now,” she said.

“The biggest difference between shared and private e-scooters is that we have invested in geolocation capabilities, which limit where scooters can travel and how fast they can travel.

“They are very different from private e-scooters, which only rely on the rider to make the right choices.”

Ms Taylor admitted Cairns was in their sights.

“We have worked extensively with the chamber of commerce and the tourism sector, and we are still working with the council to see what is possible,” she said.

The numbers have it

Earlier this year, the Cairns Chamber of Commerce sent out a survey to its members about shared electric scooters.

The respondent group was made up of business owners (60%), key decision makers in a business (35%) and others.

Forty-nine per cent of respondents said they were in favor of electric scooters in Cairns, 40 per cent were not and 11 per cent were undecided, with the main concerns being that the scooters would be thrown around the city, vandalized and not friendly for pedestrians and walkers.

Elna M. Lemons