Since late August last year, e-scooters have materialised in every street across the inner north, inner south and Belconnen, with other areas of Canberra expected to get them soon. The National Capital Authority also approved their use in the Parliamentary Triangle, but stipulated that the maximum speed be limited to 15km/h instead of the 25km/h elsewhere.
So how much benefit have these much-hyped vehicles brought to Canberra residents?
Electronic geofencing is supposed to prevent users from parking inappropriately - that is on roads, near roundabouts or adjacent to pedestrian crossings.
But anyone with eyes can see that these rules are being flouted repeatedly. The penalty for parking outside a designated parking spot is a paltry $1 - an invitation to park anywhere you like. Unlike privately owned scooters, rented e-scooters can be seen parked on roads, on median strips and across cycle lanes. One was seen abandoned on the footpath over Commonwealth Avenue Bridge, a path crowded enough on weekends already.
Government rules do not appear to outlaw the parking of scooters across footpaths, and users are regularly leaving them just there, forcing pedestrians to go around them. Scooters are even left in front of kerb ramps, blocking wheelchairs and prams.
Walkers around Lake Burley Griffin's Central Basin now have to be alert not only for speedsters on two large wheels, but also scooter riders overtaking at speed without warning. ACT government rules tell riders "you must give way to people walking". Good luck with that.
Within three months of their launch, Canberra's hospitals had 60 e-scooter riders presenting at accident and emergency departments (where ACT taxpayers foot the bill). In Brisbane, after a spate of accidents in 2019, a man died from head injuries after falling from his hired scooter.
Around the world, serious accidents involving e-scooters have become such a danger that countries like Germany and Singapore and cities like San Francisco and Paris are banning them, on footpaths or outright.
Then there is the problem of e-hoons. A group of yahooing young men has been tearing up the C5 precinct near Anzac Parade, riding on footpaths at maximum speed before doing skids, fishtails and doughnuts, leaving concrete paths covered in a spaghetti of black tyre marks and garden beds chewed up. The hooligans use their scooters to do the same around memorials to the war dead on Anzac Parade.
These youths are an intimidating presence; when challenged by residents they become aggressive. They know their rights.
Perhaps the most troubling aspect of this outbreak of hooliganism is the unwillingness of the companies Neuron and Beam to take responsibility for the misuse of their vehicles. Complaints to them are met with brush-offs, even when, at some risk, the scooters' registration numbers are provided.
These companies' e-scooters are waiting outside Mooseheads at 2am on weekends. Riding them under the influence is illegal, but the temptation for the tipsy and the legless is irresistible and potentially fatal.
One of the more offensive features of the machines is their garish colours, purple for for Beam scooters and bright orange for Neuron ones. Designed to catch the eye, they stand out like the proverbial canine gonads.
Their presence violates the city's nature-toned streetscape, a distinctive feature of Canberra's urban design from the beginning. There's a reason we don't paint bus shelters purple or lamp posts bright orange. Why the National Capital Authority would approve these jarring street blemishes is a mystery.
But surely these e-scooters have benefits, I hear you ask.
Certainly, some Canberrans have taken to them, but mostly for joyrides rather than a regular transport option. Electric scooters are supposed to be a green alternative to polluting vehicles, but a lifecycle analysis by German researchers showed that these short-lived and resource-intensive vehicles have higher carbon emissions than diesel buses and hybrid cars, and are only marginally better than petrol-powered motorbikes.
In Canberra, as elsewhere, part of their carbon cost arises from the fleet of diesel vans that drive around the city each day fishing the scooters out of the lake, replacing their batteries and transporting them to popular hubs.
Canberra's experiment with rental e-scooters has failed. Like other enlightened cities around the world, we should ban them.
- Clive Hamilton is a Canberra-born environmentalist and a professor of public ethics at Charles Sturt University.