By Tess Macallan, Journalist, Council Magazine

Environmentally friendly, affordable and convenient, it’s no wonder that e-scooters and e-bikes have taken off in cities around the world. Sunshine Coast Council is the latest adopter, partnering with e-scooter operator, Neuron Mobility, to safely trial the trendy transportation throughout the city – aiming to improve mobility and reduce road congestion.

On 8 June 2023, Sunshine Coast Council and Neuron Mobility launched an 18 month trial that will see a gradual rollout of 400 of Neuron’s distinctive orange e-scooters and up to 75 e-bikes throughout a 13km² riding area across Maroochydore and Mooloolaba.

Neuron Mobility works closely with a range of councils across Australia to improve mobility by designing shared e-scooter and e-bike programs. Tim Morris, Neuron Mobility Regional Manager, said the Sunshine Coast trial will benefit both locals and visitors by creating a car-free way to get around the coast.

“Here on the Sunshine Coast, traffic congestion as well as the congestion for parking spaces is a real challenge in the local community,” Mr Morris said. “Whether you’re a visitor for the day, staying for an extended period or a local here on the coast, we think that e-scooters and e bikes will give people a way to get around the area without needing to rely on using their own car.

“We’re hoping the program will really make a significant reduction in local traffic congestion as well as carbon emissions by getting people to switch over to a more sustainable mode of transport.”

Ready to roll

There are obvious environmental benefits to electric modes of transport, as they produce little to no direct emissions, create minimal pollution and deliver greater energy efficiency.

However, with the increasing presence of e-scooters and e-bikes in communities, many have voiced concerns over their safety.

“Neuron is focused on making sure the program is designed to be safe both for riders, particularly riders of e-scooters, but also for the rest of the community as well,” Mr Morris said.

The company’s high-visibility “safetyorange” e-scooters and e-bikes are fitted with safety features including an app-controlled helmet lock, voice guidance, a ‘follow my ride’ feature, an emergency button and topple detection.

New riders are required to agree to a list of riding rules before they are allowed to take their first trip. Neuron’s e-bikes and e-scooters are also equipped with advanced geofencing technology that controls where they’re ridden and how fast they can travel in certain areas.

“Along the Sunshine Coast, there’s a lot of really great shared paths, but we know that the shared path mix can be quite busy with pedestrians, dog walkers, people in wheelchairs and people with prams, so it can be quite a congested space,” Mr Morris said.

“So we’ve got what we call a low speed zone in place all along the shared path, so that will limit the e-scooters to a maximum of 12km per hour, which is in line with the Queensland regulations for personal mobility devices.” Areas that are unsuitable for e-scooters are defined as no-ride zones.

Coordination with council

Mr Morris said that when it comes to safety, it is key to work closely with the local council, which knows the area well and understands how communities use these public spaces.

“Here on the Sunshine Coast, we’ve worked very closely with Council to make sure that we’ve got the right parameters in place for the trial,” Mr Morris said.

“That begins with choosing the right area and looking at the infrastructure that’s available in the area – such as looking at the quality of the footpaths, the shared paths, if there’s bike lanes – to make sure that there is actually going to be suitable infrastructure for e-scooters and e bikes to use.

“We’ve started with the Sunshine Coast in the area across Mooloolaba, Alex Heads, Cotton Tree and Maroochydore, which really is the key visitor and commercial precinct here on the Sunshine Coast. “Getting the area right is absolutely important, and then within the area, it’s looking at the specific risks that are involved in different locations.”

This also means ensuring that e-scooters and e-bikes are parked in designated places and do not obstruct other members of the community. “We know that if e-scooters and e-bikes are not parked correctly, it can cause an obstruction for other users of the paths, particularly pedestrians, persons with disability or parents with prams, so we’ve worked closely with the council to actually identify designated parking spots.

“Rather than being able to park anywhere and everywhere, people will be required here on the Sunshine Coast to actually park in designated locations that have been approved by the council.

“We are really hoping that it will alleviate a lot of the concerns around parking and really making sure that people are parking in correct locations, and we’ve got some really smart technology to help ensure that people do park in the correct locations.”

Geofencing will work in conjunction with Neuron’s new augmented reality Parking Assistant technology to ensure bikes and scooters are parked in one of the designated parking stations located across the city.

Meeting the needs of communities

To coincide with the launch, Neuron and the Australian Road Safety Foundation (ARSF) teamed up to promote rider safety, hosting a number of ScootSafe events. Mr Morris said it was a great opportunity to engage with the local community.

“There were lots of people that hadn’t ridden e-scooters before and wanted a bit of a hands-on tutorial to understand how they work and how to ride them safely,” Mr Morris said. “A lot of people just wanted some general information, to know how the program works, where they can be parked, how fast they can be ridden, and a little bit about how much they cost as well.”

Neuron also deployed safety ambassadors on the ground at key times of the day over the launch period. “I would certainly encourage councils that are considering how e-scooters and e-bikes can fit within their community to speak with one of the operators,” Mr Morris said.

“I would also suggest that councils reach out to other councils that have been through the journey before, so they can really understand those learnings and design the program to be right for their community.” E-scooters and e-bikes are just one way councils can be part of the shift towards more sustainable transport options.

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