Never mind public nuisance, let’s look first at public safety around scooters for hire commercially in public places, says Customs Broker Peter McRae.

With at least 1000 public-hire e-scooters now populating the pavements and roadways of Christchurch and Auckland[1], and numbers expected to grow as the e-transport category grows, from an importing point of view there are a number of regulation, categorisation and commercial concerns that the NZ government needs to address in order to general protect public safety.

As a Customs Broker in New Zealand for Platinum® Freight Management, classification of imported items, and regulation surrounding these items is my prime focus. Historically governments have acted too late when dealing with the introduction of new motorised vehicles, sadly often leading to public safety slip-ups and even tragedy. 2015’s hover board fires re a critical example, and it appears to me that the New Zealand Transport Agency (NZTA) hasn’t learned this time around.

The key issues identifiable in New Zealand this month straddle three areas:

  • The appropriate design and resulting classification of e-scooters as vehicles for transportation, not toys
  • Risk management for the expected increase in future motorised scooter imports
  • Need for greater regulation and systemic collaboration to ensure rider safety (via helmets, speed, etc) and also protect public safety.

Classification and supporting regulation

Let’s start with the lack of clarity about classification of e-scooters and subsequent regulation that should be in place to support it.

These scooters are not toys, they travel at speeds of up to 48kmp and, in the importing world, when an item is brought into country it is afforded a unique 8 digit classification which identifies the type of product. The code for toys always begins with 95, while all motorised bicycles, e-scooters and motor vehicles begin with 87. So classification clearly shows them to be vehicles.

However, the NZTA is sending mixed messages in its communication about e-scooters, leaving potential holes in regulation that should be there to protect people. On 18th September this year, the NZTA gazetted a notice[2]  that classifies an e-scooters as not being a motor vehicle. The Gazette stated that its purpose was to “remove the requirement for scooters designed in the style of traditional children’s toys, with a footboard, two or three wheels and a long steering handle, to be registered as motor vehicles if they are also fitted with low powered electric auxiliary propulsion motors.”

My reading of this gazette is that while they are not toys (even if they may look like toys), they are also not vehicles (even though they have motorised propulsion). The outcome of such a deregulation would see e-scooters require less safety features, and be treated more as toys, despite their use on roads and public footpaths. The NZTA is demonstrating a clear lack of understanding of the commercial Vs public future of these vehicles. Should the e-scooter company be expected to assume all responsibility for public safety with these vehicles? And how would this even look? In the real world, this would not be the case.

Furthermore, the decision not to require a helmet is at odds with the classification of e-scooters as a motorised vehicle and even non-motorised bicycles in New Zealand. The safety regarding e-scooters has clearly not been met in New Zealand.

Risks for future imports by private enterprise and personal use

With the commercial introduction of e-scooters for hire, we can expect New Zealand to see an increase in the private importation of motorised scooters, or the importation of more motorised scooters for sale. When large quantities of smaller importers begin to introduce them, a host of new issues also arises around regulation and safety control. The key areas of risk are:

  • Asbestos in brake pads – historically this remains an area of concern in Australia and New Zealand, even after the 2016 Imports and Exports Asbestos NZ Legislation
  • Fire safety of motors – inappropriate safety features have led to fatal fires of hoverboards, suggesting the same could be true in the future for motorised scooters
  • Electric motor verification (that what the importing paperwork says is actually what the motors capacity is) – required to avoid illegal importing of small engines with capacities for speed that far exceed New Zealand rules and therefore increase footpath and road safety for all.  First market entrants Onzo and Lime claim their engines have a maximum 600W engine and only travel up to 25km/hr, therefore meeting NZTA regulations for vehicles on footpaths, but will all future imports be checked to ensure all motorised scooters meet this regulation too?

As numbers of imports rise, so too does the requirement for NZTA to check more closely whether they do in fact meet the safety requirements that they claim to meet at the border. Recalls after an issue has arisen is an insufficient method of mitigating risk. Whether New Zealand has the staffing required to do this in reality remains to be seen. And whether New Zealand applies suitable penalties on offenders will also determine the scope of the future problem.

The current system needs adjustment.

The gatekeeper to New Zealand is the New Zealand Customs Service. Internally, the NZTA and Ministry of Health should be working together to put safeguards in place, such as:

  • only to be ridden in restricted areas)
  • must ride with a helmet
  • minimum age guidelines.

With the reality being that more and more e-transport businesses will enter New Zealand, it will become more and more critical that importing standards are upheld – and potentially even improved – to ensure the highest possible public safety.

The way that New Zealand Customs and NZTA officials deal with these kinds of vehicle imports can pave the way to a safer future. Let’s hope this is the case.

To contact Platinum® Freight Management, phone 0800 166 716 or send us an email.