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No more horsing around - Why Brisbane needs to be a mobility trailblazer

Opinion

The future is of e-mobility in Brisbane is clear – but riders shouldn’t be the only people getting on board, writes Ryan Murphy.

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When renowned engineer James Trackson rolled down Brisbane’s Elizabeth Street in 1902 in Queensland’s first car, he would have certainly raised a few eyebrows.

Trackson was a true trailblazer, establishing Brisbane’s telephone exchange and installing the city’s first street lamps during an incredible career.

He was also one of the RACQ’s founders.

But behind the wheel of his “Locomobile”, Trackson was literally stemming into a fractious debate with horse riders who were adamant the new-fangled contraptions had no place on city’s roads.

There was sympathy for this view.

The Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners’ Advocate had opined that the new “crude form of mechanically-driven carriages” wouldn’t impact on demand for the reliable horse.

This view proved to be somewhat short-sighted but legislatures at the time still struggled with the issue.

I mention this history because there’s clear parallels between the old car-versus-horse imbroglio and the current debate about the ever-expanding range of e-mobility options hitting city streets.

The Schrinner Council did a bit of trailblazing of its own in 2018 by being the first major city in Australia to establish a shared e-scooter scheme..What started with just 500 Lime scooters in Brisbane, soon grew to 1,000 e-scooters when Neuron came on board as a second operator in 2019.

People have journeyed across Brisbane pavements using shared e-scooters over four million times since late 2018 – that’s more than CityCycle could rack up in a decade.

Brisbane residents think e-scooters are fun, convenient and inexpensive which is why every day 5,400 trips are taken on them in our city.

E-scooters also help solve public transport’s “last mile” problem, with up to fifty percent of Brisbane riders using e-scooters to replace a car ride.

Despite this, there remains some angst about e-mobility in general, much like there was when Trackson and his fellow early-adopters rolled down Brisbane’s muddy streets.

Saying “no” to shareable scooters might have seemed the easy option, but this transport revolution is coming, and regulating the scheme through caps, audits and, importantly, safety conditions, was a far more prudent approach than sticking our head in the sand.

The Schrinner Council continues to do its part keeping pace with the e-mobility era by trialling a new dedicated cycleway in the CBD and replacing the old CityCycle scheme with shareable e-bikes, due to hit Brisbane streets in July.

Council’s e-mobility journey is constantly evolving and the latest development has come in the form of Australia’s first e-mobility strategy, released in early June.

Woven into the strategy are outcomes and actions that will allow e-mobility to become an integral and seamless part of the city’s transport network.

However, managing e-mobility doesn’t rest only with Council, and it’s become increasingly obvious that the other levels of government need to start pushing a little harder to keep up with the change.

We need the Queensland Government to start doing its part to ensure there’s appropriate enforcement of the rules so e-mobility users, pedestrians and motorists can all safely co-exist.

Managing the speed of e-mobility devices remains a real issue and the Queensland Government has a key role in changing the necessary regulations and then enforcing the rules.

The Queensland Police Service needs to be provided with dedicated resources to ensure e-mobility users are wearing helmets and adhering to speed and other road rules.

The other critical area where regulation needs to keep up with the e-mobility revolution is standards.

There’s some real junk making its way into shops lately as retailers race to meet e-mobility demands with the latest bargains.

Conversely, there’s issues with high powered models, capable of significant speeds.

These aren’t issues that should turn us off e-mobility, and in reality, e-mobility’s destiny to be the future of urban transport is already set in stone.

It just means cities, states and countries can’t waste any more time in taking a holistic approach to manage the e-mobility industry, and this is what our e-mobility strategy helps to realise.

It took about 70 years for seatbelts to become mandatory in Queensland cars.

With e-mobility we can’t afford to horse around.

Ryan Murphy is Chair of Public and Active Transport , Brisbane City Council

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