Petrol prices are eye-watering. As global affairs put pressure on the availability of commodities, we are likely to see volatility in petrol prices in future.
So there has never been a better time to embrace alternative modes of transport such as e-bikes and e-scooters (also known as “micromobility” devices).
In Australia’s major cities, the average car journey is around 10 km (a distance that many would consider to be within cycling limits).
As both researchers and users of micromobility vehicles, we’re here to help answer some of the most common questions people have when considering becoming an e-bike or e-scooter rider.
1. What are the benefits of e-scooter and e-bike?
E-bikes have been around for some time now. Most are “pedal-assisted,” meaning that the electric motor runs when the rider begins pedaling. They are a good choice for long trips (5-15km), covering mountainous terrain, or riding in hot weather.
They can also carry loads on attached baskets or pannier bags. Some cargo e-bikes can be used for shopping runs or even for operating small mobile businesses.
Read more: Forget your fixies, we’re more likely to ride bikes if we can get more of them
Recently, the popularity of e-scooters has increased. They are usually ridden standing up (although the seats can be attached as an accessory).
E-scooters are easy to park and take up less space. They can even replace short car trips that are too far to walk. More recently, passengers have been allowed to take e-scooters and bikes on South East Queensland trains, allowing for first- and last-mile connections.
If you’re not sure whether either vehicle is right for you, most major cities offer rental plans (such as Beam, Lime or Neuron) that let you try before you buy.
These are typically dockless sharing schemes that allow users to park anywhere near their destination, as long as they park responsibly on a sidewalk and avoid clutter.
Our previous research has shown that students are receptive to shared e-bikes on university campuses, and that tourists find shared e-scooters easier when visiting new places.
Read more: Wallet on Wheels: City visitors who use e-scooters spend more
2. What are the rules in my state or territory?
In Australia, e-bikes that comply with certain European standards (with respect to what constitutes an electric bike in fact) are permitted on public roads and controlled in a similar manner to bicycles.
However, the legality of riding an e-scooter (or similar device) in public varies by state and region.
Australian e-scooter laws, restrictions and shared services available by state/territories as of March 2022. Compiled by authors from various state and regional transport agencies
As of current regulations, the more “scooter-friendly” states are Queensland, the Australian Capital Territory, Western Australia and Tasmania. These states both have share schemes and privately owned e-scooters are also allowed to be run by the public.
Victoria, South Australia and the Northern Territory only allow shared e-scooters at selected testing sites, but generally do not allow privately owned e-scooters to be driven publicly.
The public sector in New South Wales remains a no-go for e-scooters (though trials are announced to begin this year).
Users should check the road rules and regulations of their state or region before using or buying an e-bike or e-scooter.
3. How much fuel and money can I save?
The cost of purchasing a micromobility vehicle will vary greatly depending on the type of vehicle, battery, and add-ons (such as racks, lights or remote tracking).
We recently surveyed privately owned e-scooter users in Southeast Queensland, and found that the most popular models cost between A$500 and A$1,500. Higher-end models can cost more than $2,000 (which is still far less than a car, and especially an electric car).
E-bikes are a bit expensive, with most models costing between A$1,000 and A$3,000, and only a few options under A$800.
The operating cost of micromobility vehicles is mostly for electricity and maintenance. The good news is that these costs are also low, as the vehicles are much lighter than cars and use efficient electric motors. It is estimated that an e-scooter with an energy of one kilowatt hour can travel 100 times the distance of a petrol car and 17 times the distance of an electric car.
In Australia, the average passenger vehicle travels 11,100 km per year and requires 1,232 liters of fuel. At current prices, this equates to just over $2,700 spent on fuel, excluding other costs such as lease or loan payments, insurance, registration and repairs.
And if the upfront cost of buying an e-bike or e-scooter seems too high, some companies are starting to rent out these vehicles through a monthly subscription fee.
4. Is it safe?
Safety is a major concern for all road users. As micromobility remains a novelty, the safety record for these vehicles is yet to be established. That said, the 2020 International Transport Forum report suggests that the risks of e-scooters are comparable to those of cycling.
Available figures for shared e-scooter risk are between 78 and 100 fatalities per billion trips, while the risk of cycling in cities is between 21 and 257 fatalities per billion trips. In comparison, a motorcycle or moped has a risk range of between 132 and 1,164 fatalities per billion trips.
While there is little data on e-scooter safety, statistics on cycling suggest that there is a “safety in numbers” effect. This means there are fewer deaths in countries where cycling is more common.
The current e-bike standards are more mature than e-scooters. E-scooters available in the private market are not so well regulated, and may exceed local speed or power restrictions (which are typically 25 km/h).
Pedestrians and disability interest groups have expressed concern that dockless shared e-devices could pose trip hazards or block sidewalks. Such concerns are valid, and addressing them will require careful management by plan operators and local authorities.
5. Will Australia make it easier for them to ride?
Australia is well positioned to take advantage of the rapidly growing micromobility market and mitigate the effects of high petrol costs.
We believe that a great deal of attention has been paid to creating incentives for the electrification of full-size electric vehicles. For example, the Queensland government’s recently announced electric vehicle subsidy does not cover e-bikes or e-scooters.
Research shows that three out of four people are interested in cycling, yet the lack of safe routes is a concern for bicycle, e-bike and e-scooter users. Appropriate cycling infrastructure, including protected bike lanes and off-road paths, is essential to encourage the uptake of both cycling and personal mobility equipment.
Advances in micromobility vehicle design and technology can also help improve the safety and experience of users. Built-in sensors can help detect hazards and alert users and pedestrians, as well as enable effective parking management.
It is likely that such advanced micromobility vehicles will first appear in shared plans, but a government-issued mandate may eventually require these features in all micromobility vehicles.
This article was co-authored by Timo Akarius, assistant professor of sustainability science and engineering at Tungai University in Taiwan.