A line up of e-scooters on the street

E-Scooters: Coming Soon to a Street Near You or Not?

2 April 2024
From our ‘Thinking outside the box’ series
Stephen Greaves (ITLS, University of Sydney) and Geoff Rose (ITS, Monash University) discuss how the proliferation of e-scooters in Australia has brought about legislative challenges, with confusing rules and safety concerns, revealing a disconnect between existing regulations and public expectations. The evolving landscape calls for a thorough examination of infrastructure, licensing, registration, and insurance to ensure the responsible and sustainable integration of e-scooters into the urban transportation system.

In common with much of the world, e-scooters have emerged onto the urban landscape in Australia promising a practical, greener and ‘fun’ form of personal mobility. However, this promise has opened up a ‘Pandora’s box’ of legislative challenges with confusing rules and catch-up regulations around the e-scooters themselves, where they are allowed, and who can use them. The risk is these regulations may not align with public expectations, compromising the extent to which e-scooters could meet community needs and contribute to broader sustainability goals.

First a potted history of e-scooters. Their origin can be traced back to the wooden ‘kick scooters’ of the early 1800s, with the motorised Autoped patented during World War 1 marking the birth of the modern e-scooter. Marketed as a low-cost personal mobility device for quick, short-distance travel for the masses, the promise of the Autoped was constrained by technology and infrastructure, which increasingly favoured other forms of motorised travel including the car. Fast-forward to the 1990s, when a Swiss inventor developed a foldable metal scooter with inline skates designed to cover distances deemed too far to walk but too close to drive, the ‘first/last mile problem’. This concept was taken on-board in walkable cities, such as Tokyo, but ultimately found commercial success as the Razor scooter, the ‘must-have’ kid’s toy of the early 2000s. The game-changer to a viable form of personal mobility, was developments in lithium-ion battery technology in the 2010s, putting the ‘e’ into scootering. Coupled with growing sustainability concerns, this facilitated commercial interest and the launch of several shared e-scooter schemes overseas. E-scooters eventually reached Australian shores with the first shared scheme opening in Brisbane in 2018. Subsequently, all states/territories have run shared trials with private e-scooters allowed in Queensland, Tasmania, WA, ACT and most recently Victoria. As of 2022, there were an estimated 250,000 private e-scooters in Australia, growing at roughly 20%/annum, with 10,225 shared e-scooters1.

The rising popularity and power of e-scooters has exacerbated safety concerns for the rider and other road users. While national guidelines exist, regulating them is ultimately the responsibility of each state/territory. E-scooters are typically regulated by maximum power output (200-250 W) and maximum speed (20-25 kph), with further restrictions around where they are allowed (particularly footpaths and higher speed roads) and minimum rider age (16-18)2. While riders must wear helmets, there are currently no requirements for compulsory insurance, or the e-scooter to be registered. These regulations have been enforceable for shared e-scooter schemes as part of the operating contracts. However, private e-scooters present a bigger challenge, as there are few barriers to their import and sale and controlling where and how they are used requires additional policing enforcement. In addition to being relatively affordable, lightweight, often foldable, easy to recharge and providing a range of 40-60km, modern private e-scooters are capable of going anywhere at speeds significantly faster than 25 kph – recent evidence from Queensland suggests around 60% of private e-scooters are capable of exceeding 25 kph3.

Little is known about what people think about e-scooters and whether current policies are meeting public expectations. In late 2023, 1,500 Greater Sydney residents (where e-scooters are effectively outlawed) aged 18+ provided views on e-scooters as part of an annual survey conducted by transport researchers at the ITLS, University of Sydney. Half of Sydneysiders support legalising e-scooters, with one-quarter opposed and one-quarter unsure. Support was marginally stronger for legalising private e-scooters, possibly reflecting the negative experiences with shared e-bikes in Sydney. Levels of disagreement around where they should be allowed were highest for main roads and footpaths, mirroring well-publicised concerns. Levels of agreement were strongest for bike paths and to a lesser extent shared paths and low-speed roads, although both attracted significant opposition, reflecting the ‘contested’ nature of such spaces. Strong support for helmets, insurance, licencing and registration points toward treating them more as motorcycles/mopeds than bicycles. Support was marginal for allowing them on public transport, arguably key to unlocking their first/last-mile potential.

Where does this leave e-scooters? Evidently, the growth in e-scooters in Australia coupled with public sentiment, suggests a conversation is needed around how this might happen in a considered and safe manner. Infrastructure is key, as with all micro-mobility options, and footpaths and other shared spaces are at the forefront of this conversation. Licencing, registration and insurance appear to be one area where proponents and detractors of e-scooters concur, although impacts on pre-licenced teens must be considered. Adding further ‘fuel to the fire’ for regulators is the fire-risk associated with recharging highly flammable lithium batteries indoors. A final thought is the role e-scooters could play for the millions of Australians with minor mobility limitations that restrict walking but have not yet confined them to car dependence. E-scooters can play an important role in sustainable mobility options, but there is a need to ensure that public expectations are not neglected when regulatory changes are made.


  1. https://micromobilityreport.com.au/infrastructure/bike-scooter-share/2022-a-year-of-change.
  2. ACT allows 12 year-olds to ride e-scooters under adult supervision
  3. Leung AC-K, Burke M (2022) ‘Understanding private ownership and use of personal mobility devices (PMDs) in South East Queensland’, 26th International Conference of Hong Kong Society for Transportation Studies.