I’m not embarrassed by the idea of scooting as an adult anymore. I used to watch teenage boys zip through the backstreets of Glebe on their segways with a sense of smug superiority. Scooters are a mode of transport typically relegated to young children galavanting around neighbourhoods or commuting in packs to school. And yet, in the Nation’s Capital, teens, families, and business people weave their way around the CBD.
Despite being illegal in New South Wales, electric scooters are becoming increasingly popular in Sydney. Riders of these fast-paced-freedom machines are advocating for their legalisation, although their demands aren’t being taken seriously. Earlier this year, the NSW government scrapped plans for an electric scooter trial in Sydney, with Transport Minister Andrew Constance claiming that he was “not in the mood” to have e-scooters on Sydney streets, suggesting instead that people “ride a bike or walk.” A significant community, however, has been left out of the Transport Minister’s discussions; riders with chronic health conditions.
As a person with a chronic illness that affects my mobility, I haven’t been able to enjoy simple exercise for more than 6 years. Riding a bike or going for leisurely walks has left me in fear of the debilitating fatigue or the pain that often follows.
In the gaps between Sydney lockdowns, I made my way to Canberra, as any good Art History student would, for The Boticelli to Van Gogh exhibition. E-scooters were everywhere. We rode around Lake Burley Griffin, between old and new Parliament House, and parked outside the Portrait Gallery for a spot of lunch. All of this without the pain and fatigue I’d come to associate with leisurely exercise.
I finally decided to purchase an electric scooter of my own. Now, I can explore my local area and get out into nature, delighted by the energy that I can conserve. I’ve watched the twilight slowly blanket over the Anzac Bridge from the busy shore of the Bicentennial Park, and been enchanted by the diverse habitat of Whites Creek, a quiet nature strip that divides Annandale and Lilyfield.
Although e-scooters are fairly new, their non-motorised predecessors are a formative pastime for many Australians. Many of us have experienced the joy of scooting as children and have relished in the exhilaration of riding down a big hill. As a child, I was constantly riding around on my red Razor push-scooter. I would ride to my primary school, to swimming lessons at Sydney Uni Sport & Fitness, and to friend’s houses. I’d scoot around the bygone Sydney Park kids bike track and taunt ten-year-olds on Halloween, trying to trick-or-treat as many houses as possible. Even back then, many years before I developed my chronic illness, the push scooter proved itself very useful. It got me places faster, it was fun, and it felt like a protective bubble, shielding me from the dangers of the outside world. On my scooter I felt invincible.
Riding my e-scooter today, I don’t feel all that different. The realities of my condition, Myalgic Encephalomyelitis/Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, which can include extreme fatigue, cognitive impairment/brain fog, nausea, and muscle pain are often wrongly interpreted as laziness or general apathy. But now, with the help of the Segway Ninebot Kickscooter E25 that I picked up on special at Aldi, I can finally join my parents on their bike rides around our Inner-West home. The scooter, riding at speeds of up to 25km/h tackles most of the hills in my area with ease, (bar the almost perpendicular ascent of Glebe’s Wigram Road that even my seasoned bike riding parents wouldn’t attempt).
At the moment, with COVID-19 cases peaking, and the climate emergency pending, the legalisation of electric scooters should be a no-brainer — they’re electric and don’t require any petrol, and their uptake could see less congestion of petrol-fuelled cars and motorbikes on our inner-city roads. Electric scooters also offer a safer alternative to commuting on public transport during times of high COVID-19 transmission. This is particularly important for our vulnerable chronically ill communities, who need to be especially protected against infection.
Why then are some members of the public and government officials hesitant to have e-scooters on Sydney’s streets? Some fear for the safety of pedestrians and e-scooter riders, and whilst this trepidation has some merit, it’s the rampant popularity of (illegal) e-scooter riding in NSW, without the accompaniment of state legislation that poses the greatest safety risk. If the government were to legalise e-scooters, with a cap on speed limits, and age restrictions, many communities, and in particular those who are chronically ill, would rejoice.