Fingal County Council plans to roll out virtual parking bays for e-scooters across its area, as it prepares to bring in an e-scooter sharing scheme, a council official told councillors on Monday.
The imminent arrival of that means the bays are needed, said David Storey, the council’s director of services for environment, climate change and active travel, at a transport committee meeting.
Virtual parking bays for e-scooters are painted spots on the ground where people can leave the means of transport that they have rented from an operator, for the next person to pick up.
The council has already trialled virtual parking for e-bikes – a bicycle powered by a motor and rechargeable battery – in several places in Dublin 15, said Storey. More recently, it also tested them in Swords with e-bike providers Tier and Bleeper, he said.
In contrast, there has been resistance on Dublin City Council to allowing virtual parking of e-bikes and e-scooters – because of concerns that these could be obstacles for visually impaired and other pedestrians trying to get around the city.
Although the president signed into law in June the new Road Traffic and Roads Act, regulating e-scooters, it still needs to put in place – and run by the EU – regulations including the details of how it’d be implemented.
But before the council can partner with a service provider on any e-scooter sharing scheme, they will need to see those regulations and take a look at council bye-laws to see if they’ll need any changes, Storey said.
Prepping as it waits
Fingal’s development plan says in recent years, there has been a rapid increase in personal mobility modes of transport and shared mobility schemes based on a demand for more flexible, cheaper and greener travel options.
In the plan, it includes a policy committing to facilitate and support the use of e-bikes and scooters.
At the Monday meeting, Fine Gael Councillor Tom O’Leary asked for an update on how exactly Fingal County Council planned to engage in the roll-out of e-scooters
Places like Skerries need e-scooters, he said, as a walk from the train station to the harbour can take 20 minutes. “We need them at the Skerries train station and every train station, the same as we have the e-bikes.”
The council report issued to O’Leary talked alot about how the local authority needs to wait for the national government’s regulations before it can make all of the changes it needs to, to support their roll out.
The Road Traffic and Roads Act 2023 regulates e-scooters and e-bikes, the report says.
It lays out how those that go less than 25km/hr will be treated the same as push bikes, and those that go faster will be treated more like motorbikes and mopeds, the report says.
Also, they won’t be allowed to use footpaths, said Storey. “They must be using the roadway or segregated cycleways if they’re available.”
Storey said in the meeting that the council has not yet seen the regulations based on this new act. So they cannot yet discuss what they want to include in local bye-laws, he said.
Who will provide?
While Fingal County Council waits for those regulations, Storey said they will be looking at a tendering process for the provision of e-scooters, similar to that which was done for e-bikes.
In June 2022, the council announced that, following a tender process, it was partnering with Tier on the county’s first e-bike sharing scheme.
Then, that August, it announced the launch of a pilot for a second batch of e-bikes, in collaboration with operator Bleeper and ESB.
For any similar e-scooter scheme, the council would likely consider engaging with a couple of providers at most, Storey said.
“I don’t see six, seven, eight operators being provided. I see maybe two licences being provided,” he said.
George Chamberlain, communications manager at Tier, says there isn’t yet a timeline for bringing scooters to Fingal. “We need that regulation to be in place first.”
On the Tuesday after the committee meeting, O’Leary says he expects that the legislation will come into effect in the last quarter of the year.
Its regulations have to go through a European Union assessment known as Technical Regulations Information System, he says. “After that it’s up to the Department then to issue the regulations to the councils.”
Fingal isn’t rolling out virtual parking bays purely because of forthcoming plans for an e-scooter sharing scheme, said O’Leary, the Fine Gael councillor. “They’re coming because we already have a shortage of parking spaces.”
The virtual bays can be used not only for e-scooters, when they are available, but by e-bikes immediately, he says.
Commercial e-bikes are taking up an enormous number of parking spaces on physical bike racks, he says. “Trying to dig up concrete and put in steel bars is difficult, so if we can put in virtual spaces that are controlled, it will free up the other bike spaces for normal people to use.”
This virtual, or stationless, parking is marked by paint, he says. “That’s a lot more flexible, because if it doesn’t work, we can take away the paint and move it up the road.”
Local authorities have differed in their thinking about infrastructure for e-bikes and e-scooters.
A key point of debate in the Dublin City Council area has been how they should be parked: whether people should be allowed to drop them wherever, or only at specific stations or docks.
Labour Party Councillor Declan Meenagh, who is visually impaired, said at the time that they can be a trip hazard if left all over the place. “The idea that we could operate a virtual restriction or any kind of stationless scooter is unacceptable.”
Fingal County Council couldn’t respond before publication to queries sent Tuesday morning about virtual parking bays and concerns around possible risk to people with impairments.
Chamberlain, of Tier, said virtual parking bays are already in Fingal for its shared e-bike service.
Where they go is agreed with Fingal County Council, he said, and they put them in areas which don’t affect pedestrians.
They choose those spots based on experiences in other cities, and discussions with its own Irish Safety Board, Chamberlain said, which includes organisations representing those with disabilities.
At Monday’s meeting, Storey told councillors that the current rental prices for e-bike sharing schemes will also need to be looked at again. “I think in fairness to Tier, their pricing structure is probably a bit too expensive.”
A Tier e-bike costs €1 to unlock and 20 cents per minute.
“I think there needs to be a contribution from local authorities generally to bike shares,” he said.
“That’s something that we’ll have to look at in the context of budgets going forward,” he said. “If you’re going to change people from using the car, I think you have to make it cost effective.”