“An e-scooter came very fast along the pavement on Grafton Bridge and the handlebar smacked into me, knocked me over and left me in considerable pain.”

Alix, a PhD student at the University of Auckland who has low vision, recounted this experience. Unfortunately, it’s not anomaly.

Last week we contacted Kiwis who are blind or have low vision and living in cities where e-scooter hire programmes are currently on trial, to get a sense of what you think about them being used on our footpaths.

Our Access and Awareness Advisor, Chris Orr, said: “As a person who is blind myself, I believe we should all be able to feel safe and confident using footpaths to get to where we need to.”

Vocalising the Blind Foundation’s position, he shared that because e-scooters are almost silent, and travel at speeds of up to 27km/hr, they can pose a hazard for pedestrians who are blind and low vision.

Alix’s incident happened on her regular walk from Newmarket to the university campus in Grafton, Auckland. She should have confidence in taking this route as a pedestrian, but she says now that the footpaths are too cluttered, her commute is slower and she has recently started using a white cane as a mobility aid.

“Low vision pedestrians are virtually indistinguishable from sighted pedestrians if they do not use a cane or guide dog, so e-scooters are very dangerous as the drivers assume that if they speed along footpaths people will move out of their way,” she explains.

It’s not only moving e-scooters that are a hazard. The introduction of rent and leave schemes, bringing hundreds of e-scooters to city streets, means those not in use are a danger.

“They are parked all over the footpaths and are a serious hazard. I now use a white cane and the scooters are still a hazard because the handle bars have whacked me in the upper body when the cane has detected nothing on the footpath but the handles are overhanging,” shares Alix.

The Blind Foundation recognises the benefits of sustainable micro-transport options in helping people get where they need to quickly and easily. However, we take the view that footpaths are for pedestrians and not e-scooters.

Chris explains: “We believe there is a solution that will work for all of us. E-scooters should be a welcome part of our cities but on the cycle paths and roads, not on the footpaths.”

What’s next?

Our survey was sent to people who are blind or have low vision living in Auckland, Lower Hutt, Christchurch and Dunedin. If you received this survey, you have until Sunday 31 March to share your thoughts. Once we have further information about what will be happening in Wellington, we plan to reach out to people in this area too.

Meanwhile the Blind Foundation has begun to lobby central and local government to keep footpaths safe for all pedestrians, including those who are blind or have low vision. We are doing this alongside like-minded organisations including Living Streets Aotearoa Blind Citizens NZ, and CCS Disability Action.

The media are also following this issue closely, with the latest headline today reading “NZTA faces pressure to regulate e-scooter use”, and including our spokesperson, Chris Orr.

We look forward to keeping you updated as our efforts to see e-scooters kept off the footpaths progress.

Do you have a story you would like to share about an experience with an e-scooter? Email: communications@blindfoundation.org.nz