Electric vehicles a danger on the promenade

Helen Parry often strolls along the Sea Point Promenade for pleasure but it has now become dangerous.

“It used to be for pedestrians, children, dogs and prams. Now there are electric bikes, electric skateboards, electric mono-cycles and Segways in addition to conventional skateboards, bikes and roller-skates which are banned as the signage shows. But it is ignored. Most people act sensibly but some for fun, churn up the lawn while stationary. Some ring their bells, some people may not be able to get out of the way quickly enough. Silent electric vehicles pass you with centimetres to spare before you even know they are there. The bicycle rental business must be very profitable as it’s cheaper to hire cars for one day than bikes which are rented to people who have no idea how to ride them. Some come off. Others career into the metal railings to stop. Most wear no protective gear. No attempt is made to match riders with bikes so you see big adults on small bikes and small children on big bikes.

“I hope you can find out when the laws were changed to allow all these vehicles on the seafront, the two pavements on either side of the lawns and the pavement on the other side of the main road. If, in fact, these vehicles are not allowed, why is the law not being enforced? Why, for instance, do you need a licence, protective gear, number-plates and insurance to ride a petrol-driven moped yet nothing for either an electric moped or, indeed a noisy, smelly, two-stroke scooter which I have also seen on the pavement? Other countries, like the UK ban all electric vehicles except mobility ones from public pavements, never mind public roads.

“I am pleased to say, from a safety point of view, that the situation along the seafront during weekdays is almost back to normal. The reason for it is not so satisfactory – there are very few tourists. No doubt, next public holiday, there will be still more new riders, some being unsupervised, young children without helmets. Incidentally, Google shows that most electric bikes can reach 45km/hour. When I rode a moped in the UK, I was restricted to public roads and the maximum speed was 48km/* (30mph) and it was restricted to those over 16. I read your column regularly and find it very reassuring that you can help people sort out their problems. I am hoping, now that the high season traffic has greatly eased, that you can prod the authorities so that there is a sensible policy in place for next season. Otherwise, there will be fatalities. If there are tourists involved, the effect on Cape Town visitor numbers could be dire,” Ms Parry said.

That’s not going to happen any time soon. The municipality is waiting while the National Department of Transport (NDOT) “develops National Guidelines and Standards which will determine how the City of Cape Town responds to the use of electric-driven vehicles”.

Felicity Purchase, mayoral committee member for transport, said, personal mobility devices (PMDs) which are fully electric driven vehicles (bicycles, Segways, scooters) or electrically supported vehicles (bicycles or pedi-cabs) are new modes of transport that have only recently been introduced in South Africa. Which means the City of Cape Town does not yet have a policy which guides the use of electric vehicles on sidewalks.

“The NDOT is aware of the use of PMDs and the need for regulation, specifically with respect to the maximum speed allowed and where PMDs may operate and to this end, they are developing national guidelines and standards which will determine the City’s policy,” Ms Purchase said.

“The use of vehicles in parks is prohibited in terms of the Public Parks By-law, 2010, enforcement is required.”

But despite my questions Ms Purchase didn’t say why the by-law is not being enforced, Nor would she say how many people had been successfully prosecuted or if there were plans in place to enforce the rules. “The Sea Point Promenade walkway is outside of the road reserve. It is part of a public park, and there are sidewalks on both sides of Beach Road which are inside the road reserve. The Public Parks By-law remains in force. While it does prohibit the use of vehicles in public parks, it also states that ‘except in accordance with the written permission of the director City Parks’. The restriction of the use of bicycles, skate boards and roller blades on the Sea Point Promenade was lifted for a trial period for Transport Month 2012 (October 2012) which was extended to March 2013.

“At a meeting held in July 2013, the acting director City Parks expressed support for the permanent lifting of the restriction on bicycles, skate boards and roller blades on the Sea Point Promenade and it was supported by the councillor and the then Mayco member for transport.

“There is no speed limit for electric vehicles on pavements. The restriction on their use was lifted in 2012. The intention was that cyclists would use the space responsibly, with due care given to pedestrians. Electrically assisted bicycles and the current range of PMDs, Segways, electric scooters, were not available in South Africa and the demand for rental of electric bicycles and PMDs was not foreseen.”

The City often amends by-laws so why do they have to wait for the NDOT’s guidelines?

They employ enough experts who can advise them. A stitch in time saves nine, in this case it may save lives.