Elec­tric bikes now al­lowed on rail trail

Central Otago Mirror - - CENTRAL NEWS - By JO MCKEN­ZIE-MCLEAN

Dis­abled and able-bod­ied cy­clists will now be able to ride elec­tric bikes (e-bikes) on the Otago Cen­tral Rail Trail.

The Depart­ment of Con­ser­va­tion has changed its lo­cal pol­icy over the use of e-bikes on the trail fol­low­ing con­sul­ta­tion with stake­hold­ers.

The depart­ment’s Alexan­dra con­ser­va­tion ser­vices manager Mike Tubbs said as tech­nol­ogy had pro­gressed, e-bikes had be­come read­ily avail­able and there had been an in­creased de­mand for their use on the trail.

As a re­sult of feed­back, the depart­ment made a de­ci­sion to re­view its po­si­tion.

‘‘This was not a de­ci­sion that DOC wished to make alone. DOC recog­nises that hav­ing stake­hold­ers’ com­mit­ment to any change to the cur­rent po­si­tion was crit­i­cal to it be­ing sup­ported and im­ple­mented.’’

The e-bike is­sue was dis­cussed at a re­cent stake­holder meet­ing in­volv­ing the depart­ment, the rail trail trust, trail op­er­a­tors group, Cen­tral Otago Dis­trict Coun­cil, Tourism Cen­tral Otago and Otago Cham­ber of Com­merce.

The unan­i­mous feed­back was to sup­port a change to per­mit use of e-bikes (not ex­ceed­ing 300watts) on the trail by any­one, not just dis­abled peo­ple, he said.

Last month, Gra­ham McCready, of Hamil­ton, who has a dis­abil­ity, lodged a com­plaint with the Hu­man Rights Com­mis­sion over an e-bike ban on the trail.

He called for a clar­i­fi­ca­tion of the rules af­ter a bike hire com­pany re­fused to hire him an elec­tric bike, be­cause the depart­ment’s pol­icy did not al­low them on the trail.

How­ever, depart­ment ranger Ja­cob Dex­ter said McCready was ac­tu­ally ‘‘mis­in­formed’’, and the rules were not in­tended to dis­ad­van­tage dis­abled peo­ple.

Otago Rail Trail Op­er­a­tors Group chair­man and Trail Jour­neys manager Shayne O’Con­nor wel­comed the change.

‘‘(The op­er­a­tors) had a vote and it was unan­i­mous,’’ O’Con­nor said.

‘‘We thought they should be al­lowed and even since we did that in Septem­ber last year we have had a num­ber of con­ver­sa­tions with peo­ple, who didn’t know about the pol­icy, talk­ing about lack of mo­bil­ity or con­cern for their abil­ity to keep up with other group mem­bers.

‘‘I have had two feed­back forms come in this week where two of the group were say­ing thanks for or­gan­is­ing the e-bikes be­cause they could not have kept up with the group if it wasn’t for that. Those are clas­sic ex­am­ples – it is un­likely it will be a whole group of peo­ple hir­ing e-bikes.

‘‘It’s likely to be one or two who are not so con­fi­dent or have a dis­abil­ity and the e-bike will al­low them to keep up with the group.’’

The cur­rent Otago Con­ser­va­tion Strat­egy states that the trail ‘‘is in­tended to be used by walk­ers, all ter­rain bi­cy­cles and horses. It is not in­tended to be used by mo­torised ve­hi­cles ex­cept for ap­proved farm­ing or de­part­men­tal man­age­ment pur­poses.’’

A lo­cal trail pol­icy (2006) fur­ther de­fined that ‘‘No pow­ered de­vices pro­vid­ing mo­bil­ity or mo­bil­ity as­sis­tance to able bod­ied peo­ple will be per­mit­ted on the OCRT, (with the ex­cep­tion of ve­hi­cles for man­age­ment or ap­proved farm­ing pur­poses)’’.

There­fore, un­less rid­den by a dis­abled per­son e-bikes were con­sid­ered to be a mo­torised ve­hi­cle and there­fore not per­mit­ted on the trail. The pre­vi­ous po­si­tion was ar­rived at as a re­sult of con­sul­ta­tion with trail stake­hold­ers at that time.

Gra­ham McCready (left) on the Otago Cen­tral Rail Trail us­ing an elec­tric bike in 2013. Ear­lier this year a bike hire com­pany re­fused to hire him one, say­ing they were banned on the trail.

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