Electric bikes now allowed on rail trail
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.