Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No, it’s one of those e-scooters you’ve read about in the tabloids. You know, the ones with top speeds of 70mph - that will soon be terrorising a street near you?
Broken bones. Mayhem. Law of the jungle on city streets.
Believe the headlines and opening sentences, and you’ll be forgiven for thinking that the War of the Worlds had been lifted from the pages of fiction and landed in cities across Europe.
The truth is much different but it still could be war. A war between authorities, drivers, pedestrians and e-scooter riders.
Whilst cities still come to terms with sharing scooter schemes and commuters taking their daily journey to work on their electric scooter, there is a fresh enemy – the 70mph e-scooter.
Fast and furious - and coming to a street near you?
How we choose to get about London and other cities and towns in the UK is governed by an archaic Act of Parliament from the early 19th century. The law is no longer fit for purpose in modern-day UK and the Government is planning a full scale consultation on e-scooters to see how, or if, they will fit with city commuting.
There are two sides to every story and whilst some are violently opposed scooters in the city, there are those of us who understand and believe they are part of the solution for our increasingly congested cities.
The introduction of e-scooters to the market that boast speeds in excess of 70mph have done little to help a constructive debate. These new machines, say critics of the e-scooter, are a sure sign that scooters remain a danger. Coupled with the perceived recklessness of the rider, these super-fast scooters will spell disaster for city streets, bringing the law of the jungle to the capital, broken bones to already over-subscribed A&E hospital departments and mayhem to the urban landscape.
But what’s the truth? Will these fast scooters be the commuting tool of the future? Is commuting on an e-scooter about speed or about something more?
A tense situation
Across the channel in Paris, the e-scooter is not welcome. As well as a combined fleet of 15,000 or more scooters for sharing schemes, there was a 129% increase in e-scooters sales in France in 2018.
No one seems to be happy. Parisian drivers and pedestrians say that e-scooters are a nuisance in the city. French orthopaedic surgeons are also suggesting that the resulting injuries from falling from scooters, especially when ridden at high speeds, will take up more and more of their time.
It’s not all doom and gloom, however. As well as coming up with a new set of rules, there was a concerted effort by authorities to work on e-scooter riding etiquette. Anyone wishing to see the sights of this beautiful and romantic city or commute to work on an e-scooter, either their own or one from the slimmed down sharing schemes on offer can do so providing they follow the rules and ride responsibly.
Riding an e-scooter on a Parisian pavement will see you face a €90 fine (rising to €135 if you don’t pay within a fortnight) but you can use them on the road and in the city’s bus lanes. In the UK, the current illegality of the use of these ‘powered transporters’ as they are legally classified means that they can only be used on private land, scuppering schemes that would bring dockless, shared e-scooters to London streets.
Concerns regarding e-scooters are not unfounded – and we would agree with many of the issues raised such as excessive speed, riding without consideration for others and the need for protective gear, especially a helmet – but a blanket ban is not the way forward.
Neither is expecting commuting in a modern 21st century city to fit the Highways Act of 1835.
And unlike in Paris, shifting the scooter rider from the pavement, illegal under the Highways Act, into London’s bus lanes is also not a solution currently because the Road Traffic Act 1988 prevents this.
The problems are there for all to see. So what’s the answer?
Problems and solutions
Essentially, it is about examining the e-scooter and all the positives they can bring, but also recognising and understanding the negatives too. Then, solutions can be found and common ground achieved.
This has to be done because even though we know that riding an e-scooter in the UK pavements and roads is illegal, riders are continuing to do so. The e-scooter is answering a need that many people have for moving around easily, quickly and cheaply, whether that is the daily commute or for leisure purposes.
There are legitimate concerns. All of us have different needs from the environment around us. People who are blind, people in wheelchairs, parents escorting children along busy city streets and other commuters and road users have voiced concerns about the possibility of e-scooters ‘getting in the way’, especially if sharing schemes come to the UK.
Aside from mountains of abandoned e-scooters cluttering pavements, those skeptical of the benefits electric scooters bring to city streets highlight the potential danger of fast, reckless riding.
The fact that high speed e-scooters are on sale in the UK has drawn a lot of concern, and rightly so. Not just for the rider but for pedestrians and other road users, an almost-silent e-scooter whizzing along at high speed can spell disaster. Disability campaigner Dr Amy Kavanagh gave a candid account in recent interviews of how e-scooters can make life difficult for people with disabilities, especially when used on pavements.
That said, companies who sell these high-speed scooters are clear that they are not for the commute but for hobby riding. Just as a scrambler bike is designed for off-road use, the 70mph+ electric scooter is for riding on private land and for hobby purposes as opposed to commuting. With this in mind, the logical compromise is to limit electric scooters for commuting to 15.5mph, the same as e-bikes.
The solution is regulation, along with a clear riding etiquette so that e-scooter riders have clear parameters as to their safe use on city roads and that those who enforce the law also have clear boundaries in which to do so.
We have always advocated the safe and responsible use of the e-scooter. Due to be launched soon is our online safety course. It addresses many of the concerns and issues raised by people around the use of the scooter. It’s not just for riders but for anyone who wants to understand what benefits the e-scooter will bring to any city or town. It will be free to access too.
Are e-scooters worth the hassle?
We think so and so do many other thousands of people across the globe who have made the switch to an e-scooter. In some cities, e-scooters accounted for nearly half of all micro-mobility trips and the numbers are growing.
The e-scooter offers many solutions to the problems we know exist in our cities and towns across the UK. There is potential for many people to benefit from these efficient battery-powered scooters;
Parking – the scooter has the potential to solve the first and last mile problem of commuting in cities. That is, the short journey from home to the train station and the hop from tube to the workplace. As well as fewer cars on the roads, parking problems are eased at commuting bottlenecks, including residential streets.
Congestion – even with London’s congestion charge, the streets of the capital are still jam-packed with vehicles. Commuters taking to the bus lanes on an e-scooter is more preferably to more cars on the road.
Cleaner air – the concerted effort to clean up the air in London is making progress but there is still a long way to go before we can breathe easy. Although clear to the eye, London’s air has exceeded safe and regulated levels of air pollution since 2010. This isn’t just a problem for the capital, however as many cities and towns also struggle to manage pollution levels. The struggle is real and making an impact. In the closing months of 2019, findings of a research project were released that shows the lung growth of children who live near busy roads is stunted by 12.5%. The results raise a tough question - is enough being done to reduce air pollution not just in London but across the UK as a whole?
We also have plans in place that for every e-scooter we sell, we’ll plant a tree. Trees are important in the fight against air pollution, soaking up all the chemicals in the air that cause use, and the planet, so many problems.
This status quo cannot remain. The e-scooter offers one solution for getting people out of diesel and petrol-fuelled vehicles.
Cheaper commuting – for many, the price of commuting in the city is extortionate but it’s not just the financial cost of the daily slog to and from work we need to be concerned about. Buying, servicing and charging your e-scooter, along with buying a helmet and other protective clothing, is still cheaper and more cost-effective than the hundreds we pay to move around the capital. For example, TfL’s zone 1 to 4 travelcard is currently £200. With no expensive running costs, the e-scooter will return your investment within two months.
It’s not just the city streets where the e-scooter could be beneficial either. Those living in rural areas see the potential of these scooters where bus and train services are lacking. The decline in public transport and the high cost of private transport has a significant impact on rural communities. Poor transport links an issue many believe is at the heart of problems and poverty in many Welsh communities – could the e-scooter provide some with a solution in these communities?
The future of the e-scooter
There is a need for speed - we need to deal with the issue of air pollution quickly so that we can all enjoy living and working in cities, towns and villages without the fear that dirty air is affecting our health and that of our children.
What we don’t need are fast e-scooters that represent a danger to both the rider and other road users - although to be fair, the retailers of these scooters are not marketing them as solutions for the morning commute but specialist equipment for off-road riding. Perhaps the blame for a growing fear of e-scooters lies squarely at the feet of the tabloids, writing for emotion and attention rather than with any intent to create value in society.
The launch of the British Government’s consultation on the use of e-scooters in our cities and on rural roads will bring many differing opinions to the table. From these, we need to seek a new way forward. But with the new breed of fast e-scooters on sale in the UK, we need to act quickly to make sure that they are used responsibly. And maybe one day, we will be able to enjoy a joyful commute.