Britain’s first electric scooter trial rolls out

15 July 2020

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Micromobility headlines in the UK this week are dominated by electric scooters, as the country’s first shared e-scooter pilot programme gets going and the government publishes general guidance for users.

1: Middlesbrough moves first

What: On Monday, the Yorkshire town became the first in the UK to roll out a shared electric scooter pilot project as part of DfT trials. Fifty scooters have been provided initially by British start-up Ginger; the project aims to put 500 on streets across all five boroughs of the Tees Valley over the next 12 months.

The scooters are free to unlock and are limited to 11.5mph; journeys cost £2/20mins. Users must be 18 or over (according to Ginger signage; DfT guidance stipulates a minimum age of 16) and hold at least a provisional driving licence. Riders gain access via an Android or Apple app.

GPS technology will track the scooters: should they be abandoned by users outside designated and geo-fenced areas, users will continue to be charged. In time, the project aims to add on-street docks and charging facilities.

Why it matters: Britain is behind the international curve when it comes to shared e-scooter schemes and these pilot programmes are how the government intends to catch up. With strong interest shown by local authorities nationwide, and the DfT fast-tracking trial projects, electric scooters are likely to be coming to a street near you very soon. In the meantime, Middlesbrough will offer a preview into how theory and international learning play out in real life on British roads with British riders. RR

2: The Eight Commandments of safe e-scooter use

What: The Department for Transport has released user guidelines and safety advice for people who will be using shared electric scooters available under the government’s trial programmes.

The guidance sets a vehicle upper speed limit (15.5mph, although this can be lowered by local authorities on their own schemes) and comments on helmets (recommended, not compulsory), driving licences (a provisional licence is required as a minimum) and insurance (provided by the scheme operators).

It also includes the following safety rules for users: 

  1. E-scooters should only be used within the local area hosting the trial
  2. E-scooters should be used by one person at a time
  3. You must not tow anything using an e-scooter
  4. You must not use a mobile phone when using an e-scooter
  5. You may use a screen to display navigation information, but this must be set up prior to setting off
  6. Always ensure bags or other small items you are carrying will not cause a danger to you or others around you – for example, never hang them from the handlebars
  7. You should not ride an e-scooter while drunk or otherwise intoxicated; you may be prosecuted under drink or drug driving laws. Careless and dangerous driving offences also apply to users of e-scooters
  8. You should also refer to the terms of use of the e-scooter operator before renting a trial e-scooter

This follows the release of DfT guidance for local authorities and e-scooter system providers.

Why it matters: These guidelines are intended to govern how members of the public use shared scooters – and therefore influence how operators deploy their systems – for all pilot programmes across the country. That scooters are not permitted on pavements will raise some difficult questions for local authorities when working out how to keep all road users and pedestrians safe – and when considering how to enforce rules. This may lend more impetus to introducing the sort of protected micromobility infrastructure that cyclists have been requesting for decades. RR

3: Prime scooters question time

What: Representatives from e-scooter rental operators Lime, Bird and Voi answered questions put to them by Parliament’s transport committee. In a second session, transport minister Rachel Maclean jumped into the hotseat.

Each of the e-scooter operators welcomed the government’s trials but pointed out the disparities between the requirements for e-scooters and e-bikes. Riders require a driving licence and operators must provide motor insurance for scooters; neither are required for e-bikes. Bird and Lime will provide third party insurance as part of the trials, while Voi will up the ante with fully comprehensive insurance and a £1million campaign to train riders.

When it comes to speed, Richard Corbett of Voi pointed out that, while e-bikes can be pedalled beyond their 15.5mph speed restrictors, e-scooters cannot. Safety considerations for other road users, including pedestrians, the blind and people with other disabilities, were also discussed.
All three were in agreement that wearing helmets should not be mandatory when riding rental e-scooters, although all three companies provide incentives for doing so.

Issues around parking and street clutter were also raised. Solutions offered by the providers vary and include designated centralised parking zones, physical racking and virtual docking. These approaches can be combined into hybrid systems that can be scaled to suit any location.

Features of the electric scooters themselves were highlighted; some models include hydraulic suspension, swappable batteries and tamper-proofing. Lifespan is, on average, around two years.

Minister Rachel Maclean was grilled next. She explained: “There are risks to introducing a new mode of transport, and the existing evidence base is weak. That is why we are running the trials. It will provide an opportunity for us to assess the safety and the wider impacts of this type of vehicle and the service.

“I want to stress to the Committee that it is not a done deal. We need to consider carefully whether legalising e-scooters is right for this country. If we do decide to legalise them, the trials will help us to make sure we have the right laws in place to guarantee the highest consumer safety.”

When quizzed about whether car drivers would really move to riding e-scooters, Minister Maclean underlined the lack of compelling evidence either way and reiterated that the point of the trials is to find a definitive answer.

On consulting with groups that might be put at risk by introducing e-scooters, the minister said: “We did reach out to a number of the groups that you have mentioned, including the RNIB. I personally have taken these issues very seriously around vulnerable groups, people with restricted mobility and people who have hearing issues. The accessibility minister, Chris Heaton-Harris, and I have met the inclusive transport stakeholders group. That includes members of Age UK, Scope, Alzheimer’s, National Autistic Society, Disability Rights UK, DPTAC, Guide Dogs and Leonard Cheshire. I had a further round table with many of these groups as well. We heard first-hand from them about some of the issues. We also discussed some of the mitigations that we committed to bringing in as a result of that work… We are making it a requirement for local authorities in their design phase to engage very closely with representatives of these groups at a local level, so that they can hear the concerns locally.”

Why it matters: E-scooter operators have a wealth of experience – and not a few horror stories – gained over the past three years. But how that experience applies in the framework of British legislation and British roads, and how the great British public will react, is yet to be seen. Carefully- monitored trials are a sensible way to properly assess the benefits and impact of this micromobility trend – but those in charge do need to decide exactly what they’re looking for. RR

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