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PACTS spring micromobility conference: safety and sustainability

PACTS Executive Director David Davies explains what to expect at their micromobility conference on Tuesday 28 March.

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Author: David Davies, Executive Director, PACTS

Over the past few years e-scooters have burst on the scene and micromobility has often been taken as synonymous with them. PACTS was somewhat unfashionable in expressing doubts about their safety and other aspects, particularly private e-scooters. Whether or not you think we were right, we have certainly shed light where many showed little interest. That some leading industry players have chosen to work with us shows we have a contribution to make. While PACTS’ focus is safety, we are not deaf to other policy objectives, such as decarbonisation. We strongly support healthy, sustainable, low carbon transport.

Anticipating that the government’s evaluation report on the e-scooter rental trials would be published soon, we decided to hold this online conference. We were in luck – it was published the day that we announced it! The findings and implications will be a major feature of the event, hopefully introduced by MP Jesse Norman, Minister for Transport Decarbonisation and Technology.

Micromobility is not a precise term. In this conference we are not trying to be pedantic or give it a rigid definition. The aim is to find out what is, or might be, appearing on consumer websites, knocking on the doors of regulators or coming down the cycle path towards us. We want to explore the opportunities and challenges these new vehicles and technologies might present. Will they fit within the current regulatory system or, as seems more likely, what new regulations are going to be required to accommodate them safely and beneficially?

All the micromobility modes 

The broad scope of this conference covers all the modes, from e-bikes and cargo bikes, to small lightweight three and four wheeled vehicles. At some stage this strays into the territory of existing vehicle regulation – the L categories – where Zemo on the MCIA are already very active. We won’t be treading on their toes but we do want to see where the joins and overlaps might be. 

The government has set out an enormously ambitious transport decarbonisation strategy – zero carbon emissions by 2050. Much of this depends on technology and tipping consumer behaviour towards active travel. It has proved difficult to increase levels of walking and cycling over the past decades. Can electric motors make the difference, and still deliver the health benefits?

Cycle campaigners in the UK often invoke the Netherlands. Our Dutch government transport planner will present what they are experiencing and how they are dealing with it – a glimpse of our future. 

The use of e-cargo bikes for last-mile delivery has expanded dramatically in cities over the last few years. Even established industry giants such as UPS have adopted them, surely a sign of functionality and commercial success, and so expect a session from UPS’s International Sustainability Senior Manager, Artur Drenk on the matter. 

Safety as an enabler

While PACTS always aims to be positive, the conference won’t shy away from difficult areas. There is an increasing number of illegal electric bikes, speed pedelecs and bikes that have been illegally tampered with. There have been serious battery fires which have led to loss of life. This has had repercussions not only for the new kids on the block but also for long-established safe users. 

We see safety as an enabler, not a barrier. For many years, fears about traffic have deterred people from cycling. These fears now apply to using an e-scooter and probably to other forms of micromobility. But the additional factor in this mix is that most e-scooter rider casualties result from people falling off, not from being hit by a motor vehicle. Whether it’s rental scooters or private, e-bikes or something else, it’s vital that we get safety sorted. The referendum in Paris in April on whether to ban e-scooters from the city is a stark reminder of what could happen when things go wrong.

We are organising the online conference in partnership with Zemo and TRL and are supported by National Highways and the Department for Transport. At our conference on Tuesday 28 March, you will get topical policy issues, research, evidence and debate, with speakers from government, industry, consumers and academics. We look for constructive and informed contributors and already have more than 200 delegates registered; we welcome more. Don’t miss out – book now.

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