E-scooters should be made more widely available and affordable, according to a new report from the Department for Transport (DfT).
The DfT has been tracking travel behaviour trends in the UK during the pandemic and has followed up a survey of 4,000 respondents with 30 in-depth “qualitative interviews”.
It’s within these ‘All Change’ interviews where e-scooters are highlighted as one avenue for increasing active travel options as the UK recovers from Covid-19.
These comments lend a vote of confidence for the e-scooter trials that are in full swing, with availability increasing all the time. The number of e-scooters have doubled to nearly 6,000 in the last two months alone.
A consensus from the report urges further investment in building more dedicated cycle lanes in urban and rural areas – something that would also benefit e-scooter riders.
The report said: “This would ensure that they are safe and that potential new cyclists know that they are safe. It was also suggested that e-scooters should be made more widely available and affordable.”
The UK e-scooter trials that started in the summer last year were in part a reaction to ‘transport distancing’, with many commuters feeling uncomfortable packing themselves onto crowded buses and trains.
Public transport is unlikely to see a return to the same levels of patronage as before the pandemic and e-scooters will play a key piece in the puzzle for first and last mile mobility.
The All Change interviews hammer this point home, saying there is a “long-term desire for remote working and low levels of interest for previous commuting routines”.
There are obviously still some big challenges to make active travel, including cycling, e-bikes and e-.scooters more accessible for all and this was acknowledged within the case studies.
Barriers for active travel
Cycling was broadly viewed as inaccessible to non-cyclists, with participants explaining that they cannot ride a bike or do not feel confident enough to cycle to a destination.
Cycling was seen as unsafe, particularly where there were not adequate cycling lanes in rural lanes or in cities. The costs of bikes and e-scooters was also seen as a barrier for first time active travellers.
Bike share and e-scooter share schemes should be a great way for people to see how more active travel can fit into their lives, without having to make that investment in buying their own equipment (private e-scooter use is of course, illegal on public roads in the UK, although that doesn’t seem to be stopping anyone from buying them).
Participants considered cycling impractical as they would not be able to carry much stuff with them, especially if they were heading to work or to the shops.
Some cycling journeys, while possible, were described as feasible only if you are a serious cyclist, rather than if you were more casual.
This was due to the distance and some more practical stuff like the extent to which they would have to plan for showering at work and leaving much earlier to make the journey on time.
Saving the planet is not a behaviour changing motivation
While there were those who commented on environmental benefits of active travel, such as not contributing to transport pollution, this alone was not something that caused participants to change their behaviour.
Participants who enjoyed this benefit described this as a bonus and not a behaviour changing motivation itself.
This should not come as a great surprise. There will be some that have the environment at the forefront of their minds as a motivating factor, but most people are looking for convenience. More simply, what option involves the least amount of effort possible for the best results?
Safe infrastructure such as wider or segregated cycling lanes was one of the key things that would encourage participants to consider more active travel.
They also suggested that a continued move towards flexible working would enable more people to safely and confidently use active travel to commute.
The Government’s £2 billion Gear Change package will be used in part to upgrade as many cycle lanes as possible with physical separation from the road.
The DfT said it wants cycles to be treated as vehicles, not as pedestrians and it should have the infrastructure to support that.
Let’s hope that money is put to use in the right way and we can all make better choices with how we choose to get from A to B.