Rented e-scooters ride to the rescue of English commuters as Covid lockdown eases

Rented motorised scooters could soon be ubiquitous in many English cities as councils prepare pilot projects aimed at relieving pressure on public transport caused by the coronavirus.

The Department for Transport is expected to publish its framework for e-scooters next week, which will give details of how the system of rented scooters will work. Privately owned scooters will still be banned.

The framework was originally due to be published tomorrow but has been delayed while issues around who will be eligible to ride the scooters is resolved.

The UK is years behind many other European countries in an initiative that is credited with cutting the number of car journeys. In Finland, 41% of respondents to a survey said they had replaced taxi rides or private cars with e-scooters and almost one in five Finns said they had used them for business trips.

However, other European cities have suffered from allowing too many scooter rental companies to compete with as many as 10 being given licences, leading to banks of scooters strewn across pavements blocking pedestrians. 

It is thought that only a handful of companies will be allowed to compete against one other in each of the pilot cities. About 30 city councils, including Birmingham, Bristol, Liverpool, Manchester, Cambridge, Bath and London have said they are interested in participating in the pilot tests, which are expected to run for 12 months.

The framework will confirm that e-scooters are allowed to use public roads, cycle lanes and tracks and are exempt from vehicle registration and licensing. However, they will require insurance and will be limited to a 12.5mph speed restriction. There will be no legal requirement for riders to wear a helmet.

Analysis suggests that around 60% of all car journeys in the UK are for distances of between one and five kilometres, which suggests that e-scooters could help reduce congestion and pollution from cars.

One e-scooter rental company, Voi, which has made its name in Scandinavia, estimates it could provide 100,000 daily rides across London, with each scooter being used between seven and 11 times a day.

“Cities need to give people more transport options to help them get around without resorting to cars,” said Fredrik Hjelm, chief executive of Voi. “We believe that as we have demonstrated in Sweden, Finland, Denmark and Germany, we can help replace short car journeys of one to three miles with e-scooter trips.”

Supporters of e-scooters believe that the Covid-19 crisis could give the companies behind them an unexpected boost.

“During the crisis we have seen lots of people realising that they don’t need a car to make short trips and the decision to accelerate e-scooter trials will provide another non-polluting way for people to travel safely and take the pressure off public transport,” said Hamish Stewart, organiser of London Car Free Day.

Richard Dilks, chief executive of CoMoUK, the shared transport organisation, said: “E-scooter trials will help us to pivot further to more sustainable transport, which we urgently need given transport’s record on greenhouse gas emissions. Operators and authorities need to come together to prioritise safety, data, parking, viability and user experience as well as making e-scooters low risk from Covid-19.”

There are some 774,000 e-scooters operating around the world at the moment, but this is predicted to rise to 4.6m by 2024, according to Berg Insight.

The global e-scooter market was recently valued at $20bn but will be worth an estimated $42bn by 2030, according to analysts at Grand View Research.

 

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