Will the legalization of electric scooters have a positive impact on our roads?
It is currently illegal to ride electric scooters in public spaces in the UK, but this has not stopped riders on the roads and sidewalks. The upcoming national consultation means it's a good time to consider the impact of electric scooters coming to UK streets.
Electric scooters are an example of the new "micro-transportation"-short-distance transportation options, such as bike-sharing programs, and sometimes with electric motors-changing the way people travel in urban areas. In the UK, electric scooters may be used in busy towns and urban centers where people travel short distances for work, education and leisure. Locations that could introduce rentable electric scooters in Europe could be Europe: transportation hubs such as stations, large businesses and shopping areas, and university campuses.
The national consultations will include decisions on where to ride scooters. In terms of speed and potential safety issues, electric scooters are slower than cars, but faster than walking, and may be closer to cycling. The road seemed to be the best place for them, but there were reports of pedestrians in danger or being injured by scooters.
Shared urban space
Bicycle lanes might be a more attractive idea. Atlanta research has found that even temporarily segregated lanes can make people feel safer on a scooter. However, the UK lags behind many European cities when it comes to dedicated and secure infrastructure. This raises the question of how users of electric scooters can safely share space with pedestrians or general traffic.
The UK can learn from cities in Europe and elsewhere how to balance the use of electric scooters with the available space. Barcelona has regulations that restrict the use and speed of scooters when sharing space with pedestrians, and in Paris, bans electric scooters on the sidewalk.
The UK can also talk to electric scooter operators. For example, the dockless electric scooter company Lime has been organizing discussions with researchers, local authorities, transportation providers and police. They provided their views on how cities support the development of electric scooters.
Legalizing electric scooters will need to consider how to interact with other road and road users. If electric scooters are to be made legal in the UK, the government can follow German regulations setting minimum standards for safety functions such as lighting, mirrors, bells and brakes. Some cities also require adults and children to wear helmets when riding electric scooters.
In the UK, bicyclability is a training course for cyclists. For people using electric scooters, similar schemes can be very valuable, in addition to online and in-app resources, some operators are providing such schemes. Driver education on how to share roads with electric scooters and other new forms of transportation is also important. Highway regulations will need to be changed to provide guidance on how electric scooters and other road users can safely share space.
Charity or harm?
Parking is also a problem. Electric scooters need to stay somewhere between journeys, and its convenience depends on some flexibility in getting on and off. Scooters that are not properly parked or abandoned are ugly and obstructive. They can also prevent people from using public space and can severely restrict people with reduced mobility.
Electric scooter companies have tried different approaches to address theft and inappropriate parking, including requiring people to lock them in and issue alerts. Geo-fencing-Operators use GPS technology to precisely limit where they can ride or park scooters-and can be used to prevent users from leaving scooters where they cause obstacles.
It is also important to consider the impact of electric scooters on British public health. The industry claims that it may be reasonable for electric scooters to provide low-intensity exercise. However, Sustrans, the UK's sustainable transport charity, raised concerns that electric scooters could replace walking travel and therefore negatively affect activity levels. Similarly, heavy use of uphill scooters means people are less enthusiastic about walking.
Think of electric scooters as the answer to the "last mile" question: the last part of the public transport journey from the station to the destination feels like walking too far. This means they can help people take other forms of public transport by providing a link between a station or bus stop and their work place. They can help reduce longer car travel time even at short distances. Another potential benefit is that if companies are willing, they can share usage data with local authorities to help improve infrastructure and transportation systems.