Driverless Cars? Drone deliveries? Electric scooters? Smart cities were just a science fiction dream; now they are a possibility that only an injection of competition and improvement of our transport infrastructure can secure. Just because E-Scooters have become a mass European phenomenon, doesn’t mean we have to leave them too. While I’m sitting down in a cafe in Madrid, I feel like I’m in the capital of “scooterland” with 8,600 licenced shared scooters speeding across the city, where they are allowed to drive through the bicycle lanes and inner-city roads.
How has the UK fallen behind 20 US states, Tel Aviv, Paris, Copenhagen and Madrid, where legislation has made space for electric scooters? This feels like deja vu, with parallels to when segways and hover-boards were banned because of the same law that forbids e-scooters from gracing our streets. But something different is happening here, and it’s down to scale. The electric motor sales market is expected to be worth $214.5bn by 2025 with a rise in investment by car manufacturers as well as tech companies. E-scooters are replacing a significant portion of car trips, especially in US cities such as LA and Portland. This reflects the auspicious rise in electric manufacturers with the boost they provide not only to the economy, but also new market solutions to the environmental challenges and solutions for busy congestion zones.
Once Uber caused the same explosion in headlines and so did Deliveroo, but innovation cannot be obscured by a few incidents that are the result of poor preparation by the government. Anti-scooter syndrome is a source of multiple controversies in the public eye as companies are attacked on the way they appropriate cities without permission. Why should our nanny state ban a new way of commuting that promotes environmental sustainability? With a minimal carbon footprint, recyclable batteries and soon solar panel chargers while they are parked, the future looks greener. The government must take into account the economic sustainability of these replacements and how they can revolutionise the way TfL and DfT work. A city that takes pride in its forward outlook with city bicycles and pier docks cannot let two-century-old legislation limit its prospects. It must step up to accommodate electric scooters as they are here to stay—whether the Met Police like it or not—and a £300 fixed fine is not going to vanish them.
Sadly, the novelty and joy of e-scooters has come under question following two casualties this past week. But the question isn’t whether scooters are safe, but if they’re safer than other vehicles on the road, and what risk they pose to pedestrians. There have been 1,770 deaths in road accidents in British roads reported in the past year, there’s a higher likelihood of drowning in the sea than having an accident from riding an E-scooter. With over 400 people being hit by a car or lorry every year, we must take into account that two-wheelers are a bigger risk to the people riding them than pedestrians - The number of people run-over by a scooter equals zero. Ultimately, if we ensure that users are empowered with safety and guidelines, they will be able to navigate the city safely.
It’s worth remembering too that these accidents are the outcome of banning e-scooters in the first place and not implementing policies that ensure guidelines to keep users safe. What if we had them on our pavements and limit their speed? Or let riders use bicycle lanes like Paris and Madrid? Or maybe even Scooterland lanes across cities? We must design regulation to allow freedom for the hundreds of companies to descend on our roads, whether it’s Uber’s new London electric bicycles, or scooters boosting travel connections in rural towns. Legislation needs to set a program for cities across the UK.
We must ask ourselves why, as new road technology advances apace, we are banning new green transport methods using legislation from 1835. Our focused pavement law has banned the future of commuting from our streets. Our authorities have blindfolded themselves from the challenges technology poses to their ancient legislation.
Times are changing, and technological competition is shaping how we commute and navigate our lives. These machines are not only for fun and tourist entertainment, but the future of transport and how thousands get to and from their offices. I fear Sadiq Khan’s pledge to increase public transport usage to 80% and improve air quality does not seem to include electric two-wheelers. London’s walking and cycling commissioner should be pushing to regulate the market and allow companies to compete freely. This is a consequence of government failing to regulate a booming industry — and puts paid to the idea that London is Open to new ideas.
Making e-scooters legal will ensure that big companies like Bird and Lime issue better safety guidelines by encouraging helmets and new features to their models. Policy ought to reflect the public desire for electric scooters, instead of limiting their technological prospects.
Let’s embrace what they can offer for commuting and urban transportation. Let’s say au revoir to the Highway Act and update our laws to welcome sustainable innovation across the UK.