Legalising e-scooters could reduce car use but tight safety regulations needed, says report

A new report published by Centre for London has called on the Government to legalise private and shared e-scooters alongside a comprehensive package of measures to ensure their rollout is safe, affordable, and accessible to all.

These include giving Transport for London the power to manage shared e-scooter schemes in the capital, ensuring all vehicles meet minimum safety standards, and requiring operators to provide access to shared schemes in neighbourhoods with fewer public transport options.

The report looked at how micromobility vehicles such as e-scooters and e-bikes could help to reduce car use, cut carbon emissions, and improve air quality in the capital. It found that:

– Two thirds of car trips in London could be made by micromobility vehicles in 20 minutes or less, with most of these trips taking place in outer London where there are fewer public transport options
– Micromobility vehicles emit between 34 and 90% (shared e-scooter vs private bike) fewer carbon emissions than private cars, and do not produce harmful pollutants at the point of use

The report, Micromobility in London, calls on the Government to make the most of the opportunities presented by these vehicles. To encourage take-up and use, it recommends that private ownership and safe ridership of e-scooters should be legalised on roads, as well as shared e-scooter and e-bike schemes.

The authors highlight the need to streamline the experience of riding and parking e-scooters and e-bikes. They argue that inconsistencies in provision, such as stopping shared e-scooters at local authority boundaries, could prevent people from using them, particularly new users or those on low incomes who may rely on a shared vehicle. To mitigate this, the Government should give Transport for London the power to manage shared schemes across the city, in collaboration with local authorities and operators.

The report also says that operators have a responsibility to make e-scooter and e-bike use safe for riders and pedestrians. This includes using penalties and rewards such as price incentives to encourage safe riding and parking, as well as working with local authorities to deliver micromobility training to new riders. The report also recommends that all vehicles must meet minimum safety standards both at the point of sale and while being ridden, such as a maximum permitted speed and having lights to ensure they can be ridden safely alongside bicycles. Police should be able to enforce bans where unsafe riding persists.

The report also argues that legalisation must go hand-in-hand with policies to make micromobility accessible to all, particularly for the one-third of Londoners who live in areas with the lowest public transport accessibility levels. It calls on operators of shared schemes to be required to provide access in less populated areas, particularly outer London. Transport for London should also work with local authorities and operators to encourage take-up of these vehicles by those least likely to consider using them, including women and older Londoners.

The report also notes that high upfront costs of e-bikes and e-scooters are a significant barrier to people living on low incomes – disproportionately Black and Asian Londoners, women, and young Londoners – from buying these vehicles and benefitting from any resulting cost savings of using them instead of a car. The report recommends that the government offers tax incentives and loans to anyone wanting to buy a micromobility vehicle, building on the Cycle to Work scheme.

Josh Cottell, research manager, Centre for London said: “E-scooter and e-bike use are on the rise, with more than four million trips were made on shared e-scooters in the first 11 months of UK trials while the number of e-bikes sold in the UK increased by 70 per cent between 2019 and 2020.

“The shift to these emerging vehicles is already happening but we need the government to catch up and introduce policies which encourage safe ridership of e-scooters and e-bikes on our streets and ensures anyone who wants to use these vehicles is able to do so.

“Legalising private ownership and riding is the first step towards building a gold standard for micromobility in the UK, with Transport for London – and other equivalent authorities in towns and cities across the country given the powers to arrange shared schemes for micromobility vehicles as they emerge.”

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