Monday 7 June 2021

Environment Monday - Electric scooters - Good or bad?

 Electric scooters are a hot topic right now, as London sees the first trial rental scheme. Many do not realise that they are not currently legal and can only lawfully be ridden on private land. On the walk from my house to work, I saw four of them. All were being ridden on the pavement. FOr the hire scheme they are only allowed on the road. So lets look at the arguments

1. Are they safe?

With any form of transport, there is always a degree of risk. Some models can do up to 40mph. If you fall off such a vehicle at this speed, then it is most likely you will sustain a serious injury. If you collide with a person, you will cause them a serious injury. At the 12.5mph speed which seems likely to be the limit should they become legal, there is still the risk of injury, but it is significantly less. The practice of riding scooters on the pavement seems to me to present a risk to pedestrians and riders. People on pavements are not expecting fast moving vehicles. On the roads, the riders are at a risk from cars, especially badly driven ones, but the risk is no greater than for those on bicycles. If we accept the risk for bicycles, there is no reason to ban electric scooters with speed limiters from roads. I would like to see cycle helmets become compulsory for bikes and scooters. As more people adopt electric scooters, this increases the demand for dedicated cycle lanes. I would also like to see a requirement for safety training for bothe scooter riders and cyclists. I'd also make it illegal to wear earphones whilst cycling or riding a scooter, so riders are 100% focussed on the road.

So in answer to the question, I believe they are safe enough to be used, provided riders are competent and have head gear.

2. Are they green? 

The only truly green method of transport is walking. Scooters have batteries and the mining process that produces these batteries is not in the least bit green. However, if the scooters are moving people out of their cars, they are significantly greener than a petrol or diesel car. The amount of energy needed to propel a rider on a scooter is miniscule compared to a large car. Every year the UK sees an ever greater proportion of its electricty supply produced by renewable sources, so electric vehicles are getting greener all the time. 

Places of work, schools etc, should be looking at installing charging points. I'd like to see intelligent energy management for such places. Solar and wind power can produce wildly differing amounts of energy depending on weather conditions. It would be good if charging was managed so it was done at periods in the day when the maximum power was being generated by sustainable means.

So the answer is that if we e-scooters become alternatives to cars, then yes as they will reduce or carbon footprints, but if they replace walking then no.

3. Will they help with London's air quality crisis?

Here the answer is definitely yes. Electric vehicles produce no particulates and no fumes. The Mayor of London and local authorities should definitely be looking at promoting their use in pollution hotspots. There should be proper analysis of traffic flows, and serious effort put into working out how to achieve modal shift.  One of my biggest criticisms of the cycling policies of the Livingstone, Johnson and Khan Mayoral regimes, is that they were keener on 'grand schemes' than addressing danger hotspots. Whilst cycle superhighways are great, sorting out junctions that are dangerous to cyclist and other hazard spots would have had a far greater impact on death and injury rates. I would have addressed these first. The same dangers present themselves to scooter users on the road as to cyclists. A car can accelerate from traffic lights etc far more quickly than cycles and scooters, so junctions need to be designed so cyclists and scooter riders can safely turn right and are visible to all other road users. When people feel safe, they are more likely to make a modal shift and this is how we will address air quality in London.

4. Is the hire scheme the way to go?

The scheme is a pilot to ascertain whether e-scooters have a significant role to play in addressing Londons congestion and air quality. I have to state that I cannot really understand what additional lessons they need to learn. The risks of e-scooters are understood, the safety issues are more or less identical to cyclists, the benefits should also be understood. So long as the scooters are not sharing space with pedestrians and so long as work is done to make roads safe, they are a viable alternative. 

5. My general thoughts.

I would like to see a simple registration scheme, where users do an online safety course and register the make etc, to prevent over powered models being used. I'd like to see this coupled with a cheap third party insurance scheme. I would like to see safety headwear and visibility jackets be compulsory. I would like to see schools and major workplaces have charging points and safe storage. I'd like to see stowage space on commuter rail & tube services etc. 

To sum up, I think that e-scooters have a role to play in the solution to London's transport problems. They are not the answer to everything, but have a role to play. 

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