TWO WHEELS BETTER THAN FOUR?

E-Scooter Trial in Canterbury: mixed views

e-Scooters for hire in Canterbury
E-Scooter trial: a Green Alternative to Car Use – cc-free photo taken by Frances Williams

Leaving Asda in Canterbury recently I was very nearly taken out by an e-scooter. The rider was a teenage lad. He was too young to be using an e-scooter legally, he wasn’t on an e-scooter that was part of the present trial taking place in Canterbury, nor was he on a road. He was triply illegal! Don’t even consider the possibility that he was wearing a helmet. He missed me, just, but others haven’t been so lucky.

Canterbury is one of 50 areas taking part in a government trial of rental e-scooters. The government believes that e-scooters could offer a fast, green and inexpensive alternative to car use in urban areas. According to the government guidance:

“The primary aim of the evaluation is to build robust evidence about the safety, benefits, public perceptions and wider impacts of e-scooters in order to inform legal changes that may be necessary after the trial period ends. The secondary aim is to understand how the local transport systems are working, what factors support or hinder this, and learn lessons for future rollout.”

The trial in Canterbury will run until November 2021 with the possibility of an extension to 31 March 2022. After that a final report will be published.

Private E-Scooters for Private Land

Although e-scooters are only legal if used on private land unless part of a government trial, thousands have been bought with a cost of as little as £300. They have become a common sight throughout the country and a hazard. To date, at least four people have died and many others have been injured, some of them with life changing injuries.  

The unregulated use of illegal e-scooters prompted Matthew Scott, Kent’s Police and Crime Commissioner, to call for a halt to all trials and a review of the situation . He believes that inconsiderate e-scooter users are becoming a menace and wants a proper legal framework in place.

There have been hundreds of incidents reported to local authorities with as many as 200 injuries resulting from accidents. In one week in June the Metropolitan Police confiscated 507 privately owned e-scooters. According to the Met, e-scooters were involved in 574 recorded crimes in London, such as robberies or assaults, between 1 July 2020 and 30 April 2021.  

Most complaints cite dangerous and inconsiderate use. Disabled, blind and partially sighted people are concerned about the hazards of abandoned e-scooters cluttering the pavements. The police are concerned about their use by criminal gangs. Local councillors are wrestling with the problems of ensuring legal use, reducing hazards and how this may be brought about in their own areas.

Emergency Departments are dealing with traumatic injuries resulting from accidents. There is major concern that helmets are not compulsory leading to the risk of serious head injuries. A study reported in the British Medical Journal concludes:

“Notably, the low rates of helmet use reported among injured electric scooter users, and high rates of head injuries suggest the need for interventions to increase helmet use in this group of road users. Our findings also highlight the large burden placed on emergency departments by this popular mode of transportation.”

Stringent Conditions of Use

The e-scooter companies running the trials point out that there is a huge difference between those riding illegal, unregulated and uninsured scooters and those rented as part of the trial. The stipulations of the Canterbury trial run by micro-mobility company Bird are stringent. 

  • Only e-scooters rented from Bird are legal. 
  • You must have the category Q entitlement on your driving licence to use an e-scooter. A full or provisional UK licence for categories AM, A or B includes entitlement for category Q.
  • E-scooters should only be used by one person at a time.  
  • One must not use a mobile phone when using an e-scooter.
  • It is illegal to be drunk or intoxicated as careless and dangerous driving laws apply to e-scooter users.
  • You must not tow anything.
  • They are only to be used on roads in the trial area. It is illegal to use them on pavements.

Safety Measures at Heart of E-Scooter Trial

The e-scooter companies insist that safety is at the heart of their business model. The Bird scooters are accessed through a smartphone app. This enables Bird to check the identity of the user as well as their driving licence details. It also enables the use of geofencing technology to limit speed and restrict use to permitted zones.

The e-scooters are limited to a maximum speed of 15 mph but this speed is reduced to 10 mph in areas where there might be a greater safety concern. If a rider attempts to enter a restricted area the motor will cut out forcing the rider to dismount and push the scooter.

Pros & Cons

Those supporters of e-scooters point to many benefits, many of them ecological. According to a Department of Transport spokesperson:

“E-scooters could help ease the burden on our transport network while creating a green legacy. By encouraging a shift away from private cars, e-scooters can improve air quality and reduce greenhouse gas emissions across the UK as we build back greener.”

So, which is it – an eco-revolution or a dangerous mistake? Judging by comments to articles and on forums you are probably on one side or the other. These are typical for and against comments:

“They should be legal and additional infrastructure created to encourage people to use them, like cycles and electric bikes, to keep them off the pavement and off the road and avoid sharing space with pedestrians or faster, motorised and polluting vehicles. E-bikes and scooters are the way forward in our big cities.”

“Don’t do it. E-scooters are an urban plague. We have a trial scheme in progress and they mostly seem to be used by joyriding teenagers and students. They are a menace to pedestrians because you can’t hear them coming; many users ride on pavements, and abandoning them in the middle of pavements at the end of a hire period is common.”

Opinion Split

At the moment the country has mixed views on the safety, efficacy and future of e-scooters. Although I don’t think there’s much doubt that they are here to stay. There is a huge difference between the legal, rented e-scooters and the thousands of uninsured, illegal and hazardous ones. 

Richard Adely, the CEO of e-scooter manufacturer Taur, said:

“The government’s dithering and delay has allowed more and more unregulated and out-of-control scooters to proliferate on streets, risking the life and limb of pedestrians and other road users.”

According to Kent’s Police and Crime Commissioner, if we don’t get the legal use under a proper legal framework we will lose control of the thousands of illegal e-scooter users already plaguing our parks and pavements.

Perhaps we are already too late?

An Experimental Traffic Regulation Order has been made to make the trial legal and lasts for up to 18 months. The trial will run for a minimum of 12 months, from 2 November 2020 to 1 November 2021. The remaining six months of the Order provides us with flexibility to extend the trial to 31 March 2022, should this be required by the DfT.

The consultation period for the Order ran for six months from 30 October 2020 to 3 May 2021. However, it is important to us that we continue to listen to your views as the trial expands to the wider urban area. So we are carrying out this second round of consultation, which will run until 31 August 2021.

If you have any safety concerns, please report these directly to Bird by email at Canterbury@Bird.co, phone 01484 50 91 45 or via their app on a smartphone. Any issues reported through these means will be shared with KCC and in some circumstances Kent Police.