The Great British E-Scooter Revolution
Update: After publishing this article, I co-authored a submission to the UK Parliament’s transport committe’s inquiry into e-scooters which you can read here: https://committees.parliament.uk/writtenevidence/5196/pdf/
I’ve always been a passionate advocate for e-scooters — I believe the evergrowing ubiquity of these trendy toys zipping down roads at 15 mph, brings us all one step closer to achieving world peace.
So this article may be a little biased.
The UK Government’s Announcement
On the 9th of May, as part of the government’s announcement of a £2 billion package to ‘create a new era for cycling and walking’, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps announced the fast-track of trialling e-scooters, bringing the trials forward from next year, to next month.
“And extending those trials from four local authorities, to every region in the country, that wants them, in a bid to get e-scooter rental schemes up and running, in cities as fast as possible. Helping reduce car use on shorter journeys, and taking some of the pressure off of buses at this vital time.”
— Transport Secretary, Grant Shapps
These scooters would play a key part in the short-term preventing overcrowding, and in the long-term maintaining the increased air quality across the country.
Recently in my podcast, I briefly discussed the impact the outbreak of COVID-19 will have the transport industry, as we will, or be encouraged to lean towards using forms of single passenger private transport, such as bicycles and e-scooters, as part of the ‘new normal’.
This is required urgently too; public transport workers have been significantly affected as dozens have died from contracting the virus while working, and it is much needed that we move towards walking, cycling, and e-scootering, so that transport workers no longer feel as if they are treated as an ‘expendable commodity’ during this crisis.
The UK is yet to have harnessed the benefits of e-scooters, as they have been illegal under an 183-year old law that essentially classifies them as horse carriages.
The E-scooter Economy
As long as there isn’t much acclivity, these easy-to-use motorised vehicles are an absolute joy to ride, but putting that all aside, one of the unintended effects of this decision to implement rental schemes may be that people get a bit more money in their pockets.
Just a bit of background about the companies behind these e-scooter rental schemes, and how they work:
Electric scooter startup ‘Bird’ is the fastest company to reach a billion dollar valuation ever, and had led the e-scooter industry, until another startup came along and took the limelight.
The whole idea of dockless, shared riding, that is easier than cycling and safer than skating attracts a lot of people, and additionally the pay-by-the-minute rates that they have set effectively enable the average scooter to pay for itself within 2 weeks (to learn more about e-scooter economics, and whether or not these startups are even profitable, I really recommend this article).
But, these scooters don’t magically charge themselves overnight — this is the model upon which Bird and Lime operate:
- You download their rental app, sign up to be a ‘charger’ and look for scooters nearby that are low on battery.
- You choose one or more scooters, pick them up, and charge them up at home using the power supplies and adapters.
- The e-scooter company pays you a few dollars (it varies between £3-£20 per scooter)
Doesn’t that just sound really fair?
In a viral crisis where we desperately need a form of single passenger transport to maintain social distancing, an economic crisis where people are losing their incomes and some extra cash could really come in handy, and in a climate crisis where it’s long overdue that we move towards a greener form of transport for all — it does.
But let’s still look at the unfair side of it:
1. It’s not affordable for all
These rental schemes aren’t exactly affordable for everyone. Renting an e-scooter usually costs around £1 to unlock, and £0.15 per minute of riding, which can add up quite a bit.
If you decide to purchase your own, private electric scooter — those cost at least £300.
If the British government plans to achieve the aims of preventing overcrowding, and air cleanliness through widespread adoption of e-scooters, there will be a need to subsidise, or incentivise e-scooter usage in one way or another. An interesting approach could be a clone of the Government Cycle to Work scheme (for e-scooters).
Or just hand out free e-scooters — that would be cool (Rishi, please?).
2. There’s an obvious *cough* reason as to why we should *cough* avoid ride-sharing
The scooters are designed to solve the ‘last mile’ problem and overall for shorter journeys, and that’s why they’re ideal in the form of a rental scheme, and not owned.
I don’t really need to (or frankly want to) explain this part, corona blah-blah, disinfectants, etc.
I hope they’ve considered that these ride-sharing scooters will need to be regularly disinfected.
3. Riding them can be dangerous
I should have pointed earlier that this is a London-centric overview of the incoming, great British e-scooter revolution.
This densely populated city of 8.9 million people, soon being let go from the confinement of their small homes, with the long-awaited opportunity to roam around the roads of London, on the best form of transport known to millenials — there will be a lot of accidents.
There will need to be strict controls on usage of scooters, such as an age limit, restricting them to cycle lanes only, and possibly fines for those riding without helmets (For which I ashamedly admit, would probably be the first person to receive).
The Bottom Lime
The government has made their intentions clear, that e-scooter rental schemes will be rolling out sooner than we could have expected, and it’s only a matter of time until we see either another conspiracy theory pop up, about how these e-scooters are just another form of the government’s overarching plan to kill every citizen in sight through these self-controlling electric sticks on wheels.
Or maybe, and hopefully, we see some positive reception to this initiative. Ideally implemented by the department of transport cautiously, inclusively, and affordably so that we can be one step closer to adopting this ‘new normal’ way of living, with the assistance of e-scooters.
But hey, if that doesn’t work out, we can try out this groundbreaking, eco-friendly, and innovative form of transport tech — it’s called driverless walking.