This article was first published in the July digital edition of Fleet News.
Micromobility could be set to transform the way commuters and business travellers get around towns and cities.
Tees Valley Combined Authority has been named as the first local authority to host an e-scooter rental trial, with Milton Keynes also being given the go-ahead as a test bed for electric two-wheelers. The Department for Transport (DfT) expects further trials to be confirmed in the next few months.
Mayor Ben Houchen, says its pilot in Teesside, Darlington and Hartlepool will see 100 e-scooters initially being deployed.
It is working with e-scooter company Ginger, which will be responsible for the charging of scooters.
As the trial progresses, Ginger will look at introducing on-street charging and docking locations. Hire cost is £2 per 20 minutes.
At the start of the trial, each parking location will be strictly geo-fenced so users must leave their e-scooters in these locations at the end of the ride.
Houchen said: “By working together (with Ginger) we have been able to make using e-scooters cost-effective with the price of a ride competitive with other forms of public transport.”
Milton Keynes Council is working with Lime on its trial, with an initial fleet of 250 e-scooters deployed alongside Lime’s current e-bike service in the city.
The Government fast-tracked trials of e-scooters as part of a £2 billion investment in green travel solutions revealed in May.
They were given the green light to start from the beginning of the month – a year earlier than planned – to help take more people off public transport in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.
The trials, which are due to last for 12 months, will test the devices’ safety, green credentials and ability to reduce traffic.
The new rules around e-scooter use for the rental trials were published by the Government earlier this month.
But the DfT stressed it is still against the law to use a privately-owned e-scooter apart from on private land and anybody hiring an e-scooter, involved in the trial, must hold a full or provisional car, motorcycle or moped licence.
Ministers have also said that e-scooters involved in trials will be required to have motor insurance, which will be provided by the e-scooter rental operator, and their use will be restricted to the road (except motorways) and in cycle lanes. They must not, says the DfT, be used on the pavement.
The e-scooters will not need to be registered, display registration plates or pay vehicle excise duty (VED).
Under the regulations, the use of e-scooters will be strictly prohibited on pavements while devices will be limited to 15.5mph and riders recommended to wear helmets.
The Parliamentary Advisory Council for Transport Safety (PACTS) says that there were four injury collisions involving e-scooters in 2018 and 32 in 2019, reported by the Metropolitan Police, including one fatality. One third of the incidents involved injury to pedestrians.
Dr Adam Snow of John Moores University, who has specialised in this issue, said: “The Center for Disease Control in Texas found in 2018 that the rate of KSI (killed or seriously injured) for these modes is 22 per 100,000 miles – in the UK it is about 0.5 per 100,000 for cars.
“On the face of it they are far more dangerous than current modes of travel.”
Providing evidence to the Transport Committee earlier this month, Eleanor Southwood, chair of the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB), said the conditions attached to Government trials had failed to alleviate the charity’s fears.
In particular, the RNIB said it was ‘shocked’ by the speed limit the Government had chosen.
Southwood explained: “It’s really clear that even with all of the safeguards… we do consider e-scooters to be a real and genuine threat to the ability of blind and partially sighted people to move around independently and safely.
“We were hoping that speeds would be limited, ideally to as close to walking as possible, but if not, to an absolute maximum of 12.5mph.”
In response to the Government’s consultation on e-scooter rental trials, PACTS says it is worried that e-scooter hire trials will be taken as a green light for people to buy and use their own e-scooters, which is already taking place to some extent.
“Many e-scooters owners will not realise – or will simply choose to ignore – any legal distinction,” it said. “The police will be placed in an impossible situation and be unable to enforce the law.”
Tier Mobility UK general manager, Fred Jones, who recently joined the firm from Uber, is responsible for the roll-out of its e-scooters in UK towns and cities.
The company, which launched in 2018, already operates 40,000 scooters in more than 60 cities across nine countries, equating to 20% of the global market.
Rental rides to date are in excess of 20 million.
He told Fleet News that Tier’s e-scooters are known for their safety-first design, with bigger front wheels, integrated helmet, wider foot plates and a double-kick stand.
But he acknowledged: “You’ve also got to work with local authorities and vulnerable groups, who have valid concerns about street clutter.
“It’s why we’ve equally invested in the tools and solutions that we can give to local authorities, to help manage the deployment of the fleet and how it’s operated on the streets.”
Through its use of geo-fencing, for example, an area can be deemed ‘no go’ for e-scooters and, if ignored, the technology cuts the power source.
Furthermore, he says speed restrictions can be enforced where required.
The level of interest from local authorities considering taking part in the trials does not appear to have been diminished by any safety concerns.
Jones told Fleet News: “There are approximately 50 local authorities that have expressed an interest in doing trials and we’re engaging with most of them.
“Some are just investigating the market, some are into the tender process and some are looking for one operator, while others are looking for a couple.”
Among those local authorities that have issued tenders to operate e-scooter trials are Milton Keynes, Cambridge and Peterborough, and the West Midlands Combined Authority. “There are others coming thick and fast,” Jones said.
Mobility company Free Now has been advising a number of London boroughs and councils on the roll-out of e-scooters.
With rental schemes already operating in Poland, Portugal and Germany, it is also hoping to get a foothold in the UK market.
The firm’s UK general manager, Mariusz Zabrocki, said: “We expect massive growth for e-scooter rentals over the coming years.
“We’ve seen first-hand how they can benefit riders, alleviate congestion and contribute to emission-reduction.”
In a new report, Covid-19 Recovery: Renewing the Transport System, Campaign for Better Transport argues that achieving net zero carbon emissions, while keeping air pollution down, will require a “transformation of the transport fleet” to zero emission vehicles.
It is calling for a series of measures from Government, including greater use of e-scooters, with a procurement framework for hire schemes and powers for local authorities to issue permits for hire operators.
Jones says that the typical journey taken on an e-scooter is three miles, with commuting a typical reason for travel.
“I think 60% of car trips in the UK are three miles or under, the majority with one occupant, so there’s a perfect reason to switch out of the car.”
E-scooters hired by the firm will operate on a pay-as-you-go basis, but there is also the option to buy bundles of minutes, with corporate packages available.
In terms of a B2B product for corporate users, Free Now does not have a specific offering for e-scooters yet.
But, Zabrocki said: “We have noticed that during the week, rides are much shorter, suggesting that people are using them to travel to meetings or commute to work. Whereas over the weekend, trips are much longer as people use them to travel round for leisure and fun.”