Bring on the e-scooter revolution

E-scooters are fun, safe and great for the environment.

Matthew Lesh

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The case for legalising e-scooters in the UK is overwhelming. And it looks likely that they will be legalised soon. The challenge now is to keep the grubby hands of nanny statists off this game-changing technology.

E-scooters are great. If you have been overseas in the past few years, you might have noticed or used them across one of more than 350 cities in Europe, the United States and further afield. It is no coincidence that they are the fastest-growing transport technology in history: e-scooters are helpful to get around and fun to use.

They also come with a whole host of side benefits. Researchers at the Rhodium Group have concluded that e-scooters, on a per-mile basis, have an even smaller carbon footprint than ‘a vegan on a stroll’. They found, after considering manufacture, distribution and propulsion, that e-scooters produce just 28g of carbon per mile travelled – compared to 48g per mile for a vegan who will burn calories by walking, or 292g for a standard petrol car.

The global evidence suggests that about one-third of e-scooter trips have replaced car journeys. This reduces congestion and helps the environment by cutting carbon and NOx emissions. Two-thirds of car trips in major UK cities are below three miles, making them potentially replaceable by e-scooters.

E-scooters can also provide transport for ‘mobility deserts’ – left-behind communities underserved by existing transport. They can connect people to previously inaccessible Tube stations, high streets and jobs. Any government that is serious about levelling up opportunity should remember that physical mobility is key to social mobility.

The US city of Portland’s trial study found e-scooters are overwhelmingly popular among people of colour (74 per cent see them positively) and lower-income earners (66 per cent). Portland also found e-scooters provided tens of thousands of trips in the historically underserved East Portland. Mobility data analysts Populus found that in Washington, DC, ‘the black and African-American population (which represents 47 per cent of the entire DC population) has adopted dockless services at a significantly higher ratio’.

Even if all these benefits were non-existent, we should still legalise e-scooters. There is no reason that the state should prevent consenting adults from an activity that does not harm others. There needs to be strong justification for keeping new technologies illegal. Innovators and entrepreneurs who bring us great advancements should not be punished.

The good news is that e-scooters appear to be on their way in the UK. Transport minister George Freeman has promised a consultation on their legalisation.

So, assuming that e-scooters get the go-ahead, will this government design a liberal regulatory regime that enables people from all walks of life to take advantage of e-scooters? Or will it screw up by being excessively bureaucratic and risk-averse?

There is a need for some sensible regulations: reasonable speed limits, restrictions on use in pedestrian areas, and rules about parking to prevent cluttering. Good regulation combined with appropriate behaviour by users will ensure that e-scooters maintain popular support.

But we should be very hesitant about excessive rules. We should also avoid allowing a relatively small number of incidents, sensationalised in a media panic, to create the false impression that e-scooters are uniquely dangerous. The emerging evidence base indicates that they have a similar risk level to bicycles. E-scooters, then, should more or less have similar rules to bicycles: no riding on pedestrian areas, but no need for helmets or drivers’ licences.

In some places, mayors have tried to ban e-scooters after a small number of incidents. In others, local governments have placed caps on the number of e-scooters. We should not follow their example. In Chicago, where a pilot programme limited each e-scooter rental company to 250 scooters, there were reports of shortages. A survey of users in Minneapolis by Lime, an e-scooter rental app, found that 77 per cent of residents who wanted to use e-scooters couldn’t do so as often as they would like because of a lack of availability. How can e-scooters bust congestion and help the environment if we don’t allow enough of them on our roads to be useful?

In practice, limits on numbers lead to revenue advantages for the favourite companies of local bureaucrats. Meanwhile, consumers pay higher prices and suffer from shortages. These caps also undermine the potential for e-scooters to serve a broad cross-section of the community. David Estrada, head of government relations at Bird, another e-scooter rental app, is right to say that ‘a capped number of scooters incentivises providers to put their vehicles only in popular, high-density areas – not in historically underserved areas’.

E-scooters are probably coming to the UK soon, and that’s good news. But we need to get the regulations right to take full advantage of this exciting new mode of transport.

Matthew Lesh is head of research at the Adam Smith Institute and author of the ASI’s latest report, Safe to Scoot: How Legalising E-scooters Will Save Lives, Bust Congestion and Help the Environment.

Picture by: Getty.

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Comments

Will Co

10th February 2020 at 9:10 am

Let’s face it, public transport is utter crud which is why many people take the option of low cost transport to get them to work on time. Yes people can cycle on conventional bikes, which is great if you want to get to work all hot and sweaty, but ebikes and escooters offer a viable alternative providing they don’t get bogged down with legislation.

Now Brexit has kicked in, the UK has the opportunity to define its own transport policies. Whilst electric cars are slowly making an appearance, they are very expensive and the need to replace battery packs at regular intervals costing thousands of pounds, means a low cost alternative for those on lesser means is a vital component of future transport policy. People still need affordable mobility.

Coiln Holdsworth

9th February 2020 at 6:18 am

I’m a regular commuter by car and when e scooter’s become legal, which I hope is soon I shall be switching to one. The main reason will be saving money on ever increasing petrol prices. It would be a step backwards not to allow them to be used as there is an obvious market for them. The “war” between cars and bikes is pointless, they both have to share the road. There are bad cyclists and bad drivers but you are more likely to get a serious injury from being hit by a car than a bicycle, although I’d rather not get hit by either. Most kids are taught how to ride safely in school run scheme’s (well they are where I live) but it is up to the individual to be responsible when on the road. Just like car driver’s who don’t have insurance or mot, don’t indicate on roundabout’s, speed. They’re are plenty of them. I’m looking forward to getting on my e scooter they can’t come quick enough.

David J

7th February 2020 at 5:42 pm

I tried an e-scoot recently, and found it more practicable than a Segway, being smaller, lighter, and much more fun.
Nearby roadworks are widening the footpath for bicycles, so here’s hoping it’ll be good for e-scoots too.
I agree not to kill them with bureaucracy, but lights at night – probably best worn by the rider – are essential, especially during our long, dark winters.

Tom Mabon

9th February 2020 at 11:34 am

You can fit rechargable lights to handlebars very easily with quick detachable mounts I would also hope that there will be a mounting point at the rear for a red light for safety reasons.

Jerry Owen

7th February 2020 at 2:49 pm

They need to be insured. They need lights at night. They need to be ridden on the roads.
Unfortunately they will be used with the same anarchy in public as bicycles which is my only real reservation.
A V8 version may interest me!

A Marshal

7th February 2020 at 3:56 pm

Not really, Cycles aren’t insured, neither are pedestrians, The ‘Anarchy’ of bicycles leads to almost zero serious accidents, It’s the cars that kill and maim.

Jerry Owen

8th February 2020 at 10:57 am

A Marshal
I see some atrocious cycling in London, crashing red lights is common. Answer this.. if a cyclist crashes a red light and causes an accident resulting in damage to vehicles they should be liable shouldn’t they?
As for pedestrians not being insured.. whatcha pathetic non point.

Jerry Owen

8th February 2020 at 10:58 am

*what a*

Tom Mabon

9th February 2020 at 12:00 pm

LOL the mentality of cyclists terrified me they seem to think they are invalnrable but as possibleythe second most valnrable people on the highway after padestrions. As a life long biker I plase myself in that high risk catagery. Over the years I have learned to look out for signs and other clues as to what the traffic around me is up to. When I watch cyclists they seem to be unaware of there saroundings and taking risks that I would never try usually wearing no protection where as I am in a crash helmet protective clothing boots and gloves.

Ven Oods

7th February 2020 at 1:45 pm

“similar rules to bicycles: no riding on pedestrian areas”
That one made me smile. Most bicycling seems now to take place on pavement rather than road.

Jerry Owen

8th February 2020 at 11:00 am

Walking on a pavement in my village a couple of years ago I had to move over as a couple of bike riders came towards me on the pavement… They were coppers!

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