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E-scooters in the UK – a new solution for commuters?

Up until recently electric scooters or e-scooters have been illegal on UK roads, footpaths and cycle lanes and can only be ridden on private land with permission from the landowner.

Recently however, accelerated by the Covid-19 crisis, MPs have been making strong calls for them to be made legal. They argue that there are numerous benefits to allowing e-scooters to be used by the public, including: No noise or air pollution As they’re fully battery powered, they make no noise and have zero emissions (although they would need to be charged from a mains supply). Great alternative for commuters For short journeys, particularly nipping around a town or city centre, e-scooters would reduce the need for cars or public transport. They would be extremely handy for commuters. They’re also a lot of fun! They’re currently legal in much of the USA and most of Europe, and the lack of them in the UK has resulted in accusations that the government is out of step. Lockdown and its aftermath have had a dramatic impact on the way people work with an increasing number working from home. With fewer people commuting there were fewer cars on the road and less congestion, which equated to lower emissions and an improvement in the air quality in a number of UK cities. According to one report, during the first nine weeks of the UK lockdown, nitrogen dioxide along London’s roads decreased by an average of 31% compared with the pre-lockdown period. As people are understandably nervous about taking public transport due to the risk of infection, in a bid to try to offer an alternative means of transport the government has authorised year-long trials in Liverpool, Middlesbrough and Milton Keynes, with Bath, Bristol and Salford to follow soon. To rent a scooter in a trial city you must be over 18 with a provisional driving licence – using one costs just 25p per minute. In spite of their benefits, there have been well documented issues with e-scooters. They can cause chaos for pedestrians, wheelchair users, people who are blind or partially-sighted and people with pushchairs, especially when ridden or inappropriately parked on pavements. Issues such as these have been encountered with the trial taking place in Coventry in the West Midlands, prompting it to be halted after just 5 days whilst number plates and improved safety measures were implemented. Huw Merriman, chair the Transport Select Committee, sympathised with these issues and has urged the government to take advantage of the trials to ensure e-scooters work for everyone saying
Before proceeding with plans to legalise the use of e-scooters, local authorities and government must use the trials to monitor this closely, put enforcement measures in place and ensure they are effective in eliminating this behaviour.
There is an argument that allowing private e-scooter ownership would avoid this problem entirely – even if the owner had no regard for other pavement and road users, very few people will treat their own property with this level of disdain.

In spite of the legal restrictions around using a privately owned e-scooter, Halfords has seen sales rise by more than 230% since April. The Transport Select Committee have also recommended allowing private ownership but only encouraging it as an alternative to driving and public transport, not cycling or walking as people doing these are already more active and better for the environment.

Whilst not perfect, e-scooters certainly seem to offer a timely solution to several modern issues. They can only be an improvement on using cars for short journeys, as cycling is not always safe or convenient for everyone. More pressing in current times is the ability for people get around during the ongoing pandemic whilst keeping themselves and others safe – an e-scooter has to be preferable to a packed bus or train and, if used responsibly, a much more fun way to get around!