In spite of the legal minefield they represent, e-scooters have evolved into one of the key industry talking points of 2019. Four industry stalwarts give their take on e-scooters’ impact on the cycling industry and the micro-mobility market as a whole.
Today, we hear from Richard Bowker, Criterium Cycles director.
One of the most significant shifts in the landscape of cycle retailing in the last ten years has been the seemingly unstoppable rise in the popularity of the e-bike. That growth in popularity has stimulated tremendous innovation from the manufacturers in terms of both engineering and aesthetic design. Gone are the days when you were limited to large and inefficient battery bricks mounted atop a rear pannier (raising the centre of gravity to unstable levels) driving dodgy hub motors.
These days, e-bikes have efficient batteries and motors with extensive range, reliable control systems and (usually) an aesthetically pleasing and integrated design that suggests the entire design team functioned as a collective group and not in splendid isolation of each other. Innovation is the lifeblood of our industry (and not just for e-bikes) so it is always interesting to speculate where the next big idea is coming from.
E-scooters are certainly a candidate for that ‘next big idea’. But they are not a bike and as retailers, we don’t get any sense that customers see a scooter, powered or otherwise, as an absolute alternative to a bike. There is, however, no doubt that they could be a very credible option for short journeys within cities. They have many benefits. They are reasonably light and take up limited space so as a commuting option for taking on the train and using the e-scooter for the last section of the journey, one can absolutely see the benefits.
The challenge is the law as well as implementing a progressive approach to transport infrastructure. Since e-scooters are PLEV’s (Personal Light Electric Vehicles) they are illegal for use on roads and pavements which pretty much rules them out of any useful (and lawful) application at the present time.
The consequence for being caught is a potential £300 fixed penalty notice and 6 points on your licence. That means as a responsible retailer, we would have to make very clear to prospective customers (and not just in the small print) that they can only be used at present on private land. It does not require much retail experience to guess what the likely reaction to that particular ‘buy signal’ is going to be.
We suspect that some retailers are advising their clients ‘be careful, show plenty of respect, don’t go too fast and you should be fine’. But with the law in its current form, we do not think that it is good enough. Right now, they are illegal. End of.
But we do hope things change. The 1980 Highways Act is not the most up to date piece of legislation on the Statute Book. It certainly predates both the kinds of technology we are discussing here as well as the radical shift that has occurred in society’s approach to personal mobility, not least because of our growing awareness of the need to deal with climate change.
That’s not to underestimate the challenge of changing the law. Our urban transport infrastructure in the UK does not make it easy to introduce a product such as an e-scooter. One cannot ever see it being acceptable to ride on pavements and share limited space with pedestrians. And sadly, we are years behind the enlightened approach of say Denmark and Holland when it comes to segregating modes, safely and efficiently.
Ministers will have to take all these factors into account when considering whether to make e-scooters legal and if so, how to regulate their use.
If politicians can address the challenges of shared road space and introduce effective and enforceable regulation, then we can see e-scooters becoming a really important part of the personal mobility mix, especially in urban centres. And while we don’t foresee e-scooters usurping the role of the bike, they could have an important role to play. When the legislation does change, we will certainly be looking to add e-scooters to our product range. But not till then.
Richard Thorpe, Gocycle