You may love them, you may loathe them, or you might never have actually encountered them yet, but it appears the e-scooters are going to be part of all our lives pretty soon if they’re not already. If you’re in the not-unsubstantial body of people who loathe the idea of this new addition to modern life, you should at least be pleased to hear that they’ll now be fitted with front and rear number plates so those who ride e-scooters irresponsibly can be identified.
Unwelcome accolade for England
Something that may or may not come as a surprise to you is the news that despite e-scooters being reasonably new to the UK and their numbers being relatively limited at the moment, users in England are already said to be the worst behaved in the whole of Europe. Then again, you probably only have to watch how pedal cyclists behave in our towns and cities to imagine the kind of dangerous, antisocial and downright illegal ways we English find to behave on two wheels.
If you’re not an e-scooter enthusiast or if you live somewhere they haven’t been trialled yet, you may not know that it’s currently illegal to buy an e-scooter and ride it on public roads. Only those that are rented to users as part of a regional trial are currently allowed to ride them on the road, so if you buy one yourself you are only supposed to use it on private land. Despite much higher speeds being possible with e-scooters, here in England their speed is being legally limited to a maximum of 15.5mph.
Lots of local authorities are extremely excited about the prospect of e-scooters being used in what can be heavily congested urban areas. This is because they believe it will mean a significant number of people might be tempted to use an e-scooter to get around instead of a car. Trials are therefore being carried out in an increasing number of locations around the country, but it’s quickly becoming apparent that e-scooter could cause even more problems than they actually solve.
E-scooter trials started with a change of the law that came into effect on July 4th, and the government website says they are designed to “support a ‘green’ restart of local travel and help mitigate reduced public transport capacity.”
It’s certainly clear the government is enthusiastic about e-scooters as the gov.uk website also states: “E-scooters offer the potential for fast, clean and inexpensive travel that can also help ease the burden on transport networks and allow for social distancing.”
It was expected that trails would get underway in areas between July 4th and the end of August, and they would run for 12 months to assess their success or otherwise.
It’s been proposed by the government that e-scooter rental trials should be regulated as closely as possible to electrically assisted pedal cycles (EAPCs) because, in a number of ways, e-scooters present a similar road presence to EAPCs and bicycles because they’re similarly sized and have similar visibility for other road users.
However, for the time-being, e-scooters are still being treated as motor vehicles and that means requirements are in place that demand appropriate insurance and the correct type of driving licence are required. Perhaps worryingly for some, the government website also says: “In the future, following trials, we may look to amend the law to treat e-scooters more like EAPCs, which are not treated as ‘motor vehicles’ in law.”
Because the trials in England and people illegally buying and riding e-scooters on roads and pavements have revealed a considerable degree of bad behaviour, the Swedish company behind many of the trials have been forced to introduce a series of measures such as number plates to improve safety.
Things certainly didn’t get off to a good start, that’s for sure. Just five days after the trial by the Swedish company Voi got underway in Coventry and where its scooters were used by a staggering 5,000 people, the trial had to be halted. As reports of riders mounting pavements and riding their e-scooters in pedestrianized areas began to flood in, there was no option other than to suspend the trial and take stock.
As well as the problems in Coventry, another trial by a different company in Middlesbrough was also forced to scale back amid reports of under-age users causing carnage on the city’s roads and pavements.
Voi’s general manager for Britain and Ireland, Richard Corbett, said of the problems: “We have an antisocial behaviour issue. That is something that is not unique to Coventry or Middlesbrough or any city. I think we have an antisocial behaviour issue across the country and, when launching, there is a small minority that are ruining it for the majority.”
He added: “We haven’t seen this level of antisocial behaviour in any other market. We have had great experience of it but the volume of it in the UK was quite surprising.”
E-scooter number plates
Mr. Corbett and Voi agreed with Coventry council that one way of potentially mitigating the problem would be the introduction of front and rear number plates on the company’s e-scooters so riders behaving irresponsibly could be easily identified. Many people believe some form of formal means of identification such as number plates should also be mandatory for people riding bicycles, but Mr. Corbett isn’t even happy that his company’s e-scooters have had to go down this particular route.
“It is unfortunate that we need to babysit the customer and we shouldn’t have to do that and we don’t want to do it,” said Corbett admitting his frustration.
The day may come when riders and owners of e-scooters will embrace number plates to encourage responsible use, and it might even come to the point where private and personalised plates for e-scooters actually become a thing. What’s a little more certain is it’s hard to imagine e-scooters not having to display registration numbers on front and rear plates when the trials are over and a more liberal environment for their use is introduced into law.