The Government has responded but clarification still awaited on e-scooters…
We take a look at the Government's response which provides clarity in regards to speed of e-scooters and their use on pavements.
With a huge number of e-scooters likely to be under the tree on Christmas day all stakeholders were hoping for some greater clarity and timeframes from the Government in response to the Transport Select Committee report “E-scooters: pavement nuisance or transport innovation?” dated 2 October 2020. The Government response published on 14 December 2020 attempts to address the key issues raised by the Committee in relation to the potential legalisation of e-scooters on UK roads. Read the full response.
Unfortunately for stakeholders, certainty from the Government response has only come in relation to two areas, namely speed of e-scooters and their use on pavements.
- Speed restrictions - the Government’s response confirms that local knowledge should be applied to identify any areas where lower speeds may be more appropriate, for example, in busy city centres or congested areas where different user groups are likely to meet. It is anticipated that geo-fencing technology will be utilised in order to achieve this. With local authorities almost certainly having to regulate and govern this aspect, this additional burden could be considerable at a time when resources are already stretched.
- Banning pavement use - providers in trial areas are said to be using all tools available to them to minimise this. Such tools are likely to include geo-fencing technology, ensuring users understand the legal basis for use and the potential consequences if they fail to comply, in addition to behavioural techniques. However, it is recognised that one of the key challenges of ensuring the safety of pavements is enforcement. There are a range of options available to monitor the extent of the issue, such as camera sensor data and data from trials of new on-board sensor devices, which aim to establish when pavement riding took place and thus trace the identity of the user at that time. It is envisaged that repeat offenders could be penalised by losing their e-scooter account. The Government’s indication is that it will consider the efficacy of this and other approaches throughout the trials.
Whilst it is not yet known whether private e-scooters will be legalised, it is clear from the Government’s response that, should this occur, pavement use will continue to be prohibited. This is a welcome indication and undoubtedly a source of great relief, particularly for the most vulnerable road users.
The response was less conclusive when addressing the following issues:
- Street clutter - the Government’s response details the various approaches to e-scooter deployment that have been taken during the trials. For example, some areas operate free-floating models, which offer a wide variety of set down locations, which, whilst convenient for the user, may result in street clutter. Docking infrastructure is more orderly but can be less convenient for the user and has cost and planning implications for local authorities.
Again, technology may have a role to play by way of geo-fenced parking areas allowing journeys to end only when vehicles are parked in agreed zones. It is thought that this may be the middle ground and is currently being tested in national trials. Whilst this issue may be alleviated to some extent should private e-scooters be legalised, local authorities will require certainty on this aspect as soon as possible in order to ensure that the necessary infrastructure is in place and to consider cost implications. The Royal National Institute of Blind People will be particularly interested in the outcome and the steps taken by the Government to avoid what will clearly be a hazard to the blind or partially-sighted if left strewn on the pavement.
- Environmental impact - whilst longevity of e-scooters has notably increased over the last three years, it is recognised that their environmental impact is significantly influenced by vehicle design, the materials used and operational procedures adopted. It is likely that further improvements will be made as technology develops and as local authorities are encouraged to consider environmental policy objectives when designing trials and selecting operators.
The common theme from the Government’s response is that the data from the current trials will form the basis of any policy decisions regarding legalisation of e-scooters and the likely regulatory framework that will surround them, including any decision as to whether driving licences and insurance will be mandatory.
Whilst analysis of the data is laudable and a sensible step, there are concerns about the limitations of the data. The trials are limited in scope and will focus only on users holding a driving licence, and will likely exclude any accident data from those currently riding private e-scooters illegally.
Whilst the indication is that e-scooters (both trial and private) will be legalised in the future, there is ongoing confusion amongst current private e-scooter users about their legal status and right to ride on the public highway. The ongoing uncertainty about the future requirements, particularly in relation to driving licences and insurance, does not afford any of the key stakeholders the opportunity to plan for the future, whether it be local authorities in relation to infrastructure, police on governance or insurers and underwriters when dealing with claims and insurance. Hopefully, 2021 will provide the much-needed clarity all are seeking!