Commuting may never be the same again following the latest transport trial, says JULENA DRUMI
As the relaxing of lockdown looms I’ve been pondering over how I intend to travel to work. It’s no simple task, believe me.
In pre-Covid days, before the great hibernation, walking through rain, wind and snow, and waiting for a bus may have been an uncomfortable experience, but nothing compared with our journeys in the ‘new normal’ era.
Now we have to deal with social distancing, remembering to pack a facemask… sorry, covering… along with the mobile that now needs an app to buy a takeaway coffee from Starbucks, as nobody takes cash anymore.
But the biggest challenge is what means of transport to use. As I work in the city centre, driving has never really been a sensible or economic option and, in any case, I like a bit of exercise. Bus and a two-mile walk was the preferred choice, but I’m one of the wary ones, and I reckon the limits on passengers will create too many problems.
I’ve had a bicycle for years, but it’s so rusted that even the cycle repair man said it was beyond salvation. Buy a new one? Trouble is, there are limited places to park it at the office.
So, I’ve been driven, so to speak, to think about scooters, particularly e-scooters and those that are easy to carry. The government wants us all to go green and e-scooters are already growing in popularity in foreign cities such as Paris, San Francisco and Stockholm.
Initially, I was disappointed to learn they could only be used on private land, but the government has announced that from this weekend e-scooters will become legal, allowing more of us to choose this new mode of transport.
Well, to a point. This is Britain, and we don’t like change.
I’d looked into buying one and was a little alarmed to see that the better models retail for up to £2,000, though there are some in the £400 to £600 range which is comparable to a good bike.
However, it turns out that under the new rules set out by the Department for Transport e-scooters will only be allowed if you rent one and do not ride them on the pavements. Privately owned e-scooters remain illegal on roads, cycle lanes or on pavements which effectively makes buying one a waste of money if you want to stay within the law.
E-scooters will be limited to 15.5mph and it is recommended that riders wear helmets. No problem there.
Riders will need a full or provisional car, motorcycle or moped licence to use the vehicles, and they must be aged 16 or over. I tick both those boxes, although this ruling seems harsh, given that you can ride a bike without a licence or minimum age.
The tricky bit is when all this becomes allowable. Local authorities and devolved administrations in England, Scotland and Wales can oversee e-scooter sharing schemes in their areas as part of 12-month trials. So far this is limited to Middlesbrough, with about 50 other towns and cities, including Glasgow, expressing an interest. So it looks like a trial in my area isn’t imminent any time soon.
‘Riders will need a full or provisional car, motorcycle or moped licence, although this ruling seems harsh, given that you can ride a bike without a licence or minimum age’
The reason for the rental ruling is to avoid a flood of poor quality scooters, and the sort of accidents that have been common in cities around the world.
It has to be said that they have proved controversial in cities abroad because of safety concerns for both riders and pedestrians.
If the battle with the authorities is yet to be won, a poll by motoring group IAM RoadSmart showed 67% of the public are opposed to their use on pavements and pedestrian areas, so somebody will have to come up with safe routes.
Despite being illegal (so is riding a bike on pavements but lots of cyclists do it) there has been a sharp rise in escooter users in London, with reports of accidents and near-accidents prompting calls for tighter regulation.
David Davies, executive director of the Parliamentary Advisory Council for Transport Safety, said safety concerns around e-scooters were being “glossed over” and pedestrians would “lose out” from changes to e-scooter rules.
“We are convinced they will be used on pavements. Although there will be regulation, they will be and that’s the reality, police don’t have the time to regulate that,” he said.
But the current Covid distancing regime together with campaigns to reduce carbon emissions is creating a growing demand for e-scooters. They are convenient, inexpensive, and clean – factors that outweigh the risks, according to supporters. They are attracting the attention of firms needing short delivery runs, or as a means of getting around big factories and college campuses. They’re also handy for a quick trip to the shops or a meet-up with friends for coffee.
Swedish firm Voi is among those hoping to bring them to the UK. It says the vehicles offer a good alternative to public transport as they are ridden out in the open air, where there is less risk of coronavirus transmission.
The firm estimates it could have up to 90,000 e-scooters in towns and cities across the country by the end of the year. Buying one may yet be a viable option.
I’m already in the queue.