The first trials of e-scooters on public roads in Britain will get underway in Teesside this month, with many more areas expected to launch before the end of August.
Tees Valley Combined Authority, led by Conservative mayor Ben Houchen, has struck an agreement with UK e-scooter company Ginger to provide a rental scheme across the area, initially featuring 100 scooters.
The changes to legislation facilitating trials of e-scooter rental schemes across Britain came into force on 4 July. The use of individually-owned e-scooters on public roads remains illegal.
The DfT expects most trials to launch before the end of August. They are likely to run for a year, but could be extended.
E-scooters will be permitted on roads, cycle lanes and cycle tracks but not on footways.
The DfT has made changes to the permitted specification of e-scooters following a consultation this spring (LTT 12 Jun). The maximum speed has been increased from 12.5mph to 15.5mph, maximum continuous power rating raised from 350W to 500W, and permitted mass raised from 35kg to 55kg.
E-scooters will continue to be classed as motor vehicles during the trials, meaning riders will have to have a driving licence – a provisional one will do. Rental companies will have to provide insurance cover.
“Following trials, we may look to amend the law to treat e-scooters more like electrically assisted pedal cycles (EAPCs), which are not treated as ‘motor vehicles’ in law,” says the DfT.
Wearing a helmet is recommended but will not be mandatory.
All trials will have to be approved by the DfT.
Local authorities will be free to decide whether to run a trial with one or multiple operators.
Operators will be able to offer different forms of rental arrangement – for instance, long-term lease arrangements as well as dockless schemes for casual use.
The DfT will commission a central monitoring and evaluation contract covering all trial areas.
Escooters are about to hit Britain’s streets, but how will local authorities choose between the dozen or so rental companies vying for a slice of the action?
Neuron Mobility thinks its approach to safety, innovation, and partnership working will set it apart from the rest of the industry.
Last week I spoke to Collette Dunkley, the company’s external relations director for the UK and Ireland, and Joe Oliver, its head of communications, about the company’s ethos and ambitions.
Neuron was founded in 2016 by engineer and green tech entrepreneur Zachary Wang (chief executive), and artificial intelligence guru Harry Yu (chief technology officer). The company began operating e-scooters in Singapore and Southeast Asia but then withdrew and switched its attention to Australia and New Zealand (the business development team remains in Singapore). Its first Australasia schemes launched last year and it now operates in eight places, including Brisbane, Adelaide, Darwin, and Auckland. The smallest operation has 300-350 e-scooters and the biggest about 1,000.
“We’ve never lost a contract bid in Australia or New Zealand,” says Oliver. Neuron was attracted to these countries by their regulated markets and Britain appeals for the same reason.
“We’re not trying to become the biggest market share company by geography,” says Dunkley. But, once a target country has been identified, Neuron will throw resource at it. “We can scale very quickly,” she says, discussing market opportunities here. “We’re applying for quite a lot.”
Neuron designs its own e-scooters, which are manufactured in China. This, says Oliver, allows the company to innovate quickly, unlike other prospective operators who source scooters from original equipment manufacturers (OEMs).
“We can literally innovate in a matter of months.”
Neuron’s e-scooter design is strikingly different from others you may see on the street and many of its features are designed with safety in mind.
The scooter’s 11.5 inch wheels are considerably bigger than the 8-10 inch versions typically seen on other models. Larger wheels ride over road surface imperfections more smoothly, says Dunkley. “There’s a big difference.”
The platform of the Neuron e-scooter is also wide (21cm), allowing users to ride with their feet side-by-side.
Another distinguishing feature of Neuron’s model is the lock that attaches a helmet to the e-scooter shaft. Users release the helmet using their smartphone app. Oliver says the design is unique and ensures that a helmet will always be attached to the scooter.
Helmet-wearing is mandatory in Australia but it will not be in Britain and nor is it in New Zealand. “We feel strongly that everyone should have the opportunity to wear one,” says Oliver.
The e-scooters also feature some hidden tech. Sensors detect if the scooter is lying on its side. The information is useful for Neuron’s 24/7 teams who, among other things, ensure scooters are parked in authorised locations, standing upright.
An emergency button feature detects accidents. The rider receives an app message asking if they are okay and a call to emergency services can be made if not.
The company will soon launch a ‘share my ride’ facility allowing users to choose a friend or relative who can follow their ride on the app.
Neuron’s e-scooters are GPS-enabled and so can be controlled by geo-fencing.
“We want to be the best possible partner to cities,” says Dunkley. “We talk of ‘no-go’ areas, ‘slow-go’ areas and no parking areas.”
“And there are incentivised parking areas,” Oliver chips in.
The e-scooter slowly comes to a halt if it strays beyond the authorised operating zone agreed with a local authority.
If it’s left in a location that has been designated a no parking area, then the rental period will continue running, racking up a hefty bill for the user.
Neuron’s scooters have a top speed of 15.5mph – the maximum permitted by the DfT. But Oliver says the company will always have a secondary conversation with the local authority to decide if low speed zones should be designated, such as in a particularly busy area. The lower speed can be enforced through geo-fencing too.
Asked about the company’s safety record, Oliver says Neuron has recorded under two incidents requiring hospital treatment every 100,000 kilometres of use. The scooters can be ridden on pavements in Australia but, after millions of trips, there has not been a single case of a pedestrian or cyclist being hospitalised from a collision across Neuron’s operations, he adds.
E-scooter use will be more expensive than pedal bike hire. Dunkley expects charges to be in the region of £1 per hire and 15-20p per minute of hire for casual users. Heavy discounts are offered in Australia and New Zealand for season tickets, such as three-day, weekly and monthly.
Neuron can incentivise good behaviour. For instance, users can receive a discount if they send in a photograph of themselves wearing a helmet or parking in an authorised parking area.
Who is a typical user? In Brisbane, over 60 per cent of hires are for commuting, says Oliver. Tourists are another market and period passes such as a three-day pass are designed to appeal to them.
Oliver says the average trip distance in Australian schemes is about 2km (1.25 miles). “We think every e-scooter trip has a walking trip probably a both ends,” he says, emphasising that they do not eliminate active travel.
Neuron shares anonymised date about e-scooter use with local authorities to help their transport planning activities.
The e-scooters have a battery range of about 60km (38 miles) and are fitted with swappable batteries that are changed on-street by Neuron’s mobile teams.
The company normally creates about five full-time jobs in a city, plus lots of temporary workers – anywhere between 20 and 60 depending on the size of the operating territory. They’re temporary partly because of the seasonal pattern to rentals, which peak during the warmer months, though schemes continue operating throughout the year.
Shared e-scooters have become a vital part of daily life in cities around the world. In the UK, we have been slower to make the most of this sustainable and convenient transport mode, but following legislation earlier this month, we now have an opportunity to catch up with our international counterparts.
E-scooters offer an open-air, socially-distanced, emission-free transport alternative for cities across the UK, helping to ease congestion on roads and reduce pollution.
As cities begin to recover from Covid-19, governments everywhere are rethinking transport to aid social distancing and avoid a huge increase in car use as people avoid public transport.
The DfT originally planned to introduce e-scooter rental trials next year, but the pressing demand for new transport options has accelerated the timetable.
With the UK trials expedited, the first e-scooters will now be present on our roads in July. These trials will provide much-needed additional transport capacity and help develop an evidence base to inform longer-term policy around e-scooters. We know there will be challenges, but the benefits to towns, cities and local authorities will outweigh these issues.
Lime has significant experience of operating app-accessed, shared, e-scooter and e-bikes in more than 125 global cities over the past three years. We have so far provided services on five continents, from Seoul in South Korea to Calgary in Canada – and currently operate in 19 European countries.
Furthermore, for the last two years we have operated a fleet of around 2,000 e-bikes in the UK, providing rides to more than 200,000 members of the public.
Every city is different – and understanding local context is key to providing successful e-scooter services that benefit local residents.
We know the value that environmentally-friendly travel alternatives can offer a city, and how to navigate the bumps along the way when it comes to implementing these trials.
In order to support local authorities interested in launching e-scooter trials, Lime has used its experience to develop a set of recommended principles for designing and implementing successful e-scooter trials in the UK.
The key to success will be close cooperation between e-scooter operators and local authorities if we are to deliver widely used trials within a short timeframe.
Safety must of course be the first priority for any trial. To ensure e-scooter journeys are safe, we support the Government’s proposed safety and technical requirements for e-scooters, and the ban of riding on pavements. Local authorities should look to work with operators on joint public information campaigns and enforcement operations to ensure rules are being followed.
Priority should also be given to e-scooter operators with technological features that enhance safety – and experience of delivering safe schemes elsewhere.
For trials to be successful, it is important that they are usable by as many of the general public as possible. This is the best way to ensure high public support and deliver the real benefits of our services.
If trials are only available to small groups of people, e-scooters are likely to be viewed negatively by those who are unable to use them, which could harm overall public sentiment.
Lime’s experience also shows that limiting the size or availability of e-scooter services can exclude sections of the population – which, in turn, can increase instances of vandalism or anti-social behaviour relating to e-scooters.
For these reasons, we advise trial areas are as wide as possible – encompassing all areas of a town or city.
Trial areas should also transcend local boundaries in areas where several local authorities make up a wider metropolitan area. Authorities should work together to provide a larger, ‘cross-border’, area for trials. This most accurately reflects real journey patterns and how most people live their lives.
In areas with a joint transport operator – such as London, Manchester or the West Midlands, this umbrella body should take responsibility for designing and implementing a trial. This will provide users with the most user-friendly e-scooter trial experience.
The introduction of e-scooter trials presents an opportunity for local authorities to launch two sustainable transport modes at once – by asking operators to provide e-bikes alongside e-scooters within a single app.
This would make low-emission transport even more accessible and encourage wider adoption of zero-emission travel as users have both options of bikes and scooters for different journeys.
This approach can also increase levels of cycling as users may download an app to use an e-scooter – and will then be encouraged to take their first trip on an e-bike using the same app and payment system. Where Lime offers e-bikes and e-scooters, we commit to always pricing e-bikes at a lower level.
As e-scooters are only in a trial phase in the UK, high levels of public support will be crucial. This can only be achieved through experienced operators running high-quality trials. We believe authorities should prioritise scooter models and operators with the most extensive experience in locations similar to the UK.
To ensure a good consumer experience, local authorities should work with no more than three e-scooter operators at any one time. This allows for consumer choice, without forcing the public to download multiple apps or continuously find that their e-scooter app is incompatible with the nearest parked e-scooters.
There should be a minimum number of scooters offered by each operator, and operators should meet similarly high standards with regards to collection, distribution and response to complaints – cementing the need for local authorities to work with experienced operators only.
Virtual and physical parking spaces can be beneficial in areas of high footfall such as train stations. When used, they should be at a density of at least one per 100 metres. Beyond city centres, however, parking restrictions should be less prohibitive, reflecting the reduced pressure on space and the need to encourage residents in suburban areas to move away from car use.
Data sharing can help improve the future of micromobility. Operators will be required to share data with both the DfT and local authorities. This should be seen as a positive opportunity to improve the design of trials once they are underway.
For example, weekly data on demand could be used to agree the appropriate number of e-scooters to be deployed on the streets by an operator. This could vary between operators, and would allow companies to add more scooters to their service in the busiest months and ensure adequate supply.
In quieter months, the number of scooters could be reduced to ensure they are not unused for long time-periods. In a scenario with multiple operators, this could also encourage healthy competition for users.
As Covid-19 restrictions ease and we begin to explore our cities again, the change to UK e-scooter regulation demonstrates a positive step towards building healthier, greener, cities. We’re excited to help local authorities navigate this new normal, whether that’s by foot, bike, e-bike and hopefully e-scooter.
Alan Clarke is director of UK policy &?government affairs at Lime, the world’s largest micromobility provider.
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