E-scooters are now a familiar sight up and down Mill Road, from the cheery orangey-red Voi scooters to the sleek black machines zipping along.
There’s more of a difference between them than colour, however: as yet, the Voi scooters are legal and the privately-owned ones are illegal. The government has been a little slow to climb on board e-scooters (so to speak). It’s allowed licensed hire operators to trial schemes, but there’s no legislation yet about owning a scooter yourself. This is down to safety – that of the rider and that of other people.
Voi scooters have a sensibly sedate maximum speed of 10mph. Private scooters can go up to about 50mph (although that is the top range of the market). To hire a Voi scooter, you have to have a driving licence. But to buy an e-scooter, you don’t. Police forces have already reported a rise in scooter-related accidents, and it’s predicted that, as numbers of scooters keep rising, the number of accidents could reach six figures this year.
Some of these accidents are caused by reckless and inexperienced riders. Others are just the result of our overcrowded streets. Most of the scooters that this author has seen have been ridden responsibly, but I’ve heard tell of scooters zooming along Mill Road’s pavements, and I came over all schoolmarmish with one young man caning it down the Cemetery (poor thing – he got more than he bargained for).
Scooters are potentially bad news for visually impaired people. While the hire scooters are insured, privately-owned ones aren’t (because they are illegal). And riders themselves can receive large fines and have their scooters confiscated. (In a piece of legal idiocy, it’s not illegal to sell scooters; just to ride them in public, so they are big money for the likes of Halfords.)
On the other hand, scooters are to be welcomed as an addition to the magazine of low-carbon transport. Aren’t they? Well, not necessarily. They may not be as low-carbon as you’d think. One study calculated the carbon cost is 202g CO2e per passenger-mile – contrast this with 105g CO2e for an e-bike (or about 140g CO2e for a normal bike).* Half of this carbon footprint was the manufacture and just under half the charging. For hire schemes, we need to consider also the collection of scooters to take them to charging points.
So if you’re thinking of going for an electric two-wheeler, get a bike (before your ask, no, I’m not paid by Camcycle, but here’s a really good post on their website about trying out an e-scooter). Of course, if you really really want a scooter, get a high-quality one that won’t break after a year and become yet more e-rubbish (vastly increasing its carbon footprint).
As one writer argued, if an e-scooter is going to replace your car journey, go for it. But if your e-scooter is going to replace a journey on foot, by bike or by bus, kiss goodbye to your warm green glow: you are a carbon polluter.
E-scooters are a curate’s egg.
*PS: I should have added that an electric car has about 150g CO2e per passenger-mile. (Figures from M. Berners-Lee, How Bad are Bananas?)