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E-scooters: transport solution or health and safety hazard?

Opinion | By Edward Leigh, Smarter Cambridge Transport

Smarter Cambridge Transport- Edward Leigh. Picture: Keith Heppell. (39820649)
Smarter Cambridge Transport- Edward Leigh. Picture: Keith Heppell. (39820649)

You may have seen them abroad. You might even have seen one being used (probably illegally) in the UK. They’re a motorised version of a kids’ push-scooter.

They look fun, pretty fast and take up little space on the road, so what’s not to like? Well, we’re soon going to find out, as the Combined Authority has awarded a contract to Voi Technology to pilot rental e-scooters in Cambridge.

The Parliamentary Advisory Council for Transport Safety raised concerns about their safety, low health benefits and the surprisingly high carbon emissions associated with rental fleets.

The combination of small wheels that jump at every dip in the road and a high centre-of-gravity means riders are more likely than cyclists to experience a head-cracking fall. Pedestrians have a hard-enough time as it is navigating busy roads and pavements: increase the number of fast-moving, quiet vehicles in the mix and more collisions are inevitable.

A Voi e-scooter being used in Cambridge. Picture: Matthew Power Photography (39968263)
A Voi e-scooter being used in Cambridge. Picture: Matthew Power Photography (39968263)

If we already had a fully segregated network for cycles, then e-scooters could use that reasonably safely. But we don’t. Neither roads nor pavements are a safe environment for them.

Then there’s the issue of where they’ll be parked. Cambridge city centre is already full: even without the need for social distancing, pavements are inadequate for all the pedestrians. If e-scooters end up littering pavements in the way Ofo bikes did, there will be protests.

The high carbon emissions arise in part from the vehicle-miles involved in re-charging and servicing e-scooters, and moving them from out-of-the-way locations to popular collection points. Voi is trying to address this by using e-cargo bikes to carry replaceable batteries to e-scooters in the field.

It’s questionable whether the rental model can provide sufficient availability and be viable without subsidy. However, privately-owned e-scooters do have an advantage over cycles: there are compact, lightweight models which are easy to carry onto a bus.

If people could travel safely and conveniently up to a few kilometres to and from rail, metro and express bus stops using their own e-scooter, that could become a popular and practical solution to the first-/last-mile conundrum for public transport.

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