Friday 4 June 2021 11:50 am

Lime looks to lessen London's transport squeeze as e-scooter trial begins

Tentatively, I step on to the slip-proof board with one nervous foot, kick away the stand with the other, and gently get going. Not having immediately crashed, I rather grandly decide I’m at the forefront of the e-scooter revolution as I begin to accelerate off into King’s Cross’ Granary Square. 

This, at a ‘safe ride school’ run by e-scooter firm Lime, is the second time I’ve been on an e-scooter. The first was in Oslo – it was wobblier, faster, and altogether more out of control than I had envisioned and I was half-expecting to have to explain to the office how I’d managed to break my leg on a restful Scandinavian weekend away.

However, sat for the rest of the weekend drinking £8 beers, one couldn’t help but notice that seemingly every trendy blonde pseudo-Viking was shooting about on them with no trouble. Maybe it was just me. Or maybe it was just the scooter.

This machine is a very different beast to the terrifying contraption I’d made my scooting debut on: stable, fat-of-wheel and wide-of-base, it looks like a hoverboard with wheels. Much more like it. Within minutes I’m whizzing around like I’ve been riding my whole life. 

Read more: London needs a transport shake-up, with cheaper rail prices, e-scooters and new funding systems for TfL

I’m on Lime’s Generation 4 scooter – designed to be the easiest scooter to ride, and the safest, too. 

It’s that safety element that means it will play a part in London’s e-scooter trial, beginning Monday June 7. Lime are one of three firms – alongside Dott and Tier – who have been selected by TfL to roll out rental scooters in a host of west London boroughs. If the trial is successful, it’s expected the scooters will roll out across the rest of the capital. 

“It’s very exciting,” Lime’s Director of Policy Alan Clarke tells me. 

“We’ve already served about 400,000 Londoners with our ebikes, and now bringing these scooters, we think the demand is going to be huge.”

Plenty of academics see scooters as a key part of increasing what is known as personal mobility – the ability of city-dwellers to get around without putting pressure on public transport or on motor vehicles. 

Alan agrees. 

“The first benefit is that it’s an alternative to car transport. WE know there’s an air quality crisis in London, and e-scooters are a completely zero-emission form of transport. 

“Second benefit is the possibility of cutting down congestion. So for example we think roughly speaking, one in five journeys on a scooter is one that would have otherwise taken place in a car, minicab or taxi, so there’s a potential there to take people out of cars and that’s very good for how the city moves,” he says. 

Lime are growing at speed. These same Gen4 scooters are already carving a path through New York, and the battle for dominance on the streets of Europe has been going on for sometime – in Paris, Brussels, Berlin and, yes, Oslo. 

David Parry-Jones, Senior VP at Twilio, says the  “future is bright” for e-mobility in the UK. 

“We can expect to see new forms of connected shared vehicles taking to the streets in the next few years, including vehicles or new features for disabled people, voice-activated features, self-charging vehicles and potentially even self-driving vehicles,” he says. 

Lime will be hoping they’re at the forefront. 

Concerns

It is fair to say that the arrival of e-scooters in the capital has not been without its detractors.

But Clarke says that the trial of rental scooters, as opposed to the privately owned and unregulated (or at least with regulations not enforced), can change peoples’ perception. 

“Because the trial has been approved by the Department for Transport and run by TfL, every scooters that’s going onto the streets as part of that rental trial has got a whole host of safety features that will make this super, super safe,” he says. 

As I note on my ride, top speed is capped at a still-suitably whizzy 12mph. And the wider board and fatter tires are also part of an effort to make people feel safer, and be safer. 

“It’s really important that people safer on the scooters, and other road users, pavement users, cycling users also feel safe when they’re around these scooters. 

“We think the thing people are going to notice immediately is how different rental scooters are from the private illegal scooters that people often think of at the moment. It’s going to be really, really noticeable,” he says.

Future

Clarke hopes the trial goes well. 

“Ultimately, we want to work with every London borough in future, to be able to offer a scooter service to them and to their residents as another way of getting around. Zero-emission, convenient, and sustainable,” he says. 

And on my evidence, reassuringly easy to use, too.

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