Tuesday 19 November 2019 6:48 am

Politicians need to take the brakes off e-scooters for a greener commute to work

Alan Clarke is director of UK policy and government affairs at Lime.

If you are stuck in traffic, watching another diesel taxi go past, you won’t be alone in wishing for cleaner ways to travel around London.

New research shows that nearly 70 per cent of people don’t think politicians are doing enough to encourage alternative, environmentally friendly transport options.

So, what are these alternatives? Right now, candidates from all parties are out knocking on doors with grand plans to make the UK a greener place. But these grand visions lack simple, pragmatic policies that would give people better choices in how to travel today.

Luckily, there’s a policy that could have an immediate, positive impact: legalising electric scooters. E-scooters are an emission-free, convenient and affordable alternative to cars. If you live or work in London, you know how popular they are already.

In fact, with the number you see ridden (illegally, at least for the moment) around the capital, it is no surprise that 48 per cent of people think e-scooters should be legalised.

E-scooters are already commonplace across Europe. In Paris, they now account for around one per cent of all city journeys. To take our own brand as an example, Lime users alone have ridden a distance equivalent to 50 times around the Earth and replaced over a million vehicle journeys.

If usage were similar in London, the potential reduction in CO2 would be too significant for policymakers to pass up. 

The current approach to improving the capital’s air quality has focused on banning and penalising polluting travel options. And that works up to a point — London’s Ultra-Low Emission Zone (Ulez) is already having a positive impact, cutting levels of nitrogen dioxide by 30 per cent since April. But if initiatives like the Ulez are an environmental policy stick, Londoners still need to be offered a carrot.

Of course, we need to make sure that all e-scooters that make it onto our roads are safe, integrate with other road users, and don’t clutter the streets. The city needs simple, clear rules to allow safe and responsible use of e-scooters in the UK. 

First, e-scooters must have minimum safety features. They are not toys. They should have a capped top speed of 15.5mph, front and rear brakes, lights, and suspension to cope with London’s potholes.

Second, e-scooters should only be allowed on roads and cycle lanes, and banned from pavements to ensure the safety of pedestrians. We already have laws that allow you to ride an e-bike, if it meets safety requirements, without a licence or insurance. These should be applied to e-scooters too.

Regulation should also encourage shared, dockless e-scooter services — an affordable option for nearly 30 per cent of Londoners who say that they would like to travel by e-scooter. But cities should also be able to limit the number of companies allowed to operate, so they aren’t overrun with different e-scooters. 

Finally, e-scooter companies should give back to cities by sharing anonymised data for policymakers to better understand how people travel, so they can decide where to invest to get people out of cars. 

Politicians from all parties should commit to taking the brakes off e-scooters, to deliver the greener future that we all want. Fingers crossed at the election after this one we can legally ride e-scooters to the polling station.

City A.M.'s opinion pages are a place for thought-provoking views and debate. These views are not necessarily shared by City A.M.