Are e-scooters the future? Camden's trial as government hints at legalisation

Scooters piled up outside the The Highgate Literary and Scientific Institution in Pond Square

Scooters piled up outside the The Highgate Literary and Scientific Institution in Pond Square - Credit: David Winskill

In the blink of an eye, electric scooters have become a fixture on our streets, whether it is the branded vehicles pootling along at controlled speeds or speeding men giving the delivery riders a run for there money.

And there could soon be more, with transport secretary Grant Shapps last week indicating that legislation permitting private vehicles' use will be included in the Queen’s Speech on May 10.

Since a trial scheme of hire vehicles began in Camden in September, more than 100,000 journeys have been made, putting the borough second only to Westminster for e-scooter usage. 

Under the scheme, people can hire Dott, Lime or Tier vehicles in certain boroughs. 

Lime has a trial partnership with TfL

Lime has a trial partnership with TfL - Credit: Anthony Upton/PA

Riding a private e-scooter in public remains illegal, and could land you with a £300 fine and six penalty points on your licence for having no insurance, and £100 fine and three to six penalty points if you don't have a driving licence.

The Transport for London-led trial scheme aims to provide an alternative to public transport and help reduce the number of short journeys made by cars - and it has its supporters.

Hampstead-based Jordi Mon Companys said: “For my daily chores, it’s just ideal…they’re very easy to use.

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“These things go very slow. If you fall off one of these, it's impossible to damage yourself.”

The speed limit of trial e-scooters is capped at 12.5mph and is reduced to 8mph in "go slow" areas.

Once journeys are completed, the rider leaves the e-scooter in one of nearly 200 bays around the borough, with GPS used to deter them from being abandoned elsewhere.

“The parking stations are very well placed, right beside the two tube stations that I live near,” said Jordi.

But the trial certainly has its critics. Dartmouth Park resident Hamish Birchall said he was outraged when he saw a man ride down the pavement in tandem with a young child.

“Breaking the law, on several accounts: no helmet, on the pavement,” Hamish said.

Riding on a pavement could result in a fixed penalty notice and a £50 fine. Other offences include using a mobile phone while riding, riding through red lights, and drink driving.

It’s currently not a legal requirement to wear a helmet when riding e-scooters, although it is recommended. 

An e-scooter rider stopped by police in Islington in 2019

An e-scooter rider stopped by police in Islington in 2019 - Credit: PA

Former Camden councillor Flick Rea MEA thinks e-scooters have not been “thought through”, and is particularly concerned about the number of people riding them on the pavement.  

“Our pavements in Camden are not wide enough to accommodate these scooters whizzing down them,” she said.

Flick has particular concern for people with visual impairment and people with young children accessing pavements with the hazard of e-scooters.

“I don't like cycling on the pavement, I don’t like people parking their cars on the pavement. They’re for pedestrians and not for vehicles."

A member of the Commons Transport Select Committee, during discussion around legalising private e-scooters in the UK, last week claimed there have been “900 collisions, 11 of which were fatal”. 

A TfL spokesperson said: “Safety is central to the trial: vehicles in the London trial also have a number of additional safety features that go further than national standards, including lower speed limits and always-on lighting, unless parked.

“TfL is supporting the London operators to research and develop a standardised sound, which would be the same across operators, to help people identify e-scooters and improve safety, in particular for people with visual impairments.” 

E-scooters have also come under scrutiny for their environmental impact. There is a concern that e-scooters replace trips by foot, bike, or public transport. Previous research from French cities showed that 44% of local e-scooter users would have walked had the scooters not been available.  

“All the people I’ve talked to, hiring from our local bay, say that they don't even own a car - so no green benefit at all,” said Hamish Birchall.

“We already know it would be better if you took an ordinary bike, that would be greener. It would be greener if you walked.”

A TFL spokesperson said: "The environmental policies of the operators, including details of the e-scooters themselves, were assessed as part of the procurement process. All operators use an entirely zero-emission, electric fleet powered by renewable energy.”

Scooters piled up outside the The Highgate Literary and Scientific Institution in Pond Square

Scooters piled up outside the The Highgate Literary and Scientific Institution in Pond Square - Credit: David Winskill

 Andrew Haslam-Jones of the Heath and Hampstead Society said: “The society is broadly in favour of any measure that reduces congestion and pollution and encourages people to get out of their cars. 

“We are concerned that the parking of both e-scooters and e-bikes is sensitive to other users of the public highway, in particular pedestrians with mobility issues, such as partial sight and wheelchair users.”