Electric bicycles (think Boris bikes without the docks, sweat and tears), and electric scooters in particular, are taking the US by storm. And they are big business; Bird, a company specialising in electric scooters, was recently valued at $2 billion and Lime, another such company was valued at over $1 billion just 18 months after launching. Which tells you something about the investor community’s view of the promise of last mile electro-mobility. Traditional ride-sharing heavyweights Lyft and Uber are also getting in on the action, and have begun integrating electric last-mile solutions into their existing platforms in the US. Despite this exciting level of growth in the US, the presence of such innovative and new forms of transport services are conspicuous by their absence in the UK.
The reason for this absence appears to arise out of some inflexible legislation. Although there are limited exemptions for certain electric cycles (but not scooters), these types of vehicles are generally not permitted on public roads without registration (sections 1 and 21 of the Vehicle Excise and Registration Act 1994) and cannot be used on public roads without a driver’s licence (section 87 of the Road Traffic Act 1988). Additionally, they are not permitted on footpaths (section 72 of the Highway Act 1835). Some pretty significant hurdles there.
As a result, companies interested in offering last mile electro-mobility solutions in the UK need to get around some significant pieces of legislation to roll-out their businesses in the UK. The legislative position in the UK is unfortunate; new electro-mobility solutions could bring real benefits, especially to heavily congested cities like London. They could help mobilise people who are less able to walk or use bicycles, and they could help improve air quality by reducing reliance on more polluting methods of last-mile transport.
Last mile electro-mobility is not without its problems of course. The vehicles do not require docking (just like Ofo bikes in London) and, therefore, if not properly managed, could result in the rather niche problem of electric scooters and bikes ‘littering’ pavements. There have also been reports of scooter users riding recklessly and causing injuries. However, these problems feel more like teething issues rather than anything which should undermine the merits of last mile electro-mobility solutions in the long-term. As the solutions mature, these issues should pose no more a threat to pedestrians as existing bicycle and motor vehicle traffic, while offering ease of use and environmental benefits unmatched by traditional mobility options. It would be a shame if regulations can’t be adapted to allow the proper and well-managed introduction of these kinds of mobility solutions in the UK.
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