Electric Scooter Trials and Traffic Signs (Coronavirus) Regulations and General Directions 2020 - Motion to Take Note

– in the House of Lords at 3:00 pm on 29 September 2020.

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Lord Rosser:

Moved by Lord Rosser

That this House takes note of the Electric Scooter Trials and Traffic Signs (Coronavirus) Regulations and General Directions 2020 (SI 2020/663). Special attention drawn to the instrument by the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee, 22nd Report.

Photo of Lord Rosser Lord Rosser Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Shadow Spokesperson (Transport)

What has prompted me to ask for this debate is the July report on this SI from the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee. These regulations were laid under the made negative procedure on 30 June and came into force on 4 July 2020. The rush was apparently because the Department for Transport considered that urgent action was required to provide immediate additional transport capacity, which had been severely restricted by the impact of Covid-19. The SI amends road traffic regulations on the use of electric scooters to allow representative on-road trials of e-scooters to begin with a view to gathering evidence on the use and impact of e-scooters which might also impact on possible future legislation. E-scooters are classified as motor vehicles and cannot currently be used on public roads or pavements in Britain.

The SI applies only to e-scooters used as part of a trial arranged between a rental operator and a local public authority within a specified area and does not permit the use of privately owned e-scooters or other e-scooters which are not participating in organised trials. The scrutiny committee report drew these regulations to the special attention of the House on the ground that the explanatory material laid in support provided insufficient information to gain a clear understanding about the SI’s policy objective and intended implementation.

The committee commented that similar schemes had been running in cities abroad for some time and that accordingly it would have expected more use of evidence from those schemes to shape the DfT’s proposal. It also said:

“We would also expect DfT to offer more substantial evidence of the anticipated benefits of these schemes to both individuals and local authorities in the EM and no cost/benefit analysis is offered.”

In that connection, the scrutiny committee drew attention to the assertion in paragraph 7.4 of the Explanatory Memorandum, not backed up by evidence, that:

“E-scooters could be a convenient and clean way to travel that eases the burden on the transport network and allows for social distancing.”

Equally, commented the committee, e-scooters

“could also be a hazard for other users of the road, cycle lanes and for pedestrians.”

Continuing, the committee concluded that it was unclear what the policy objective of this SI was and how its outcome would be measured. Is it, the committee asked,

“a pilot scheme to test the viability of a controversial vehicle on British roads” and/or is it a means rapidly to

“expand transport capacity in cities all over the country during the coronavirus pandemic? And are those two objectives compatible?”

Could the Minister in her reply respond to the committee’s questions on policy objectives and the measurement of the outcome of the policy objectives?

The scrutiny committee raised the issue of the scale of the trials. Originally, the department planned to run trials in four areas but now, apparently in response to Covid-19 and to help mitigate reduced public transport capacity, the department wants more areas to be able to host trials commencing from an earlier date,

“between June and the end of August 2020.”

The department has not specified the number of trial areas, which are now potentially limitless. Despite that, just two weeks were allowed for public consultation on an issue that will now affect the public generally.

Despite similar schemes proving divisive in other major European cities, as the scrutiny committee pointed out, is this, in reality, a case of a potentially significant major long-term transport policy development for Britain being pushed forward as a Covid-19 related emergency measure without proper public consultation and without an opportunity for parliamentary scrutiny? Or, as the scrutiny committee put it in paragraphs 27 and 29:

“A small data gathering exercise has turned into a major implementation programme … This is a major development in transport policy yet it was put into effect in a matter of days without any opportunity for Parliamentary scrutiny. The information in the EM is insubstantial and it is the additional information that demonstrates the extent of the powers enabled by the instrument.”

Perhaps the Minister could comment on that.

Will the Minister say how many local authorities have submitted proposals for hosting trials, how many have been approved, whether they are all for 12 months, how many trials are now in operation, how many and which companies are running those trials and how they were chosen and when the last trial to be approved will conclude? Is there a minimum number of trials that the Government have as an objective? Likewise, is there a maximum number of trials that the Government would approve? Will the Minister say what the evidence is to support the Department for Transport’s case and justify this sudden and rapid scaling up the number of trial schemes from the number originally envisaged, taking into account data on safety, potential nuisance and additional costs—including to already sorely stretched local authorities in the middle of a pandemic?

In more detail on safety, the scrutiny committee remarked that although the wearing of helmets was being encouraged, they were not mandatory for the trials. Can the Minister say why the decision was taken not to require the wearing of helmets? Continuing on safety, the committee pointed out that since the Department for Transport accepted that there were risks in introducing e-scooters into the transport network, it

“would have expected the DfT to have illustrated the main risks to be expected using data from similar schemes abroad.”

Can the Minister indicate what the department considers those main risks to be and the evidential basis for coming to that conclusion? Finally on safety, the committee asked whether there are “sufficient cycle paths” for the number of trials anticipated or desired and

“whether they are wide enough to cope with a vehicle that may be wider than a bicycle and weigh up to 55kg, and whether can they cope with the anticipated increase in usage and allow for overtaking.”

Once again, a response to those points from the Minister would be helpful.

On the environmental gain from the use of e-scooters from transfers from other forms of transport—in particular, cars—the scrutiny committee reported that

“DfT’s initial assessment, based on the experience of European schemes, suggests that ‘around a third will transfer from walking, a third from public transport, 15-20% from car, 10% from cycling and around 2% for new trips. Social distancing requirements may cause the shift from public transport and the proportion of new trips to be higher than these estimates.’”

In the light of the DfT’s assessment, can the Minister say how any environmental and other gains and any offsetting of benefits from the trial schemes for e-scooters will be evaluated, by whom and against what criteria? How and when will the results of the evaluation be published? I hope that the Minister will be able to respond, either today or subsequently, to the questions and points I have raised, which largely repeat those raised by the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee in its report on this SI.

There will inevitably, but hopefully incorrectly, be a view that a sudden increase in the number of trial schemes—schemes to which there is no limit—is an indication that the Government have privately decided to proceed with further legalisation of the use of e-scooters. If the Government still have an open mind, why, with just two weeks’ public consultation and no parliamentary scrutiny, would they suddenly and without limit increase the number of intended trial schemes, bring forward starting dates and give as a reason for so doing issues related to Covid-19, such as allowing social distancing, unless the desire is to come to some pretty quick conclusions to proceed?

We need to see the outcome of properly run trial schemes for e-scooters independently evaluated against transparent and laid down criteria before reaching conclusions, since there are clear safety concerns that need to be balanced against the benefits of any emerging new technology. There have been issues over anti-social behaviour by some using e-scooters; for example, Guide Dogs has pointed out that e-scooters can create

“a more unsafe street environment for people with sight loss”.

We need to know now on what basis, and against which criteria and benchmarks, the Government will be judging and assessing the outcome of these e-scooter trials. Most importantly, there must also be proper and full, not rushed, public consultation on and parliamentary scrutiny of what would be a major mode of transport development that will affect us all for the long term and way beyond, by comparison, any much shorter-term Covid-19 considerations on addressing transport capacity issues and allowing for social distancing. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Blencathra Lord Blencathra Chair, Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee, Chair, Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee 3:10, 29 September 2020

My Lords, we come to the second debate this afternoon on dangerous goods. It is unusual for me to find myself in complete agreement with the noble Lord, Lord Rosser. I have already apologised to my noble friend the Minister for being thoroughly unhelpful to her on this subject.

After four months of staying inside and on my first afternoon back in London two weeks ago, in the short journey from my flat to this House, I was nearly hit by a big e-scooter on the pavement outside the Department for Transport in Marsham Street. A few minutes later, another thug on one of these almost ran me down on Millbank, on the pavement just by Black Rod’s Garden.

When I used to go to Paris last year with the Council of Europe, I had first-hand experience of these things. Most Parisians do not ride them on the pavement but a large minority do, and everyone abandons them all over the pavements in their tens of thousands. Some 20,000 of these things are now causing what the Mayor of Paris described as “complete anarchy”. Even the French Financial Times said:

“An electric scooter scourge is stalking Paris” and the French Transport Minister said that Paris was experiencing the “law of the jungle”, although that is unfair on nature behaving properly in its habitat.

That is what is coming to every city in this country. These scooters weigh up to 55 kilograms, and with an average male of another 83 kilograms, that is 28 stone of solid mass hitting pedestrians at 15 miles an hour. The Department for Transport’s road death research shows that a pedestrian hit at 15 miles per hour stands a 3% risk of death and a much larger chance of serious injury.

To those who say, “That’s all overseas; it’s the French and it won’t happen here”: it already has. Just five days after starting a trial in Coventry, the company Voi had to stop all operations because its managing director said:

“I think we have a British antisocial behaviour issue across the country … We haven’t seen this level of antisocial behaviour in any other market. We have had great experience of it but the volume of it in the UK was quite surprising.”

He said that people were riding the scooters on the pavement and had a disregard for the law. If the company trying to get us to use these killing machines says that, we should stop this experiment until we have proper control of them.

If the Government are determined to push ahead, these regulations must be changed to reduce the weight to no more than 25 kilos and the speed limited to 10 miles per hour. Even then, these scooters are still silent killing machines when driven on the pavement. Therefore, the Government must copy Voi and insist on number plates, or some sort of numbering system, so that cameras can identify them. There is then a slight chance of enforcement.

We see cyclists blatantly riding over zebra crossings with pedestrians on them and through red lights, and there is no enforcement. There must be strict enforcement for these e-scooters. People will dump hired machines anywhere but will safely park their own dearly bought scooter. The policy there is wrong, too.

I do not know how Paris has got it so wrong with scooters, given that it and Strasbourg—which I also visit regularly—are so civilised about cycling. There is not a single helmet or bit of Lycra in sight. People ride upright with the handlebars higher than the seats. They can ride on the pavements and I feel perfectly safe among them. What a contrast with London, where you can see nothing but Lycra-clad bums in the air as wannabe Bradley Wigginses mow you down on the crossing at 1 Millbank.

If the Government persist with introducing this measure, I hope that an instruction is given to every police force in this country to enforce the law. There should be none of this nonsense of engage, explain, encourage, pat on the head, sympathise or bend the knee. If the police turn a blind eye to enforcement, I hope that they will ignore me when I use my stick to get one of the scooters off the pavement or when I chuck an abandoned one from the pavement under the wheels of a 30-tonne lorry. I say to the police: do your duty and enforce the law, or the law will be brought into disrepute with every other law. They should do their duty or we will see the same anarchy as in Paris.

Photo of Lord St John of Bletso Lord St John of Bletso Crossbench 3:15, 29 September 2020

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, for giving us this opportunity to debate these regulations as well as the concerns of the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee. I wish to address my remarks to the concerns on safety as well as use on public roads. I speak as one who has ridden a motorcycle in the streets of London for more than 30 years. While I support the use of e-scooters, which are very practical for commuting around busy cities and are environmentally friendly, I am sad that some users have grossly abused the opportunity and are breaking the law. We have seen a huge proliferation, not just of e-scooters but of e-skateboards populating the streets of London with no clear regulations, and given the police being unable effectively to enforce responsible usage of these scooters, I have the following suggestions to make.

Like the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, I find it astonishing that wearing helmets is not mandatory. It is well known that, unlike driving a bicycle, there is a lot more risk of those driving an e-scooter having a head injury because of the dimensions of the small wheels. As the noble Lord, Lord Blencathra, said, in many cases electric scooters are being used on pavements, which is highly dangerous, not just for pedestrians but for those pushing prams. I have seen e-scooter drivers weaving their way between big trucks and cars on public roads, where they can often not be seen by drivers. In this regard, e-scooters should be restricted to bicycle lanes, where they are available. I was pleased to see that the London cycle campaign supports e-scooters being used in cycle lanes. As the noble Lord, Lord Blencathra, also mentioned, the e-scooter trial in Coventry has been put on hold because users have abused the guidelines and were driving them not just on pavements but in shopping centres, causing not just panic but a massive danger to the public.

While the trials of e-scooters require users to have a provisional driving licence, that does not apply to those buying these scooters online. Clearly, it is essential that users have basic road awareness, knowledge and skills. While most of these scooters manufactured in China and Japan have a maximum speed of 30 miles per hour, it is well known that some users have retrofitted their scooters to go at much higher speeds, which is extremely dangerous. There need to be strict speed limits and ideally some form of registration process so that those who drive these scooters recklessly and cause damage to others can be held accountable and sanctioned. Can the Minister elaborate on the data and feedback received from the trial schemes and, in particular, on safety and nuisance as well as public perception around the use of scooters?

In conclusion, while I welcome the use of e-scooters, I believe that tighter legislation needs to be introduced to protect users as well as pedestrians, and to set a minimum standard for the manufacture of these scooters.

Photo of Lord Berkeley Lord Berkeley Labour 3:18, 29 September 2020

My Lords, I declare an interest, as a patron of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Cycling and Walking, and a vice-chair of the new All-Party Parliamentary Group on Micromobility. I am trying to span cycling and what might be called the new electric means of individual propulsion.

I love scooters and Segways. About 10 years ago, we got the late Lord Montagu of Beaulieu—a great expert on motoring—on a Segway in the car park outside, and he enjoyed it. I cycle in Brussels and Paris when I am there and sometimes use scooters. They bridge the gap between walking and sitting in a polluting car, and they give individuals transport, but all the comments made by noble Lords so far are quite right: people need to obey the law, such as it is.

The key is probably to treat these scooters similarly to cycles, whether electric or non-electric cycles. They should not go on the pavement. People have strong views about whether people should wear crash helmets, but there is no point in putting an ASBO on people who ride scooters, any more than there is on those who ride cycles. Both can be very dangerous and both, as some noble Lords have said, can operate effectively and safely.

I welcome the trial that the Government are doing. It might have been easier if they had just said that a scooter is the same as a cycle, but they did not do that for whatever reason. My understanding is that 30 towns and cities have already signed up to it. In Northampton, there were 40,000 rides in three weeks, so they are very popular. In Coventry, there are 7,500 users. The average journey is 20 minutes and 85% are returning customers, but these are just the trials. In the United States, which we think of as the motorist’s bonanza, 88 million journeys by scooter were recorded last year.

We have to try to educate people, live and let live, and try to find a way to encourage people to cycle safely, because we cannot stop them now—it is too late. We also need to think about the green agenda. When 63% of riders say that they are replacing a car journey by riding a scooter, that is worth having.

I conclude with a story. I know that many noble Lords are quite old and may think this is something for young people, but I have a quote from YorkMix about a man called Tom—he will not give his other name—who travels

“around York illegally on an e-scooter” and enjoys it. It is much better than an electric wheelchair. He carries on riding

“Because it helps him stay active”,

after being locked down for three months because of coronavirus. I encourage the Government to carry on with the trial to encourage people to use scooters safely and responsibly. Do not give up.

Photo of Lord Rogan Lord Rogan Deputy Chairman of Committees, Deputy Speaker (Lords) 3:23, 29 September 2020

My Lords, I welcome the opportunity to contribute to this debate. The trials in England, Scotland and Wales have been under way for almost three months. It is a shame that your Lordships have not had the opportunity to debate the regulations before now. I understand that the Government’s original intention was to run trials in four areas next year but, as has been mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, to mitigate reduced capacity on public transport because of Covid-19, these have been brought forward and effectively introduced en masse.

While I appreciate that rental e-scooters only are currently allowed on roads and cycle lanes for the trial, one must wonder how the police can differentiate between them and privately owned e-scooters, which remain illegal on public highways. The Metropolitan Police caught almost 100 riders in London in a single week last summer. It will be much more difficult to do so now. I note that the rental e-scooters permissible in the trials are required to carry a unique identifier to aid with enforcement. Could the Minister provide the House with more detail about the nature of this unique identifier and advise if it is clearly visible to assist the police with apprehending illegal riders? Registration plates would seem to be the obvious solution, but this was rejected by the Department for Transport.

I welcome the need for riders to hold a full or provisional car, motorcycle or moped licence to use e-scooters, and that they must be aged 16 or over. The decision to class e-scooters as motor vehicles is also prudent, meaning that offences such as drink driving will apply to them and can be enforced in the same way as they are for car drivers. I am less reassured by the absence of any form of training for riders before they take to the roads. Given the nature of the trial scheme, it should be straightforward for registered renters to either provide a short practical demonstration or require riders to show that they can safely use an e-scooter before being unleashed. Further, for the safety of the riders themselves, I am in favour of helmets being mandatory rather than optional. I agree with the Government that motorcycle helmets are unnecessary but surely a requirement to wear a cycle helmet is basic common sense. I would be greatly surprised if most e-scooter riders do not already own a cycle helmet, thereby removing cost as a barrier. Renting outlets could also have a small number of helmets available for hire.

I understand that the argument to set the power limit at 500 watts is to help e-scooters climb hills and inclines, particularly when carrying heavier riders, but I am wary of the speed limit of 15.5 mph, which seems high. Given that the Government have decided to set the maximum weight at 55 kilograms, that amounts to genuinely dangerous collisions when they do inevitably happen. The original position, as I understand it, was to set the weight limit at 35 kilograms but this changed following arguments that the lower limit would preclude designs with heavier batteries. I hope that the 55 kilograms can be reduced as technology improves and batteries get smaller, but to encourage manufacturers to make this a priority, I encourage the Government to make provision for the upper weight limit to be reviewed on an ongoing basis once the trial has concluded.

I urge the Government to take on board my concerns and those of other noble Lords before more permanent arrangements are put in place. I also hope that policymakers are listening in Northern Ireland, where e-scooters are still not allowed on public highways but could make an appreciable difference before long.

Photo of Lord Lucas Lord Lucas Conservative 3:31, 29 September 2020

My Lords, I congratulate the Government on taking the initiative to regulate electric scooters. They have arrived. Even in Eastbourne, we have people zooming around on them. We even have one young man on a Segway monocycle, and very stylish he looks too. As other noble Lords have said, however, we need to find a way of binding these into the rules of the road so that pedestrians can feel safe, and users know how to interact with each other. The Government must, absolutely, be on the front foot on this. I am sure they will get to a positive answer, and I do not think we need a repeat of the red flag Act or anything draconian. They are a liberating factor in our street environment and one to be welcomed.

I expect we will see much more use of electric scooters locally, but they have a deficiency. They are, essentially, vehicles for the young. You cannot really use them if you are at all shaky. You cannot use them if you want to go shopping or if you want to take the kids to school. In a very diffuse community such as Eastbourne—and there are a lot of similar towns and bit of towns around the UK—with houses that have a nice amount of space around them and a very convoluted road layout, it is inconceivable that, with current technology, we can devise a public transport network. Personal transport has devolved, largely, on to each household having two cars.

In Eastbourne, we have one of the highest rates of intra-urban car use in the UK, and this results in quite high levels of atmospheric pollution. Putting to one side the detriment to the world generally of generating so much carbon dioxide, we would like to do something about this locally. We need not an e-scooter but something cheap, slow, electric, short range, low technology, weatherproof and three-to-four seater.

Several of those things are clearly available on the market in China. They cost about £1,000, so are thoroughly affordable, but there has been no collaboration that I can find from the Department for Transport to get such vehicles on to UK roads. I would be really grateful if the Department for Transport would help me set up, on a very small scale, a representative on-road trial of these machines to see whether they solve the problems that I think they will solve and to see whether we can reap the benefits that they offer. They might look like a tin box on wheels and might not appeal to your average man, who has a different idea of what they would like to be seen in, but in areas where public transport is not working, and really cannot work, I think that they would offer a thoroughly practical solution in trying to reduce our levels of transport carbon emissions

Photo of Lord Wei Lord Wei Conservative

My Lords, I declare my interests as listed in the register. I also declare that I am a fairly avid e-bike user and have tried out these scooters, albeit overseas on holiday.

My first point is one that others have already made. I welcome the Government’s use of trials to introduce this technology into the country but again I ask the Minister why we cannot have greater scrutiny, even with Covid. We need to ensure that we use the wisdom of this House and of Parliament as a whole to help make these trials work and introduce scooters to the nation in a healthier, sustainable way with less injury. As a country, we have a reputation for being an innovator and for using our expertise, including legal expertise, as a regulator. We should therefore trial these technologies in a sandbox in a way that balances the need to protect people with the need to be ahead of the game. You see that in many other sectors, so why not in this area too?

Secondly, having tried e-scooters, it is very clear to me that they are a bit more dangerous than bikes because of the way you stand on them. You are very susceptible to things such as potholes. Therefore, there is a difference. I ask the Minister what the policy is on e-bikes. I think that there is an even bigger opportunity to retrofit existing bikes with the many battery systems, whereby you essentially replace one of the bike’s wheels. Many millions of cyclists who might struggle to commute and use electronic scooters or regular bikes would benefit from that technology. I think that we should do that rather than focus on just scooters.

That said, in the interim there seems to be a real opportunity to use scooters as part of an integrated transport strategy, particularly in smaller towns and other places, as part of levelling up. Given the immaturity of the technology, I am not very much in favour of them being used in a totally deregulated way. Why can we not use them as part of an evolved transport strategy in cities and towns and ask those who lead those places to figure out on which routes there could be more trials of rented scooters? For example, Watford, which I visited recently, has a real problem in that the Tube finishes not in the middle but on the edge of the town. Could the use of scooters not be encouraged on very defined routes from the edge of that last mile to the town centre so that people could go there to shop and young people could be brought in?

Bicycle helmets are essential, as a previous speaker mentioned, and, as we have seen in these trials, we need to ID users. It seems that many of the problems have been with people who are not responsible drivers, and with some who are underage getting access to electric scooters. In the longer term, these scooters may be like drones; when the technology is ready, we can then start to bring them into wider use. As a nation, we perhaps need to encourage the manufacturers to look at the possibility of making the scooters stop when they encounter an obstacle, the ability of a person to geotag them so that they cannot go to places they should not, or the use of fingerprinting or other ID systems so that they literally cannot be used other than by the authorised user. Perhaps the way the scooter renter or user drives on pavements should affect their insurance, or their ability to use these vehicles. Ultimately, however, electric vehicles may over time become safer than existing vehicles, as in the way they allow the rider to accelerate away from red lights.

In conclusion, we must balance the risks with the potential to innovate and be ahead. I ask the Minister: what is the plan to do this in a careful and staged way?

Photo of Baroness Randerson Baroness Randerson Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Transport) 3:36, 29 September 2020

My Lords, I welcome the Motion, which gives us the opportunity to examine this important issue. The Government have come to this pretty late in the day; we have now been talking about this for a couple of years. Cities across Europe and well beyond have been grappling with the issues raised by electric scooters for a long time now. My own experience as a frequent visitor to Brussels has been of a problem of abandoned scooters on pavements, often left in the way of pedestrians. Make no mistake, electric scooters are a very divisive issue. I am therefore surprised that there were only two weeks’ consultation, after years of thought building up to this.

I agree with the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee when it criticises the poor quality of the explanatory material provided with this legislation, and the apparent failure of the Government to build on experiences elsewhere. To make it clear, by instinct I welcome these trials. Electric scooters are exciting, and they look fun—I wish I were young enough to take up riding one. However, it is also important to remember that they are a complex issue, because they are frightening to many pedestrians, particularly older and disabled people. Overall, I find it anachronistic that we have a new environmentally friendly form of transport that remains illegal in Britain on public roads and footpaths.

Looking at the safety concerns in detail, on the roads, riders of electric vehicles will be exposed to traffic and, as they are lower than bicycles, are less likely than cyclists to be seen by motorists passing in their cars. On pavements they are an obvious hazard to pedestrians because they are both speedy and silent. Can the Minister explain why there is no requirement for a helmet, given that their maximum speed is same as that of an electric bike? Why should they not have lights? Why is there no requirement for reflective clothing? Should there not be visible registration numbers? These are vehicles on the roads, or soon will be. We have come round to the view that we require registration numbers for drones, so I think there should be registration numbers for electric scooters.

I also draw the attention of the House to the concern felt by the ABI, representing the insurance industry, about the lack of requirement for insurance.

Lessons from abroad indicate significant costs to local authorities in clearing up abandoned scooters and regulating the rental process. Will the local authorities that hold these trials be provided with any finance?

Who will enforce the requirement to have at least a provisional licence? If you are caught by the police doing something illegal on an electric bike, will the fact that you have a licence mean that you will get points on it? That is the kind of clarity I seek.

I draw the Minister’s attention to the Doppler schemes; they have been a particular cause of problems because of the method by which the scooters are recharged. They rely on people doing casual work, going around picking up the scooters and recharging them in their own homes; they are paid according to the number they recharge. The effect of this rather casual approach has been that scooters abandoned in difficult places get left there, unrecharged. So I urge the Minister to make sure there is a proper way of docking these vehicles.

One government response quoted by the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee referred to making legal other micro mobility vehicles. Can the Minister please explain what other vehicles the Government have in mind?

Studies show that generally scooters are used much more as leisure vehicles and for short distances. Have the Government taken this into account? The Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee raised the lack of clarity about the Government’s purpose. It is being done under the Covid umbrella; the Government say that they see this as an important alternative form of transport.

How many trial areas do the Government envisage? The press has mentioned 50. What is the timescale for the rollout? There will be some places where scooters will share space with pedestrians, so what about the rules of the pavement? Who will give way to whom?

How will the Government evaluate each of these trial schemes, and will the Minister undertake to publish a full evaluation and let us debate it here?

Photo of Baroness Vere of Norbiton Baroness Vere of Norbiton Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport) 3:42, 29 September 2020

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, for providing the opportunity to outline the Government’s intentions in introducing trials of rental electric scooters—e-scooters. I also thank the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee for highlighting the omissions of our department. I am assured that it will not happen again.

As time is short, I will move immediately to the points raised. I note that there were noble Lords on all sides of the debate today, which I feel is positive progress. We have had some additional issues raised, including those from my noble friend Lord Lucas on electric tuk-tuks in Eastbourne and my noble friend Lord Wei on e-bikes. I will probably have to write in regard to those areas.

The e-scooter trials have been widely trailed, for quite some time, as part of the Future of Mobility Grand Challenge. They were planned for introduction by the Government in four regions in 2021. However, we felt that the trials could be brought forward and expanded in response to the pandemic, because we recognised their enormous potential to provide a new socially distanced travel option, to improve air quality and to reduce the pressure on public transport.

The noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, mentioned electric bicycles and I welcome his All-Party Parliamentary Group on Micromobility; it is very important that we debate all these issues in great detail. The overall aim of these regulations is to treat e-scooters in trial areas as similarly as we can to electric bikes. For example, in common with users of e-bikes, users of e-scooters in trial areas will not be mandated to wear a protective helmet—although it will be strongly recommended, and many rental operators provide helmets. E-scooters will also be permitted where bikes and e-bikes are permitted. Users of e-scooters in trial areas will need to have some form of driving licence, which could be a provisional licence, and motor insurance must be held by e-scooter operators.

The noble Lord, Lord St. John of Bletso, mentioned technical standards. We work with each rental operator to satisfy ourselves that the technical conditions we require have been met, and out requirements are based on the world-leading German regulations.

The noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, mentioned lights, which we do require on our trial scooters. We consulted on the use of helmets, and the majority of those who responded agreed that cycle helmets should be recommended and not mandated. Given that in trials these scooters have a maximum speed of 15.5 mph, we recommend that an e-scooter user wears a cycle helmet, as we do for bikes and e-bikes, but this will be subject to review after the trials end.

We believe that e-scooters offer many potential benefits. They are a greener form of transport than private cars, and if people use them for journeys normally undertaken by a private car, we will see a decrease in congestion and in air pollution. However, we acknowledge that there are risks surrounding the safe use of these scooters, as many noble Lords have highlighted. We have looked at their introduction in other countries. In countries where e-scooters are allowed on the road in an unregulated way there have been difficulties, including a rapid increase in the number of e-scooters, discarded scooters causing a hazard for pedestrians—as noted by my noble friend Lord Blencathra—and scooters being used in, frankly, unsafe ways. Some lessons have been learned and there are many successful examples of operators and cities working together to ensure that excellent services are provided. None the less, e-scooters are a new type of vehicle, and it is important to stress that the evidence around their potential benefits and risks is limited and inconclusive, hence we need time-limited and location-specific trials.

Currently there are trials in six areas: Tees Valley, Milton Keynes, the West Midlands, Staffordshire, Norwich and Northamptonshire. Ministers have approved trials in 11 further areas, and there may be more in the pipeline, because in each of these areas we look very closely at the local authority and work very closely with it. Each local authority has volunteered to take part and is fully involved in selecting which e-scooter operator it wants to work with. Also, a local authority can decide how many e-scooters it wants to allow in its area. The scooters are branded and individually identifiable. This allows the local police force to trace riders when needed, and to differentiate them from privately owned scooters—a concern of the noble Lord, Lord Rogan.

My noble friend Lord Wei mentioned local authorities defining the areas for use. He is right; this is exactly what happens. The local authority decides where it is safe for e-scooters to be ridden, including in cycle lanes, and is required to engage with the local police force and accessibility groups in designing its proposals and to work with them to resolve any issues. To date, no concerns have been raised about the capacity of cycle lanes during the trials. The cost to the Government and local authorities of running e-scooter trials is low.

The noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, mentioned funding. Local authorities hosting trials can use a small proportion of the £250 million active travel fund to make the necessary changes. However, this funding is capped at a total of £5 million overall, not per trial. The Government are running the central monitoring and evaluation contract to assess the trials and to further reduce costs. They have given support to local areas in designing their proposals through a series of weekly online meetings.

Let me be clear. The regulations being discussed today apply only to e-scooters used as part of the trial, arranged between a rental authority and the local public authority. They do not extend to privately owned e-scooters, which are where we have many of the bad apples. E-scooters are not allowed on the pavement during trials or at any other time. A trial e-scooter may be used in a cycle lane but not on the motorway. E-scooter users who commit an offence can be fined up to £300 and, to answer the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, have six points put on their driving licence. The Government are publishing details of the trial areas on GOV.UK as each trial begins. We anticipate that most trials will be live by mid-October. The trials will run for 12 months but we will keep this under review based on the evidence that we gather. They are trials in the truest sense of the word, to see what works and what does not work. Nothing is being taken off the table. The national evaluation of trials will be undertaken by third-party contractors managed by the department and the results are likely to be published towards the autumn of 2021 when we have robust data.

I have ridden an e-scooter and it is great fun. I assure the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, that she should have a go too. In all seriousness, I sense the issue here is not that most noble Lords are against progress in micromobility but that they want to get the implementation right. That is what we are focused on. I am extremely grateful for the input of all noble Lords today. These deliberations will be taken into account as we consider the future of e-scooters.

Photo of Lord Rosser Lord Rosser Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Shadow Spokesperson (Transport) 3:50, 29 September 2020

Like the Minister, I am grateful to all noble Lords who have contributed to this all-too-brief take-note Motion debate and made it worth while. I thank the Minister for her responses to the many points and questions that have been raised.

E-scooters may well prove to have a valuable role to play as a safe mode of transport. If this is to be the case, let us make sure that it is with public consent and acceptance, after full public consultation and parliamentary scrutiny, following properly conducted trials, independently assessed against transparent criteria, with the assessments being made public.

Once again, I thank noble Lords for their participation in the debate and thank the Minister for her responses.

Motion agreed.

House adjourned at 3.51 pm.