Pedicabs (London) Bill [HL] - Second Reading

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 4:43 pm on 22 November 2023.

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Photo of Lord Berkeley Lord Berkeley Labour 4:43, 22 November 2023

My Lords, I welcome the Bill. I am a cyclist, an occasional electric scooter user and of course a pedestrian, and it is certainly needed. I have been in a pedicab too. I do not know how many other noble Lords have been in pedicabs. I do not see many hands going up around the Chamber, but they are actually quite fun when they are driven safely. However, they are just one kind of personal transport that we use, and I hope will continue to use, and they must be safe, they must be reliable and they must of course not upset other road users and transport users to a great extent. We can discuss how upset people get, I am sure.

One issue that needs addressing at the start of the Bill is the definition of a pedicab. We see a lot of freight pedicabs going around these days, but they are excluded from the Bill in Clause 1(2) as long as they have only one driver and nobody is paying to sit on the pillion, if you can call it that.

We must try to make sure that this legislation applies to future trends in transport that we are seeing. Can the Minister explain why we do not yet have any legislation on electric scooters or electric bikes—on where and how you use them, where you park them and whether the batteries catch fire when you just look at them, as happens occasionally? I have a Brompton electric bike and was excluded from One Great George Street last week. I am a member of the Institution of Civil Engineers, which owns that building, but was told, “You can’t bring your battery in here; you have to leave it outside”. I said, “You can leave it outside and bring it back for me”. “No, you leave it outside or carry it with you into reception.” If I went into reception with the Minister there, carrying my battery which is likely to catch fire, is it a good thing that the Minister catches fire as well? It is a crazy solution. It has been changed now, but there need to be some rules on this. Brompton has them, but others do not. I am very sorry that there is nothing in the Bill about that.

I welcome the Bill, but we must be careful that we do not allow TfL, in its present state and management— I have no worries about it, as it does very well—to avoid having pedicabs around at all, as there are similar arrangements in cities around the country which you get the feeling are making regulations to do that. I accept that they charge unsuspecting tourists, get in the way and park in the wrong places, et cetera, but in future people may well use them just for personal transport, if they feel like it. It is an option. Just as we are now quite rightly not supposed to park electric bikes in the wrong places in London, it is quite right that there should be rules not to park pedicabs in the wrong places. That is a good thing, provided that it is not a regulation dreamed up by the taxi industry to avoid competition. I am sure that noble Lords feel it is important that competition in moving around any city is fair and that there are regulations as necessary. I hope we can look at this in Committee to make sure that the Bill complies with that.

It concerns me that something is missing from the Bill. What is its objective and purpose? It is a new regulatory framework that is not very different from what we have in other cities, and the regulations do not look onerous. Some of them, particularly on charging, certainly need bringing in, but we also have to make sure that it is proportionate. I hope the Minister will consider something along the lines of an objective for the Bill and the regulations, such that we have responsible operators and try to weed out the irresponsible ones while making things proportionate to what is used in other countries and current taxi regulations. This is a really good opportunity, although lots of things are missing, as I said earlier.

The only other issue which we need to look at is the limits of where these things can operate. Presumably, it will be within the whole TfL area, which one would assume is reasonable, but where can we park them? When I look for somewhere to park round here, my hired electric bike has nice dials on the handlebars which tell me where I cannot park—that includes, of course, outside your Lordships’ House, which is a bit irritating but probably a good idea. Then I go down Millbank, to a place where “P” comes up on the bike to tell me that I can park there. People want to be able to park these bikes as close as possible to where they want to go and have them available. We need to look at where they can be parked convenient to those who want to use them—not just tourists but others as well. I hope that this comes into some of the objectives.

As for the rules on who can drive them, Clause 2(9), which says that regulations may impose requirements on drivers or operators, is very important because some of them are, shall we say, not very good at the moment.

Overall, if we examine this in Committee, as I am sure we will, it will be a really good Bill. I hope that, when the Minister replies, he will agree to look at the issue of objectives and at making sure that we can balance the rights and responsibilities of drivers and pedestrians with what may be proposed, and that if someone who hates the things is appointed to TfL, there is no opportunity for them to cancel them completely, which would be a shame. I am sure that is not the Government’s objective, but with a future Government in a few years’ time, who knows what can happen. I am sure it would not be done under a Labour Government —we love pedicabs—but it is just something to add. I am very pleased to support the Bill.