Question for Short Debate
I am delighted to have this opportunity to raise this matter this afternoon. I am particularly grateful to all noble Lords who have put their names down to participate, and to several others who were keen to participate but have not been able to do so at short notice.
Today’s discussion is probably extremely timely; I have a sense that we have reached a stage at which personal transporters have come of age. This was brought home to me in 10 minutes of the BBC’s “Children in Need” appeal this year. There, appearing to watch a performance of “The Office: The Opera”, was Ricky Gervais, coming in on a personal transporter. You could see, with the facility, grace and elegance with which he did this, that it was now part of the national psyche.
I am also well aware that as long ago as 2005 my noble friend Lord Davies of Oldham, responding to discussions in your Lordships’ House on personal transporters during the passage of the Road Safety Act, said that,
“the machines can be extremely useful for law enforcement”.—[Official Report, 26/10/05; col. 1275.]
That was certainly the perspective with which I have initially approached this issue. I declare an interest as a member of the Metropolitan Police Authority and chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Policing.
Certainly, there is now considerable evidence around the world of substantial use by the police service of personal transporters. The documented benefits include helping to cut response times, assistance in community engagement, vehicles serving as an ice-breaker and so on. Numerous UK police forces have indicated that they would be interested in using the personal transporter, and there have been letters of support from a number of parts of the country.
I am told that Segway personal transporters are used by more than 1,000 police, law enforcement and security agencies worldwide, and the benefits to officer and community safety are universally perceived. In the United States, the Segway personal transporter is classified as a special purpose vehicle on the approved equipment list in the homeland security grant Act. Anyone who has followed attempts by organisations to get their product on that list will know that it requires a high degree of testing and of satisfying people of the safety involved.
I have seen correspondence from the commander of Sutton borough police in London, part of the Metropolitan Police, who examined in considerable detail the possible use that the police might make of personal transporters in their regular work. There was a case study to look at the matter and the police were keen to use the transporter in their own context. They quoted a community police officer in Albuquerque—you may say that there is not a great similarity between Albuquerque and Sutton, but they nevertheless felt that what was said by him was pertinent to what they saw as an important use in their area—about how the use of personal transporters could be easily integrated in the daily patrols of officers. Sutton police could see how it would cut down response times in a particular patrol area, and it was clear that it would facilitate community engagement because the police officer would be very visible and, as he was not in a car and perhaps not moving quickly, people could converse with him. Also, the novelty of the personal transporter might act as an ice-breaker for conversations. Sutton police saw it as an opportunity to improve relations between the public and the police, while delivering a better service more efficiently.
That is why I initially became interested and involved in the issue. It is clear that there could be other specialist uses of the personal transporter that would greatly assist the public service. I have also seen correspondence from the then director of environmental services at the London Borough of Bromley, who was also keen to examine the use of Segway personal transporters as part of the local council’s sustainable transport strategy. It used one for about a year—I do not know whether it still does—and it could see huge advantages in the way in which it could raise awareness for local council policies. There are many practical applications of the machine that it would like to pursue. It commented that the Segway personal transporter had been used successfully by police forces, airport staff and postal workers elsewhere. The London Borough of Bromley made the case to take this further by testing its use, initially, with park rangers within the council service and street service engineers. Both services typically involve numerous trips over short distances which are currently undertaken by car or van. The council’s aim would be to undertake the majority of those trips by personal transporter, thereby reducing the impact of those services on the environment and the community.
If the trials were successful, Bromley then wanted to extend use of the Segway to other council services and to include it in a potential project focusing on mobility management in the town centre. Council officers from a variety of departments have seen the viability of using such personal transporters for existing transportation needs, and all the concerns that might have been expressed internally about practicality and safety were overcome as they examined this in some detail. That is an example of the possible use that might exist.
I noticed recently that the London Borough of Westminster—which, as many noble Lords will be aware, has some of the most assertive and aggressive parking attendants in the country—has put its parking attendants on mopeds, and they are zipping up and down to make sure whether people have paid the necessary fees. Here, again, the use of a personal transporter would be more environmentally suitable and provide them with the facilities they need.
The British Airports Authority at Heathrow provides another example of specialist use. Its five-man team of facilities inspectors use personal transporters in their daily inspection patrols around the building. It reports benefits in covering greater distance in less time and being able to respond to call-outs more swiftly. It also allows for more frequent inspections of passenger-sensitive equipment that is known to be unreliable. As far as it is concerned, the trial, which was entirely on its own private premises, was very successful and it did not want to give it up at the end of the trial period.
The British Airports Authority saw a number of strengths: quick response times to incidents and faults; virtually zero maintenance; simple to use, only 10-minutes training; large distances covered quickly; highly manoeuvrable; zero emissions and so on. It could see huge possibilities for it. BAA summarised the business benefits—which would apply not only to Heathrow but to many local authority services—as being the ability to patrol greater distances in less time, thus reducing response times and increasing the frequency with which it was able to respond.
There are clearly a number of specialist uses to which this could be put. It is quite clear that a much wider use of personal transporters is possible and I hope my noble friend the Minister will respond to those points in the course of his reply. Obviously this would facilitate a degree of modal shift. It would meet environmental concerns in that it would reduce emissions, and there would be huge benefits in terms of mobility for many people. So there is a case for wider use.
No doubt my noble friend has been briefed by his department on the possible problems and objections that there might be, but I hope that he will consider, as a result of the discussions that we have here today, the possibility of facilitating a number of trials. He has the legal authority to do so. Section 44 of the Road Traffic Act 1988 makes quite clear that:
“The Secretary of State may by order authorise, subject to such restrictions and conditions as may be specified by or under the order, the use on roads … of special motor vehicles or trailers, or special types of motor vehicles or trailers, which are constructed either for special purposes or for tests”—
and, indeed, vehicles and trailers which are used overseas. So the legal powers are there.
Further, this would enable the Government to demonstrate their commitment to these issues. A Canadian study in 2006 reported a substantial modal shift. This was not about cyclists converting to personal transporters or pedestrians moving towards them; this was about people giving up their cars for short journeys to travel by personal transporter. So, in delivering the Government’s objectives on modal shift, there is a very strong case.
I hope my noble friend, in responding to the debate, will take the opportunity to tell your Lordships that it will be possible to engage in some wide-ranging trials, either specifically in respect of the emergency services or local government, or, ideally, by designating an area where Segway personal transporters are available for general use.
I thank the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Haringey, for securing this opportunity to debate the merits of the Segway human transporter. His comprehensive and informative contribution has set the scene for this debate. I look forward to hearing the answers to the questions which he has posed to the Minister and I shall put a few of my own.
I am a firm supporter of Segways and have owned a machine for three years. They are a fun and eco-friendly way to get around but they are not toys. They need to be taken seriously and I hope to explain why. They have been around for at least seven years and are now street-legal in more than 10 European countries as well as in a number of states in America and Canada. They have a truly global reach with 350 Segway authorised retail points in 66 countries and they are used with enthusiasm, as the noble Lord, Lord Harris, has told us, by around 1,000 police departments and security agencies around the world.
About three years ago when I was in America, I spoke to a member of the Kentucky police who patrols on one. He told me how good they were in street-market situations as well as for normal patrolling because it was possible to move around discreetly and silently and to see over the heads of the crowds without appearing to be too threatening or intimidating. He even told me that he had been able to make an arrest when thieves had tried to get away in a car, something which he said would certainly not have been possible if he had been on foot, although I am not sure that I can visualise that happening. I was even told that the chief of police was so impressed with them that he was doubling the number of machines in Kentucky.
In this country, despite having the support of the Metropolitan Police, the forces of Sutton and Brent and the O2 Arena police force among others, they have still not received formal approval from the DfT. So it seems that, because of this deafening silence, we in this country are falling seriously behind the curve. I hope that everything that the Minister hears today will convince him that these machines will not go away. This country is beginning to look increasingly isolated and out of touch. Despite widespread support for these machines, it is my understanding that ACPO is saying that it is reluctant to carry out an official trial until they are made street legal. The Minister will correct me if I am wrong but, if I am right, then we are in the midst of the most ridiculous Catch-22 situation which we have to resolve.
As I have already said, I am the owner of a Segway. I use it on private land around my home in Gloucestershire and I can assure the Committee that when I am out exercising our dog, it puts a wide smile on both our faces. I have reached the age when arthritic knees can take the fun out of a round of golf and so I also use it on golf courses. It always creates interest and even some amusement. Almost invariably I am asked by other golfers to let them have a go.
Some eight months ago, on 9 September last year, I was part of the parliamentary delegation led by Lembit Opik when about 12 of us set off from this House on Segways to deliver a petition to the Ministry of Transport in Marsham Street. Shortly after that, and because I still had the loan of the machine I had used for that purpose, I decided to carry out some practical research of my own. I wanted to see whether a Segway is really a viable commuting vehicle which did everything it said on the tin. We have a flat near Shepherd’s Bush, so I decided to put it to the test on a journey to and from your Lordships' House. I donned a high-visibility jacket, wore a helmet and even had a flashing red light on my head, and set off. It was one of the easiest and most enjoyable journeys I have ever undertaken. I certainly had a novel view of London as I went through the parks en route, using the cycle ways. I received no antagonism whatever, only interest in what it could do. I completed the journey in a little under the time it takes me to drive. I have done this journey only once but the experience was enough to convince me that the Segway is entirely fit for purpose.
These machines tick many boxes for the urban environment. They are electric, with a range of about 24 miles from one charge; they are pollution-free at the point of use; they are practically silent in operation; and they can efficiently transport one person at a speed of 12.5 miles per hour while taking up a footprint hardly bigger than the person riding it. Therefore, if we are serious about reducing our carbon emissions—a point alluded to by the noble Lord, Lord Harris—and we all know what a long way we have to go if we are to meet our 2020 target, never mind the 80 per cent reduction by 2050—then these machines should be approved immediately. At the very least, let us start conducting official trials.
There are now some very powerful electric bicycles on the market. They are perfectly legal and, as far as I know, the Department for Transport has no complaints about them. So I ask the Minister: why cannot Segways be grouped together with them, provided that some initial rider training is given? Would that not provide a quick and simple solution?
There are people out there who are desperate to start up businesses selling or hiring these machines. In these difficult times, surely new business start-ups should be wholly encouraged. About six weeks ago, I was written to by a Mr Chris Hough from Liverpool. He asked me whether there had been any further developments to legalise Segways. He went on to say that he wants to set up a Segway tours company in Liverpool and make it a top tourist attraction. I have looked at his website and this is what he has to say:
“I think it’ll be awesome. Not only have I been on two Segway tours myself (Paris and San Francisco), but the City of Liverpool is crying out for such an attraction. With historic buildings, a beautiful waterfront, plans for a new canal and the Beatles experience (of course) there is nowhere more suited to the Segway”.
I entirely agree with that statement. Is that not a great idea and very appropriate for our latest city of culture, as well as being a fine example of private enterprise at work? When he replies, I ask—in fact, I plead with—the Minister to give me some encouraging news so that I can write back positively to Mr Hough.
I will make a couple of brief comments in the gap. I did not expect to be here in time. The only interest that I have to declare in this matter is that I have ridden a Segway. I thought that it was absolutely brilliant and terribly easy to master. To echo a point that has just been made, when I was in Holland the other day to speak at the Black Hat computer hacking conference, about 50 yards from the hotel was a shop selling Segways, including a cross-country one. That was the one that I really wanted because I am married to a farmer.
The problem is the application of the precautionary principle. I think it is the fear of the unknown, which stifles and is the enemy of progress, that we are facing here. To me, the Segway is just an electric bicycle but with the wheels side by side instead of in tandem. Therefore, what, generically, is the difference? I am not sure why it does not qualify as a bicycle. Perhaps a bicycle has to be constructed with the wheels in tandem, but I have no idea. The great advantage of the Segway is that it has a smaller footprint when parked. Due to the handlebars and length of a bicycle, you could park several Segways—probably four—in the space taken up by two bicycles. There is therefore great potential there.
My feeling about Segways is that we should not over-regulate. We have plenty of laws concerning safety and dangerous behaviour, so we should prosecute people if they ride them dangerously without going overboard about it, as would be the case with any other vehicle, such as a bicycle—or, for that matter, a horse.
My final point is that the Segway ticks all the boxes on the green agenda, as mentioned by the noble Earl, Lord Liverpool. Mass transport can get you to the hub. You can travel at high speed from London to Edinburgh or wherever, but it is the last mile that is the problem, and perhaps the Segway could be the answer to that. You could travel with it if there was nowhere to hire one cheaply at your destination. The Segway could be the answer to integrating transport so that the public do not always have to use their cars. You will never remove from people who have cars the desire to be independent, but perhaps the Segway could be integrated into the rest of our public transport network. I shall now leave noble Lords to segue into the personal transport of the future.
We are grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Haringey, and congratulate him on introducing the debate. It is many years—I think the noble Earl said seven—since those of us in this place with an interest were made aware of the Segway. All of us who tried it, as has been expressed this afternoon, were impressed. However, we were quickly made aware that the wider interest, crucially depending upon the Department for Transport, was becoming a slow business. One is tempted to think that this issue was so troubling to the department that it decided to keep its head down and hope that it went away.
Well, of course, it is not going away. The noble Lord, Lord Harris, said that this was a timely debate. Well, of course it is, because electrical vehicles for personal use are growing in popularity. Indeed, in the middle spread of the Evening Standard today, two vehicles are praised and reviewed, the first by the art correspondent, Mr Brian Sewell, who has an electrically powered smart car. He praises it handsomely, which is quite unusual for Brian Sewell in his own field.
Then the well known actress Imogen Stubbs tells us that—having for many years propelled herself around with the freedom that I enjoy on two wheels, on a scooter—she has now discovered a machine called the “power bike”, which interests me a great deal. Its use as a bicycle can be supplemented by the new technology of a lithium battery which enables leg power to be supplemented by electric power. She therefore has all the advantages that I do not have due to Westminster Council. Every time I mention Westminster Council I get angry, so I will not do it again, but I have to pay to park my motorcycle in spaces and I cannot find any. The whole thing is becoming absolutely ludicrous. There, again, the Department for Transport should have dealt with the anti-motorbike business many years ago and seen that the cycle lobby against motorcycles is completely pointless with absolutely no substance to it at all, as will shortly be proved. When the mayor comes to review his giving of the bus lanes to motorcycles, he will find that there is no problem at all. That may jog the memory of the Department for Transport, which has been so slow to recognise it.
Most of the advantages of the Segway have already been mentioned. I notice that it is pronounced somewhat differently by the two Earls who have spoken. I await to hear how the third Earl will pronounce it; we are very heavy on Earls this afternoon. Personally, I will go for the first syllable rhyming with “leg”. The noble Earl, Lord Liverpool, who has great knowledge of this machine, prefers the first syllable to rhyme with “hedge”. I do not know which is correct, but I will go for the first.
The Segway is an amazing machine. I do not know anybody, apart from the golf professional at my golf club, who has had any difficulty with it at all. It takes about 30 seconds to get used to it. You relax after that and realise that you really think the thing along, rather than grip it with white knuckles while frightened of it. The last President of the United States is the only person who had difficulty with it, but that could be heartening to people.
The noble Earl, Lord Liverpool, has used a Segway for some time both on firm surfaces and on golf courses, where you need a different kind of traction—you need different tyres to deal with the uneven ground. He has found it entirely satisfactory in both those applications. I tried to persuade my golf club to use it and said that I was coming up with the Segway salesman, who would be pleased to do a demonstration. Immediately, my wife got very alarmed messages from members of the committee, saying in frightened tones that personal golf transport was not allowed on this golf course. Luckily, golf courses do not all share that view. At the Royal and Ancient at St Andrews and at the Belfry—two of the leading golf clubs—it is now in increasing use. There are difficulties in changing the routines of speed of play, and so on; nevertheless, the machine has proved to be safe, capable of carrying equipment such as clubs when adapted and it is proving widely popular.
In most other countries in Europe and certainly in the United States, I would not have to be saying all this because it is already known. After all, this machine has been around for seven years, and in most countries it is now applied widely. A thousand police forces or enforcement agencies of some kind have used it, as the noble Lord, Lord Harris, said. I asked a policeman at the gates what he thought about Segway and he said, “What’s Segway?” I told him what it was and said that if he went round the corner he might find a man willing to demonstrate it. I am glad that he did not because the man was not there because the machine did not arrive, as was intended. He asked me if the police would not look rather ridiculous in inner-city centres and I said, “To the contrary”. I have spoken to police forces in which it has been tried and they said that in inner-city centres the police have been delighted with it, not only because it gives them ease of movement with economy but because it has encouraged the interest of people with whom they normally have little contact—that is, those who may cause trouble that they may have to deal with later on. That has increased the community spirit in those areas, so it has a benefit in that area, on the evidence that we have.
That is my anecdote, but I should not have to give these anecdotes; the Department for Transport should a long time ago have set up an inquiry into this vehicle, as it should with every new vehicle that could be used on the roads and elsewhere, to see whether it was suitable and how the law would accommodate it. As I understand it, if I go out on a Segway—certainly in the Metropolitan Police area—I shall not be stopped by a policeman because they have been told by the Crown Prosecution Service that they have no chance of getting a conviction, so just to leave them alone. They would have great difficulty in proving that it is any different in its effect on the population from an electric cycle.
The applications of the Segway are wide and various and have been mentioned by noble Lords who have spoken. It can be used for postal delivery, for example. I cannot think of a better way for people to deliver post. It is quiet, efficient and cheap and has every possibility of adaptation for carrying parcels and letters. As for police work, I do not know what the cost of fuel is or the cost of pollution in this country from police vehicles going around and performing their normal duties, but if police forces took a fraction of their members and put them on this machine, the cost to the taxpayer would be considerably reduced.
As noble Lords were talking about applications, I thought, what about the Olympic Games? There is a lot of talk about bicycles going to the Olympic Games. Time goes more quickly than one expects and they will be upon us before we know it. I do not see any possibility of people coming to this country to see the Olympic Games finding a cycle-friendly city, despite a policy announced by the Government, which is a total mess. I cycle as well as motorcycle and it is ludicrous. On Sundays you cannot cycle at all in London, because all the cycle paths are blocked with parked cars and vans. People who come and expect a cycle-friendly city will have a sad experience. But if we used the Segway and found it to be operative in that area, it would go a long way to solving many of the problems that are likely to occur.
I wrote down “gardens, garden centres and parks”. There are all kinds of applications for this thing, but we will never know until the Department for Transport actually gets itself together and institutes a proper examination of the product and its application. When will the department do that? Why does it not do that?
I thought that my golf club was negative. It is a British thing: if something new arrives that does not tick all the boxes, people go to ground and hope that nobody will bother them too much about it. That certainly happened at my golf club and probably the Department for Transport is more conservative and nervous about this than my golf club. I hope that the Minister can give us some cheer on this subject, because it is here, it is good, it is high quality and cheap to run. It is likely to get cheaper in unit costs as people buy more of them. Its accident profile is negligible in so far as one can tell. If the Minister will institute trials, we will find out exactly what the risks are. We cannot just sit back, while the rest of the world uses a wonderful machine like this, and do nothing. For that reason, I emphasise my support for the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Harris.
I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Haringey, for raising this matter for the Committee by means of a Question for Short Debate. We have debated it before, but experience shows that it is rarely enough to raise the matter but once. I have also noted that we have a predominance of noble Earls in this debate. Perhaps we could have a word with Her Majesty and ask her to elevate the noble Viscount, and maybe also think about the noble Lord, Lord Harris.
The noble Lord, Lord Harris, made several extremely good points and I do not take issue with any of them, nor indeed those raised by any other noble Lord. The noble Lord, Lord Harris, talked about police using Segways in a public place. Will the Minister tell us how far from the kerb a footpath extends? A pedestrianised precinct is a long way from the kerb, but is it still a pavement or a footpath? Do the restrictions of the Highways Act still apply in the middle of a pedestrianised precinct?
My noble friend Lord Liverpool made much of the benefits of a Segway and how it is used in the United States. My noble friend gave us a good indication of the potential for these machines. Indeed, we have used them together at various events. As explained by the noble Lord, Lord Harris, the Segway is legal neither on the road nor on the pavement or footpath. The only vehicle allowed on the footpath is an invalid carriage. That is an out-of-date term, because it gives the impression of some ugly black contraption rather than the modern snazzy machines that several noble Lords use in your Lordships' House and elsewhere.
One cannot help wondering whether the department finds this legislative hurdle convenient, because it means that the Government need do nothing. Several noble Lords made more or less the same observation. Will the Minister tell the House the view of disability groups regarding the use of Segways on the pavement or footpath? Has his department received any representation from them?
It is easy to think that the Segway is some peculiar toy that requires considerable skill to ride. It is not, as observed by my noble friend Lord Liverpool. The Segway uses extremely clever technology, but it is only by riding one that it is possible to understand just how clever it is. I first tried one at the Ministry of Defence DVD show many years ago, but at the time I was amazed. Some time ago, I arranged an opportunity for Peers to ride a Segway in your Lordships’ car park. Many did and were surprised at how easy it was. Has the Minister himself or, more importantly, his colleague Mr Jim Fitzpatrick, who has ministerial responsibility for these matters, actually ridden a Segway?
The essence of the question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Harris, was to discover whether the Government were initiating a UK trial of some sort. The problem is that I suspect that it would be necessary to amend primary legislation, as the Highways Act makes it quite clear that only invalid carriages can be used on the footpath or pavement. Not even bicycles can be ridden on the footpath or pavement. Is there any way round this? We know that the Segway does not meet legal requirements for a road vehicle and the noble Lord, Lord Harris, touched on Section 44 of the Road Traffic Act which allows the Minister to relax the construction and use regulations. I have had a lot of involvement with Section 44, because that deals primarily with abnormal loads.
There is also a similar provision in respect of the type approval regulations that allows the Minister to relax those, so the construction and use and type approval regulations are not a problem for the Minister, but he might not be able to relax vehicle registration requirements if they are a problem. The real crunch question for the Minister is, if he is minded to authorise a trial, does he have the necessary order-making powers or would some primary legislation be required?
We are now entering the closing stages of this Parliament where only a limited range of new primary legislation will be introduced and passed that has not already been announced. The Minister will be able to use his existing powers to exercise ministerial control of our railway system and many noble Lords in this Committee and the wider House admire his work in that area. However, I think that we will have to wait until the start of the new Parliament before we see anything new happening with this or any other technology.
Amidst this galaxy of Earls, Jacobite Earls and Viscounts, I feel distinctly inferior in replying to this debate. Only the proletarian Labour Party is represented here by mere life Barons. I am honoured to be in the distinguished company of my noble friend Lord Harris, who is a superior form of life Baron. I congratulate him on initiating this short debate and inviting the Committee to consider the potential benefits of the Segway Personal Transporter. This debate follows a debate in another place initiated by Mr Lembit Opik who, with my noble friend and other noble Lords, is an enthusiastic advocate of the Segway.
The noble Earl asks whether I have ever used a Segway and I have to confess that I have not. Indeed, my noble friend mentioned to me before the debate that he had not either. As a result of this debate, we must both jointly undertake to repair that omission forthwith. I thought that I took the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, to be offering a trial. If he is indeed offering another trial, we will be glad to participate.
I take the noble Earl, Lord Liverpool, to be keen to join us as well. I would be glad to experience the Segway at first hand and gain some personal appreciation of its benefits.
My noble friend asked, first, what assessments we have made of the potential benefits of the Segway and, secondly, whether we will support a full road trial. Perhaps I may take the two issues in turn. On the assessments made by the Department for Transport, noble Lords may be aware that this debate follows a meeting with representatives of the All-Party Intelligent Transport Group at the Department for Transport in November last year, and further meetings between officials, Segway promoters and interested Members from another place in January and March this year. The meetings continue a dialogue over some years between Segway promoters and the Department for Transport.
As the noble Earl, Lord Liverpool, said, Segways are permitted on the road and/or dedicated pedestrian cycle paths and tracks in some other countries. However, the way in which they are treated in law elsewhere and used—for example, off-road, on the road, on pedestrian footways or in cycle facilities—varies significantly from place to place.
The meeting on 26 March was helpful in clarifying that Segway promoters are now seeking permission in this country to use the machines on cycle facilities and on the road. Previously, they had also wished to include use on pedestrian facilities such as the pedestrian footway beside the road. There is an insuperable legal barrier to that in that no powered vehicles are permitted on footways under the Highways Act 1835, a regulation that goes back almost as far as the premiership of the noble Earl, Lord Liverpool, and is still valid as protection for pedestrians.
The noble Earl, Lord Attlee, raised the use of footpaths in pedestrian areas. Regulation depends on the relevant traffic regulation order for the particular road in question. However, there would be no problem in private pedestrian precincts for the use of the Segway.
At the 26 March meeting, Segway promoters gave a presentation on Segway use and benefits to officials from my department, who undertook to respond to it. I repeat that commitment today: my officials are analysing the issues and the further information made available to us and seeking further clarification as necessary, and we shall respond soon.
The Government recognise the potential benefits of electric vehicles as a whole—which have been set out by the noble Viscount—in terms of air quality and greenhouse gas emissions. Electric vehicles which comply with our road traffic law requirements benefit from advantageous treatment within the UK taxation system. They are, for example, exempt from annual vehicle excise duty, and electricity is exempt from fuel duty. In addition, the Government announced recently that it would make £250 million available from 2011 for a system of incentives to build the market for electric and plug-in hybrid cars by helping to reduce the purchase price and supporting the deployment of recharging infrastructure.
However, we are of the opinion that Segways, as powered vehicles, do not comply with our road traffic law requirements and may not therefore be used on the public road or on cycle or pedestrian facilities. The noble Earl, Lord Erroll, asked whether Segways could simply be treated as bicycles. Promoters have suggested that they might qualify as electrically assisted pedal cycles, which are not treated in law as powered vehicles. Electrically assisted pedal cycles may use the public road and cycle facilities without registration and insurance. Riders can be as young as 14 and do not require a licence. However, Segways meet neither the UK nor EU definitions of an electrically assisted pedal cycle. The most fundamental point is that both UK and EU law require pedals by means of which the vehicle can be propelled manually, which clearly is not the case with a Segway. British electrically assisted pedal cycle regulations are under review with the aim of closer alignment with those of Europe, but removing the pedal constraint is not, I am afraid, being proposed because the view is taken that the requirements ensure that electric vehicles used on cycle facilities are similar in performance and behaviour to other cycles using the same space.
Limiting the performance to the same level is not difficult without having to have a manual pedal there to ensure that you do it. There are other ways of installing a limiter.
I was more interested in the Minister’s earlier statement about using cycle facilities or footpaths. Although we have said that it is totally impossible under an old law for powered vehicles to use the same facility, we still have what he termed “invalid carriages”—electric buggies—shooting up and down them. Presumably, that is illegal—in which case, why are they not being prosecuted? Alternatively, there is an exemption, which could therefore be extended.
If I may have a little pop at the Minister while he is consulting his officials, he referred to the performance of a purely pedal-propelled bicycle compared with an electrically assisted bicycle and a Segway, but surely a conventional pedal cycle would have a much higher performance than a Segway.
I was simply explaining what our view of the law was at the moment. Of course it would be possible to change the law, but the Committee needs to know what the law is so that we know what obstacles would need to be overcome if the Segway were to be used.
On the point made by the noble Earl, Lord Erroll, about invalid carriages, there are specific legal provisions that enable invalid carriages and specific cleaning vehicles to be used on pedestrian facilities.
Parliament is, of course, supreme. As a distinguished legal jurist said, Parliament may do everything except make a man a woman or a woman a man, and even that is not certain. Noble Lords’ collective capacity to change the law is not in question. If we are to move in this area, though, we need to be clear what laws need to be changed.
Consequently, it is the department’s view that the Segway may be used in this country only on private land with landowner permission. We are aware that Segways are being used in this manner to some extent; my noble friend Lord Harris, the noble Earl, Lord Liverpool, and the noble Viscount, Lord Falkland, noted various different contexts in which that was true, ranging from golf courses to airports, from show grounds to warehouses. That offers a considerable range of usage and marketing opportunities.
Segway promoters were invited some time ago to share with my department any information that they had on Segway trials and usage in other countries. We also suggested that they engage with a wide range of other stakeholders, such as Cycling England, Sustrans and Living Streets, and share the results of such discussions. They kindly made available German, Canadian and American reports on Segway trials and usage and a report on a private land trial at Heathrow airport, together with other material—for example, on CO2 emissions. As has been noted in the debate, they have also offered trials to noble Lords and Members of another place.
On the CO2 aspects, the material supplied has been considered by officials. The report set out comparisons in CO2 emissions on a per-passenger-kilometre basis between a wide variety of vehicles. However, it did not consider the whole-life carbon impact of the vehicle, which would include its manufacture and disposal. The Government would therefore welcome further views on the carbon issue, taking account of the whole-life CO2 cost of Segways and not simply the per-kilometre usage.
Taking stock, significant changes in the law would be required to enable Segways to be used in the way suggested by promoters. We have yet to be convinced that it would be right to change the law so that this could take place, but we will continue to analyse and consider representations and further evidence, including the evidence made available from international experience. As I have said, we will respond, as we promised to do at the meeting on 26 March, to the latest information that has been made available to us.
I turn to the issue of a trial. A Segway trial on the public highway, proposed by a member of the Sutton police force, as mentioned by my noble friend Lord Harris, was discussed at a 22 January meeting between Segway promoters, interested Members of another place, a Sutton Police representative and Department for Transport officials. Initially it was thought, as my noble friend observed, that a trial might be authorised simply by an order under Section 44 of the Road Traffic Act 1988. I regret to tell the Committee that our legal advisers found that, although Section 44 could suspend certain requirements of the Road Vehicles (Construction and Use) Regulations 1986, it could not disapply the other vital parts of the law that would be required for a trial, including requirements relating to registration and insurance, the use of cycle tracks and use in pedestrian areas.
Another concern was that while some individual police officers were keen, for reasons that have been lucidly set out by Members of the Committee, the Association of Chief Police Officers has formally stated,
“we are opposed to deregulation of these vehicles”.
On this basis, the meeting on 22 January decided against pursuing the suggestion of a trial. We will consider further the issue of a trial or trials but, as I have said, even for a trial on the public highway and cycle tracks, we would need to undertake significant legal work and make changes to the law. This is not something that we could undertake either lightly or soon. Many factors would need to be considered before we could undertake to change the law. They are all part of the wider evaluation that I have referred to, but the additional factor would be finding appropriate legal vehicles. We would need to consider that, too.
I should add that we recently approached ACPO about the specific issue of a Segway trial. ACPO advised us that:
“If the Government is minded … to introduce any trial, that is a matter for them but we would urge caution on safety grounds and potential for misuse if use is deregulated”.
“There is no drive from ACPO for Segways to be made available for policing purposes”.
I would encourage noble Lords who wish to take this further to engage not only with my department, but with ACPO and the police to see whether they are able to persuade the police, corporately, that there are not significant safety issues at stake in allowing Segways on the public highway and cycle tracks. Taking up my noble friend’s point about the potential benefits for the police, it appears to the department that while some police officers are seized of those potential benefits, the police, corporately, are not so seized.
In conclusion, we remain aware that Segways may legally be used on roads in some other countries, and that they are sometimes employed for policing purposes, as at the Beijing Olympic Games. Nonetheless, because something is permitted in another country does not necessarily mean that it should be permitted here. We would not wish to enter into the exacting processes of introducing legislation unless we felt confident that the benefits would outweigh the disbenefits. We need to balance our aims in respect of mobility, road safety, active travel and protecting the environment, directing our resources to the areas where we can achieve the greatest benefits. We will therefore continue to evaluate information on Segway use. We will respond to the representations made to us at the 26 March meeting. I will, of course, draw the attention of my honourable friend Jim Fitzpatrick, the Minister responsible, to the Hansard report of this debate. I know that he would be happy to speak further to my noble friend Lord Harris and other noble Lords if they would like to make further representations to him.