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Volume 811: debated on Thursday 22 April 2021


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of (1) the use of e-scooters, and (2) the number of (a) offences, and (b) casualties, caused by their use.

My Lords, e-scooter rental trials are under way in 31 regions across England, with the purpose of assessing their safety, benefits and wider impacts. Trials in London will begin in May. Evidence gathered from all 32 trials will inform a decision about future legal sales of e-scooters. We have made no assessment of their use, or the number of offences or casualties caused by their use, at this stage; these issues will form part of our overall evaluation, later this year.

I understand that e-scooters are illegal in London, so how is it that they are terrorising our streets and pavements, endangering and imperilling other road users and those using pavements, particularly vulnerable older pedestrians, young families and the disabled, as well as the sight-impaired? The most recent statistics that I have seen include pedal bikes, covering e-bikes and e-scooters. In 2019, 379 pedestrians were hit by pedal cyclists; four were killed and 122 were seriously injured. The questions to my noble friend are: what is the current framework for enforcement? Who is monitoring the use of e-scooters to ensure that they are limited to private land outside London and what penalties are imposed for their illegal use?

My noble friend highlights the intricacies of the different micromobility interventions that we have, of which e-scooters is but one. She is right that the private use of e-scooters on public highways is illegal. A person can be fined up to £300 or get six points on their licence, and their e-scooter can be impounded, so we have tools at our disposal. Local enforcement activities are operational decisions for local police forces.

My Lords, barely a day passes when I am not passed, in my wheelchair, on my way to the House, by someone riding an e-scooter on the pavement. Given the danger that e-scooters pose to disabled people, particularly those with visual impairments, and given the tools at the disposal of the authorities, which my noble friend the Minister has just mentioned, what reassurance can she offer disabled people that those tools will be used?

My noble friend is right that it can be a frightening prospect, particularly for vulnerable people using the road or pavement, to be terrorised by e-scooter users. But that does not mean that we should not proceed with trials that will establish exactly what the risks are and build an evidence base, as to how they might be successfully used. I take note of his comments and will make sure that colleagues in the Home Office are aware of the concerns about enforcement against the use of e-scooters on pavements.

Is the Minister aware that Birmingham is one of the cities selected for the e-scooters trial, and that representatives of the blind and partially sighted community have expressed widespread concern about the number of these wretched things that have been abandoned in the city centre as a result of this trial? Does the Minister anticipate ditching her ministerial car to use one and can she see the Peers’ car park being packed with e-scooters at some time in the future? Finally, can she reflect on replacing the private car with these sorts of machines? We have heard it all before, so will e-scooters go the same way as the Sinclair C5 or Segway?

My Lords, the Government believe that e-scooters, if used in the right way, have great potential and could encourage modal shift away from the car. That is why we are doing these trials. I am delighted that Birmingham has decided to be forward-thinking, as I would expect of it, and to take up the opportunity for a trial. A lot goes into place when a trial is established; there is careful liaison with the local police and the operator. A key concern is to make sure that the scooters are put back where they belong, and we are very focused on that with each of the operators.

My Lords, will the Minister undertake to introduce lessons on the safe use of electric scooters as part of road safety education in schools, when the Government get to the point of making decisions on how they should be operated in the future? Can she also undertake that charities representing the disabled will be fully consulted before the Government make final decisions?

I can certainly guarantee the latter: we will be consulting all sorts of people, when we make the final decision on the trials. As I noted, the trials are in place. I cannot go into the hypothetical of what might happen if the Government might do something in the future. However, at the moment, users of the trials get instructions from the app about their use. There are stickers on the scooters reminding people to stay off the pavements and about the areas where the scooters can be used. Some operators have advanced training modules and incentives for users to complete them.

The Government have provided for a number of e-scooter trials around the country, as the Minister has indicated. What will constitute positive and negative outcomes of an e-scooter pilot exercise?

That is a very specific question, to which I probably cannot provide an answer. As the noble Lord knows, when it comes to road safety, there are always benefits and significant risks to be carefully looked at together. As we go through these trials, evidence will come forth, which we will look at and make a decision accordingly.

My Lords, it is not surprising that there have been so many serious injuries, because the combined weight of a miscreant and their scooter is over 100 kilos. They often break the speed limit at over 40 mph. Will the Government encourage local police forces to enforce the law, so that injuries and death can be avoided? Blind people are particularly vulnerable, of course.

My noble friend has identified for your Lordships’ House the difference between illegal use of private e-scooters on public roads and the trials. To date, there have been 2 million journeys on e-scooters within the trials. They have travelled the equivalent distance to the moon and back 13 times, which is 5 million kilometres. In all that time, there have been zero fatalities and zero people hospitalised as in-patients. There have been 11 injuries that could be called serious, but were not hospitalisation injuries, and 62 slight injuries, such as a sprained ankle—from 2 million journeys. The noble Lord mentioned that they can go up to 40 mph. Again, that is impossible for a trial e-scooter, which is limited to 15.5 mph. It is important that we continue with these trials, embrace technology and innovation, assess the risks and make the right decision.

My Lords, while this is expensive, it is sold without any guidance or rules. I spoke to 10 scooter owners on my street, over a few days. They were of various ages and all male. Not one was aware of the restriction on public use or had been issued advice on licensing or insurance at the time of purchase. I tried it in my back yard, and it is fun. Does the Minister agree, regardless of what she is saying and the assurance she has made, that ambiguities about the rules of their use remain? When can we expect a government direction to be made available to all retailers and manufacturers? Is it time for the Government to consider a public information campaign?

When one purchases an e-scooter, the vast majority of retailers say that it is for use on private land only. I will take the noble Baroness’s comments back to the department to see what else we can do.

My Lords, given the dangers to pedestrians, particularly disabled pedestrians, how come there are scooters on the pavement within a few hundred yards of the Palace of Westminster and elsewhere, when it is against the law to be on the pavement anywhere? How come there have been so few prosecutions and that you are still allowed to buy and sell these scooters when, in the trial areas, you must use those provided by designated renters only?

I have probably addressed many of the issues that the noble Lord points out. I will take that point about enforcement and what more we can do back to the Home Office. E-scooters should never be on the pavement, as is the case with bicycles. The OECD’s international transport forum analysed various global studies of e-scooter safety and concluded that they are broadly equivalent to cycles. That may or may not be reassuring to the noble Lord.