Sunday, 17 February 2019

Power to the Little Wheels

With the continued obsession with getting people out of their fossil-fuelled cars and into electric cars, we continue to ignore the short trips that people make every day with perhaps too much focus on commuting.

Despite the 'official' approach of pumping money into subsidising EVs and EV infrastructure, some people are voting with their feet and their wallets and taking control of how they want to travel, rather than continuing to buy into the top down push to maintain an addiction to the car.

The use of scooters is a growing phenomenon whereby the ubiquitous school-run favourite of the nippers has grown up and in some cases, received a battery boost. Scooters are available from the usual retailers for not very much money and even the electric variants are relatively affordable - certainly cheaper than a daily commute bus. Scooters are easy to store, easy to carry onto a train or bus (for multi-stage trips) and let's face it, they're quicker than walking.

Uneven footways are awful for little wheels.

The problem is that our highways are not designed for scooters, and especially not for e-scooters. As far as I can work out, anyone can use an unpowered scooter on the highway (usually along a footway), whereas e-scooters are not permitted because they are (in essence) motor-vehicles. This isn't stopping firms dipping a toe into the UK with dockless e-scooter sharing, although they are limited to non-highway locations such as the Olympic Park in London. Anecdotally, I've heard of employers in city centres purchasing pool e-scooters for employees to help with short trips.

Having small wheels can make scooting a difficult and possibly risky endeavour on our uneven footways (although those with pneumatic tyres and suspension. are a little more forgiving, but it seems to me that proper cycleways would be the ideal place for people to scoot along because smooth surfaces and dedicated space for faster moving people (especially e-scooters) has to be better than using the footway.

We're told that EV cars are coming whether we like it or not and so we have to provide charging infrastructure on our streets to accommodate them. On e-scooters and similar devices, Government interest seems to extend as far as reminding us that they are illegal, mind you, mobility scooter users aren't allowed to use cycle tracks which shows how much the Government is bothered about people who are not driving.

Forget the law, powered mini-vehicles will be
used whether or not the Government likes it.

For my mind, we should be embracing scooters and using them as another reason to change how our streets are designed and managed. E-scooters should be regulated with a maximum powered speed and like mobility scooters, a lower speed on footways; with cycle tracks being somewhere that both e-scooters and mobility scooters can be at home on.

As ever, we face an ever-present choice for local trips, despite the march of technology. We either want people to be out in the fresh air getting about under their own steam (with an electrically assisted boost if that's what they need) or we can carry on helping people drive a couple of miles (so long as they can afford it). Vehicle autonomy can never replace human autonomy and if little wheels can help get people moving, then I'm all for it.

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