Over the last few years, my frustration has grown that the UK is once again left behind due to an archaic law. While e-scooters are legalised throughout much of Europe, we’re hamstrung by a law from 1835 that states ‘motorised transport’ isn’t allowed on pavements, cycle paths nor public footpaths.
In a time when ‘going green’ and the environment are at the forefront of everyone’s mind, I can’t fathom out why the progress is so slow to make private e-scooter ownership legal.
The town I live in, Milton Keynes, is probably THE most suitable location in the whole of the country to make e-scooters legal as soon as possible.
Across the town, you find an interconnected series of cycle paths called Redways. Seldom few actually use them for cycling, some use them to walk along, but on the whole, they stay empty and unused.
Currently, several e-scooter trials are going on across the UK, and here in Milton Keynes we’re lucky enough to have not one, but three companies vying for our rides – Lime, Ginger and Spin.
The latter was acquired by Ford Motor Company in 2018 for a cool $100 million. If car manufacturers are hedging their bets on a composite transport system where the automobile doesn’t always make the most sense, it’s time to start thinking outside that four-wheeled, metal box.
Using the Spin e-scooters in Milton Keynes
I took to the streets of central Milton Keynes to see how the scheme worked, and if e-scooters really do make sense.
Unlike some other brands, Spin requires users to upload a photo of their driving licence before you can ride – not all e-scooter rental companies require this, but to me, it makes total sense. It stops kids and teenagers from using them and assumes you are a somewhat responsible adult.
It’s easy enough to get going, just find a scooter, open the app, check the number on the scooter with the app, scan the QR code, it unlocks, and you’re done. From here you’re charged at 25p per minute, which seems cheap enough on the face of it, but do the math and 40 minutes works out at £10.
To actually use them, you simply kick to push off, then once in motion you use the thumb throttle to accelerate, and the brake on the right-hand side to slow down. There’s a bright LED headlamp on the front, and a bell on the left to let others know you’re around.
In terms of speed, they’re limited to 15 MPH. Yes, I’ve seen umpteen people cry out in dismay that it’s way too fast and is unsafe; but to put that into perspective, the last two occasions when I’ve ridden my mountain bike on the redways and tracked my route, I’ve managed 20 and 22 MPH without even knowing it. If I hit someone at that speed, on a mountain bike, I’m going to do far more damage than an e-scooter travelling at 15 MPH.
Arguments about speed are therefore null and void, it’s highly doubtful any of the naysayers even use redways regularly.
Spin also limit where their scooters can be used by GPS, so whole areas are effectively fenced off. Enter one of these zones, and a warning voice sounds from the scooter telling you to stop and go back, the motor then cuts off, and you have to use it as a kick scooter until you’re out of the area – clever stuff.
What I was most impressed with is just how much ground you can cover on them in a short amount of time. The train station to the ‘Centre MK’ takes less than 5 minutes, walking it would be around 17-20.
Agreed, exercise is good, we should all do more, etc. etc. But for a business bod, visiting from London via train for a meeting, or a shopaholic coming from out of town, an e-scooter makes perfect sense for the short hop, it’s cheap and won’t leave you a sweaty hot mess at the other end.
When I asked Steve Pyer, the UK Country Manager at Spin about the trials he said:
“Since launching our e-scooters in Milton Keynes, we’re already seeing clear evidence of the shift from cars to e-scooters. In fact, we’ve enabled more than 18,000 journeys on our e-scooters, with research conducted among 500 of our Milton Keynes riders finding that 63% have replaced a single passenger car trip with an e-scooter ride. It’s also encouraging to see that 38% said their most recent e-scooter trip replaced a drive-alone, carshare, or Uber/taxi, and 30% said they rode a scooter to connect to transit.
It is exceptionally positive to see this rapid rate of adoption, which is providing Milton Keynes residents and visitors to the local area with a new, fun, convenient, green and socially-distanced alternative way to travel.”
Another great thing about the Spin rental model is that you have to upload a photo of where you park it when you end your ride, helping to advocate responsible parking, rather than them being abandoned in the middle of paths or thrown in bushes.
The future of e-scooters in the UK
I’m incredibly hopeful that it won’t be long before personal ownership is legalised here in the UK as it is in much of Europe. I don’t advocate the use of them on roads as their speed is far too slow to be classed as ‘safe’ for my liking, but at 15 MPH they’re ideal on paths or cycleways.
Pedestrians will adapt to their ‘terrifying’ speed, just as the man holding a red flag in front of early automobiles soon vanished.
Ideally we’d get to the stage where you could park up out of town, open the boot of your car, lift out your e-scooter and venture the last mile or so on two wheels. To enable that, our entire mindset around transport and how we use it has to be rethought, in time, maybe it will?
Potentially the UK could go down the route of legalising them in certain towns and cities only. I know that York recently started an e-scooter trial which was stopped after just a few days – clearly in older cities they aren’t the ideal form of inner-city transport.
Milton Keynes, unlike towns such as Northampton, is ready-made for personal electric transport like this, and anything that gets people out of their cars en-masse is undoubtedly a good thing?