Popularity of electric scooters 'threatens to eat bike share's lunch'

Electric scooter rental schemes threaten to "eat bike share's lunch" by grabbing a significant chunk of Scotland's fast-growing cycle hire market when they arrive north of the Border, a cycling expert has predicted.

Monday, 5th October 2020, 7:00 am

Oliver O’Brien, of University College London, said: “This could be a much bigger change to how people move around our cities than bike share could be.

"It may well eat bike share’s lunch, even if it’s not a form of ‘active’ travel.”

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The claim came as Glasgow councillors will tomorrow be recommended to approve the launch of an e-scooter hire scheme following a series of pilots that got underway in England this summer.

E-scooter trials started in England this summer. Yui Mok/PA Wire
E-scooter trials started in England this summer. Yui Mok/PA Wire

Mr O’Brien, a data researcher at the university’s consumer data research centre, who has analysed bike share schemes for ten years, said: “In many cities worldwide, we’ve seen operators with both bikes and e-scooters quite quickly scale down their bike share fleets.

"Lime is doing this a lot, such as in Milton Keynes.

He told a webinar organised by CoMoUK, which promotes transport-sharing schemes: "I have every reason to believe this success will translate to Scotland too, particularly if e-scooter shares here can operate in a ‘pure dockless’ mode [without docking stations].

“They take up less space so result in less street clutter."

Riding on pavements is illegal in the e-scooter trials

‘More attractive’

O’Brien said rental e-scooters in the trials launched in England this summer, such as Milton Keynes and Coventry, had been used three to six times a day while hire bike schemes had seen cycles rented two to four times a day.

He said: "E-scooters appear to be more attractive to potential users who cannot see themselves on a bike, while at the same time being easier and simpler hardware and technology for an operator to maintain.

"It seems bike share hits a natural resistance with a proportion of the population that just doesn’t want to cycle but doesn’t mind the concept of e-scooters.”

He added: "It’s hard to make money from bike share - the Scottish weather, historic reluctance to cycle, and need for bulky docking stations due to the sizes of the bikes."

‘Useful addition’

CoMoUK said e-scooters should not detract from bike rental schemes.

Scotland director Lorna Finlayson said: “The evidence globally has been that e-scooters are a useful addition to sustainable mobility that co-exists with other forms of sharing ways of getting around.

"It is important that gains in e-scooter use do not come at the expense of bike share or cycling more broadly given the UK’s decarbonisation, congestion and pollution challenges.”

New legislation

Glasgow City Council said there was a place for e-scooters because of the “notable success” of its six-year-old cycle hire scheme, which had expanded to 800 bikes, including electric bikes.

A spokesperson said: “It was felt e-scooters could offer a further low-carbon alternative to car and public transport use.

"This is of particular importance in the light of the city’s decision in 2019 to be carbon neutral by 2030.”

However, an e-scooter scheme would require new Scottish legislation to permit the use of cycle lanes.

It is also opposed by groups representing blind people, which fear collisions with pedestrians because they claimed it would be difficult to enforce a pavement riding ban.

Transport for Edinburgh, the city council-controlled body which runs the Just Eat Cycles hire scheme, is still considering the merits of introducing e-scooters too.

Further consideration

Chief executive George Lowder said: “We are developing our understanding of e-scooter operations to help inform any future decisions.

"Our highly-successful cycle hire scheme means we have an infrastructure and a partner with whom we could work to deliver a trial.

“For a trial to take place, there needs to be further consideration of the pros and cons.

"A viable trial would need to consider the e-scooter market to make sure providers can ensure safety, reliability and value for money, amongst other requirements necessary to administer a successful hire scheme.”

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