Scooter stories

beam electric scooters, October 2020

Some would argue that using a scooter is not active travel, but few would fail to recognise how much scooters have changed Canberra in the last years. Despite their success, scooters are not a panacea to congestion that TCCS needs. Scooters tend to attract a different crowd. International studies show scooter are hardly used by cyclists and are an unlikely replacement for cars. Those that ride scooters would otherwise walk to travel with public transport.

Contents

  1. Scooters are not for cyclists
  2. Scooters do not replace cars
  3. Scooters fall between the cracks

Scooters are not for cyclists

A German study shows that cyclists have little interest in scooters. A German study Shared e-scooters – paving the road ahead has many interesting things to say about the scooter phenomena. Here is what we found out.

A German study shows that cyclists have little interest in scooters.

Hire bike and scooter companies have provided useful data on active travel. We know hire schemes are used spontaneously. Nobody leaves home at night planning to hire a bike or scooter to get around the city. This has meant the success of these schemes has depended on availability. The scooter must be there when you need it.

Most cyclists get pretty attached to their bikes and the idea of hiring a scooter or bike is questionable. Studies have shown that frequent bike users often do not consider combining riding a bike with other modes of active travel such as public transport.

A rider has a special relationship with the steed and should not be messed with. True for cyclists, too. Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Shared e-scooters – paving the road ahead

Here are interesting things to know about scooters.

  1. Male, wealthy, well educated

“Studies have found scooter riders internationally to be disproportionately male (66 percent of all local respondents in France, and 80 percent of daily riders), young (31 percent of local respondents in Portland were in their twenties), higher-income (about two-thirds of respondents in San Francisco reported income over $100,000 per year, and only nine percent were low-income), and well-educated (over 65 percent of respondents in Portland had at least a college/4-year degree).”

Shared e-scooters – paving the road ahead, Agora Verkehrswende, 2019, page 12

2. Multi-model trips

“In San Francisco, 34 percent of surveyed scooter riders reported
that their most recent trip was multi-modal to or from public transit, 28 percent stated that they would not have used transit at all but for the presence of an e-scooter.”

Shared e-scooters – paving the road ahead, Agora Verkehrswende, 2019, page 14

“In France, meanwhile, 15 percent of respondents reported that their last shared scooter trip was multi-modal to or from transit. However, six percent of riders reported using public transportation less frequently overall since the introduction of e-scooters,”

Shared e-scooters – paving the road ahead, Agora Verkehrswende, 2019, page 14

3. Electric yes but not carbon-free

Scooters are collected from the streets and charged overnight. A fleet of vehicles do this.

“Data from one US city show that roughly half a mile in fleet management (operations) travel is required per mile of end-user scooter travel in that location. Meanwhile, a study in Raleigh,North Carolina found that each scooter requires roughly 0.6 to 2.5 miles of operational vehicle travel daily for collection and rebalancing. Given the local automobile mix, the study authors calculated that this mileage accounts for approximately 43 percent of Raleigh e-scooter lifecycle emissions, or nearly 90g CO2-eq per scooter mile ridden.”

Shared e-scooters – paving the road ahead, Agora Verkehrswende, 2019, page 17

4. Scooters will make the bike paths more crowded

“No matter their ultimate modal share, e-scooters can only add to the existing need to massively expand and enhance bicycle infrastructure in order to increase availability, quality, and safety; serve a growing diversity of bicycle types; and meet capacity needs as communities strive to increase the modal share of bicycles. For example, existing infrastructure in Germany is often too narrow to accommodate traffic flow and allow riders to pass one another. This deficiency is of increasing importance given the growing mix of traditional bicycles, e-scooters, delivery vehicles, family cargo bikes, and e-bikes – all of which may be ridden at different speeds. And because e-scooters are more sensitive to road surface than bicycles, it is important for both comfort and safety to maintain smooth road surfaces that are free of tree roots, potholes, and even sharp curbs at intersections.”

Shared e-scooters – paving the road ahead, Agora Verkehrswende, 2019, page 35

5. Pedestrians use scooters but cyclist do not

The graph below tells the story. In France, hardly any cyclists (approx. 4%) preferred to use a scooter. The vast majority, almost 50%, where pedestrians that used a scooter instead.

Shared e-scooters – paving the road ahead, Agora Verkehrswende, 2019, page 11

Scooters are likely to be popular but not with cyclists. 🙂

Scooters do not replace cars

Scooters are coming to Canberra. It is not clear what will come of this. One possibility is that people will travel differently. A German study of three big cities suggests people that hire an e-scooter will not leave their cars at home. Only in one of the cities were the gains significant.

Scooters do not replace cars.

“Mode Share
The percentage of people using a particular mode of transport; the ACT has targets to achieve a mode share of 7% by walking, 7% by cycling and 16% by public transport of all journey to work trips by 2026. “

Building an Integrated Transport Network: Active Travel (ACT Government, May 2015)

Currently around 83% of Canberrans commute with the car. Part of the active travel agenda is providing drivers with other choices. A hire scooter scheme should be one of these options.

The study from Germany, Agora-Verkehrswende Shared E-Scooters Paving the Road-Ahead, reports on scooter hire schemes in four large cities, three of which are in the USA.

Modal shift for e-scooter riders in selected cities is shown in figure 4 below. The questioned asked is: “how would you have reached your most recent destination, had an e-scooter not been available?” Only in Portland was there a significant substitution of scooters for cars. In France and San Francisco, the effect was less than 5%. This does not bode well for the ACT mode share targets.

Shared e-scooters – paving the road ahead, Agora Verkehrswende, 2019, page 11

Scooters fall between the cracks

E-scooters are very different from the toys that we had kids. Both powerful and fast, they fall a crack between vulnerable road user and motor vehicle. E-scooters are stumbling on a lack of a good, national legal framework and technical standard. It puts riders and businesses at risk.

“Most bike shops currently don’t want to touch electric scooters, with valid reasons. This month’s ‘How’s Business?’ gives a snapshot of dealer sentiments about e-scooters.

They’re not yet legal in most jurisdictions and some brands do not back up their e-scooters with spare parts and warranties to the high level that dealers are used to from the major bicycle brands.

But these factors have not stopped mass merchants and other outlets selling e-scooters by the container load.”

What Will Happen to Bicycle Demand in 2021 & 2022?, The Latz Report, 25 February 2021

Sleeping well at night

The bike retailers in Australia and New Zealand have identified the problem with e-scooters. “I don’t want to spend 12 or 18 months in court.” If somebody dies, on a scooter or because they are hit by a scooter, they will come hunting. Bike shop owners do not want to become the game.

As a bike shop owner, you would like a peaceful existence. You would like to get up in the morning and order, sell, and repair your bikes. The whole business is a pleasure because of the certainty and routine. I sell a legal product that is covered by warranty, from reliable manufactures that can provide me with the parts to guarantee the customer a long and happy riding experience.

The bike shop owners want to make the world a better place filled with happy cyclists. Injury and death is not part of the business model, and they will get very upset about harm coming to their customers.

Much pain some gain

The Latz Report is an Australian / New Zealand industry journal (online) for bike retail and wholesales business. The Latz Report in an article How’s Business? March 2021 reports on the uncertainty of bike businesses with the sale of private scooters. Here are the comments of bike shop owners regarding scooters.

In Auckland, New Zealand, the legal framework is particularly troubling.

“It’s really weird over here. You know bikes have to ride on the road or the bike path. They can’t go on the footpath. Then you’ve got these e-scooters that can do 25 or 30 k’s per hour. They can go on the bike path, the footpath… there’s no regulations on helmets. You’ve got these things that can go super-fast and they’re super dangerous and there’s no regulations around it. But everything around it like bikes have a lot of regulation.”

How’s Business? March 2021, The Latz Report, 25 February 2021

The lack of safe standards is a headache for bike shop owners.

“Absolutely not! I wouldn’t touch them in a fit. I’m very fussy with electric bikes. I won’t even change the handlebar grips on anything that’s non-compliant. I don’t want to spend 12 or 18 months in court. Bosch are very strict on this. Anybody who is playing around with these 1,000 watt motors… I mean, it’s not illegal to make them, it’s not illegal sell them, but it is illegal to ride them on public roads. The liability could be horrendous in the case of a serious accident.”

How’s Business? March 2021, The Latz Report, 25 February 2021

In Victoria, a bike shop owner note scooters can fall between legal cracks. There needs to be a better definition what an e-scooter actually is.

“I’m dubious about the legality of electric scooters, so that’s what worries me a bit. A bike has an Australian Standard and has to comply with that standard. I had a conversation with Vic Roads about this, a scooter is just a handlebar with two wheels – like a wheelie bin. I’d like some clarification.”

How’s Business? March 2021, The Latz Report, 25 February 2021

In Australia, it is to often that it is legal to import and even sell a product but not legal to use it – or at the best, only in specific ways. The lack of regulation and oversight and clarity is a worry for bike shop owners. A NSW bike shop owner had the following to say.

“At this point we don’t sell them and I haven’t considered selling them. To the best of my knowledge electric scooters still are not legal to ride in NSW if they exceed a certain speed.”

How’s Business? March 2021, The Latz Report, 25 February 2021

Booming bicycle sales

Bikes are not without their problems. The safety issues of cyclists on roads as vulnerable road users are well-known and much could be done to improve it with the necessary political sponsorship. The road rules for bikes depends on jurisdiction with Queensland and the ACT being the most enlightened, as they allow the cyclist to get off and away from the roads. With the introduction of e-bikes (electric bikes), there was legal and regulatory precedence. In Europe, e-bikes had been booming for years and many manufactures were riding their way to economic prosperity. In Europe, e-bikes had become well regulated. The term “pedelec” refers to a bike with an electric motor that is activated by pedalling. It has not throttled. It behaves and feels like a normal bike – just zippier.

Less is more with electric bikes. The off-road bike infrastructure is layout out for “normal” cycling speeds. For most cyclists, this is less than 25 km/h. Pedelecs have a motor that cuts out at this speed. Speed is a common cause of accidents – on and off the road. Mixing pedestrians and cyclists on the same path create conflicts as walking and riding are quite different. It is difficult for pedestrians to anticipate cyclists. Conflicts are common. Pedestrians will often step out in front of a cyclist expectantly. This can lead to harm to either pedestrians and cyclists or both.

By introducing the European pedelec standard in Australian law, the authorities have avoided many errors and e-bikes have boomed in Australia since. This is an example of good regulation. It works because they adopted a proven system, from proven manufactures, and a proven business model. Australian bike business have thrived, which is consistent with international trends.

Scooting into trouble

The introduction of scooters is more problematic. E-scooters are interesting and are a vehicle and not a children’s toy. The advance of technology has made many marvellous things possible and scooters is one of them.

Hire e-scooters and private e-scooters are not the same thing. Hire e-scooters obtain a licence to operate a business in a specific area. The number of scooters they can operate is regulated. The number of licences is regulated – two or three operators in the rule. The operators are now typically global companies and have a mature product and business model. In other words, when the ACT Government introduced e-scooter hire in the ACT town centres, they were choosing companies that had the expertise and experience, so there was a good chance that it would work.

Private scooters are another thing altogether as the design of the scooters varies greatly as does the regulation vary between jurisdictions. It is a difficult product to sell for an Australian bike shop franchise due to a lack of standardisation in the product or the legal framework in which they should operate.

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