The UK looks set to legally embrace E-Scooters after taking a giant leap forward with the start of a full scale ride sharing service in Milton Keynes, with further schemes announced for Cambridge, Northampton and Norwich.
More and more cities around the country are expected to follow suit with year-long trials which will allow UKGOV to carry out impact assessments on bicycle lanes, roads and more importantly, pedestrians. Potential operators are on the increase, unveiling new technology in the race to tap into Britain’s new micro-mobility market.
Lime operates the e-bike sharing scheme in Milton Keynes and will provide up to 500 e-scooters for rental via their app, claiming it will be the first UK service on a par with other cities worldwide.
With the first pilot scheme launching in Teesside, the UK government had to amend the law this summer as a result of misuse that included two riders being stopped by police on a dual carriageway.
Are E-Scooters the future?
If you are of a particular age, then you might have memories of riding a scooter. Those flimsy two wheeled scooters that gave you a sense freedom in front of your house before your first bike, opened up a whole new world. Until recently, that image of a scooter as a nothing more than a child’s toy was the one most people carried.
Now, several companies are out to change that perception. They are banking big on the idea that the small, compact e-scooter is a viable personal transportation device.
But is it? Let’s take a look at where e-scooters are at today, from their fundamental appeal, to how they work and their practicality beyond ordinary weekend fun.
Although manual and electric kick or push-start scooters have both been around for some time, the popularity of the latter has risen steadily over the past decade. Perhaps the central development in the design and marketing of today’s e-scooters is children are no longer the primary audience.
Make no mistake, the target audience are still young, they just happen to have a different set of priorities. College, university students and young professionals who live and work in urban environments and people looking for alternative means of transportation in those same cities.
Each of these groups offer a market segment that tends to eschew the norms and traditions of the past. Zipping around town on a low-speed, zero-emission scooter certainly caters to those demanding alternatives so it’s easy to see the appeal. It also doesn’t hurt that electric scooters come across as simple, portable and easily accessible devices that are even easier to operate.
How do electric scooters work?
E-scooters, much like their non-powered siblings are about as straightforward as it gets when it comes to personal transportation devices.
In their simplest form, e-scooters are composed of a narrow platform or deck, handlebars with a throttle and hand brakes (minimum rear, more powerful models front and rear) two wheels and front and rear suspension. Most scooters are fold-able, portable and some models also include a seat. As manufacturers continue to innovate, we are now seeing models come to market which include headlights, brake lights, indicators and air suspension as an upgrade when compared to the spring types.
When it comes to variation, scooters are what they are. Alter the design too much, and they become an entirely different form of transportation. However, they do possess a few key areas where a slight difference makes a significant impact on performance.
It all begins and ends with the battery
You will find one of three battery types in the manufacturing of e-scooters.
Nickel Metal Hydride (NiMH)
A long-term market mainstay, NiMH batteries carry the middle ground between the well-known lead-acid and the newer Lithium-ion. NiMH batteries hold a longer charge versus a lead-acid version but are heavier than the Lithium-ion variety. Ultimately, these work well as a practical, cost-conscience alternative to the Lithium-ion.
The long-standing workhorse of rechargeable batteries, lead-acid batteries have yet to lose their place as the preferred starter for automobiles and the power source for golf buggy's. Though a bit cumbersome for widespread use, you’ll still find plenty of these weighty and very inexpensive batteries in larger scooters.
The newest battery technology for e-scooters is also the most expensive, but for very good reasons. The Lithium-ion tech is more powerful, holds a charge far longer than either the lead acid or NiMH, and do so in a much more lightweight package. More and more electric scooters are featuring these batteries with Samsung and LG leading the way, with the more competitively priced Chinese manufactured versions not far behind. As the technology and production improves, so are the prices.
Range and speed
The allure of the e-scooter both as a toy and as a potential vehicle for commuting is the simplicity of the whole endeavour.
More so than most other electric rides, a scooter's range and speed is dictated directly by the weight it carries and the terrain it traverses. With few exceptions, most scooter manufacturers provide an ideal set of circumstances to reach optimal advertised range and speed, usually defined as a 60-70 kilogram rider on a smooth flat surface with no wind.
Ride-share scooters max out at around 10-15mph. Though most e-scooters can top out at speeds close to 20mph, the newer models are now flirting with the 30mph mark with twin engined versions pushing thrill seekers to 40-45mph. The Electric Scooter Championships, brainchild of Formula E and Formula 1 drivers, will see standing electric scooter racing a 60mph in 2021.
15-20mph works well for riding electric scooters in an urban environment since it lends itself to a more comfortable, enjoyable and confident ride. Anything faster typically invites accidents and potential injury unless you are an experienced rider.
As with most personal e-vehicles, such as hoverboards, self-balancing unicycles, and Segways, the individual riding the device most often determines just how safe it is. However, staying upright on a scooter is less fraught with danger versus those other options.
The primary safety issue with scooters is when you place them among large groups of pedestrians and cars, which is happening now in a number of major cities across Europe, the U.S. and Asia.
This intermingling of people on foot and those scooting by at a top speed of 15 mph has created an uptick in accidents between the two, though reliable data does not yet exist on the exact numbers.
Beyond possible run-ins with non-riders, another primary safety concern revolves around the attire of the actual riders. Though every scooter manufacturer and ride-sharing company recommend the use of a helmet, and many cities dictate the wearing of headgear, very few e-scooter riders do so. We advise that you do!
With people clamouring for travel alternatives and UKGOV keen to stay on track on it's zero carbon emission targets together with easing the burden on the UK transport network and the promotion of social distancing, it will be interesting to see the what the final legislation and laws governing the use of e-scooters will look like. If nothing else, it will make un-walkable cities a bit more comfortable to navigate and alleviate some of the stress and congestion of urban living.
Regardless of how it turns out though, and from first hand experience, a weekend scoot exploring your local environment, country park or canal path with the breeze in your hair and a pair of battery-powered wheels at your feet will never go out of fashion.
Be safe, be mindful of others and have fun!
Jeff - Director, Zero E-Scooters Ltd