Business Technology

Why electric scooters aren't smart or safe enough yet

9 min read

08 October 2019

Features Editor, Real Business

Emissions concerns have reached a breaking point. For consumers and entrepreneurs alike, electric scooters seem to be the future of green mobility – but is the sector smart and safe enough yet?

The future of ‘mobility’ will be very different from the one we have now – but why?

The ‘climate’ of modern mobility

The future of mobility will leave ‘traditional’ cars behind.

Because mobility, (i.e, the way we get from A to B), has to change.

The result of toxic fossil fuel emissions are not only causing deep societal anxiety and unrest, (cue the ongoing Extinction Rebellion protests and the constant media presence of global society activist Greta Thunberg), the damaging effects of traditional forms of mobility, (gas-guzzling cars and buses), are clear – and are clogging up towns and cities, and peoples’ front drives the world over.

Disruption and profitability

From taxi-hailing apps such as Uber, Lyft and ViaVan to car renting businesses such as Turo, the future of mobility will be ‘for sharing’ – and for sorting out immediate transportation issues. It’s no longer about buying an expensive fossil fuel emitting vehicle for infrequent use.

The shared mobility space is one where entrepreneurs can also make a great deal of money, the sector has been estimated to be worth as much as $619.51bn by 2025.

Electric scooters enter the fold…

Will electric scooters be the future of shared (and green) mobility?

Electric scooters are the latest transport offering to ethically aware commuters. And what’s not to love about them?

From the consumer side of things, they are cheaper than most traditional vehicles, (prices start from as little as £150), they’re easy to operate and even easier to get around on especially in busy urban areas.

But are electric scooters such a predictably successful business bet? Well according to the UK’s laws of the road, no.

Not only this, by purchasing and using an electric scooter, environmentally aware consumers are also ticking the ‘ethical’ box and as such, can say they’re ‘doing their bit’ to battle climate change.

An investor dream – or a nightmare?

Over the past few years, a number of electric scooter startups have ‘whizzed’ onto the scene, from Bird, a ‘ride-share’ scooter startup launched in California in 2017 that’s recently been valued at $2.5bn and has raised some $275m in its latest funding (Series D) round.

Then there’s Pure Scooters, a British business launched by ex-Hargreaves Landsdowne Director turned serial entrepreneur, Adam Norris who has recently opened a flagship store in London’s salubrious Belgravia.

But are electric scooters, (currently being ridden in over 100 cities worldwide), such a predictably successful business bet? Well according to the UK’s laws of the road, no…

Are electric scooters dangerous?

In fact, electric scooters are not legally allowed to be operated on roads or pavements. They are only permitted to be used on private land with permission from the landowner, according to sources from BBC news.

While electric scooters are easy to buy in the UK today, consumers that use them beyond their own property can face a number of ramifications such a £300 fixed-penalty notice and six points on their driving licence. So how is this sector even solving the mobility problem?

What electric scooter businesses are NOT making clear

If a consumer is riding a motor-powered electric scooter, (due to the motor part), it’s officially classed as a vehicle, making it a Personal Light Electric Vehicle, (PLEV). Non-motor powered scooters are similarly banned from pavements and but there are no current laws to prevent them from being used on roads.

Because of this classification, the former type of scooter has to abide by the same motoring obligations that cars do, such as having their MOT, tax and licensing affairs in order. They also have to have visible rear red lights, number plates and signalling ability. Because electric scooters don’t have any of this, they’re not legal for use on British roads.

This makes any UK scooter startups that are encouraging consumers to use their products off private land, and by extension on roads and pavements, morally responsible for the consequences.

Why scooters can be a danger to others

Pure Scooters have opened a store in Central London. Source: retailfocus.com

If you’re a city dweller, you’ve only got to look at how dangerous the ‘learner moped‘ problem is in many of our urban centres to understand just how dangerous road-bound electric scooters can be to more vulnerable pedestrians, from the young, the elderly and the disabled, to the riders themselves, who often do not wear helmets, have lights – nor the ability to signal safely.

Scooter deaths

There have been numerous serious electric scooter-related accidents in the United States. But there have been fatalities too.

Since 2018, there have been 11 deaths in the United States from electric scooter use. Deaths have been felt closer to home when Youtube star, Emily Hartridge’s electric scooter collided with a lorry in London earlier this year.

While the widespread use of electric scooters sounds great in theory, (cutting down on the emission of greenhouse gases by taking cars off the road and putting electric scooters on them), it’s a new form of mobility that, in it’s current state, isn’t smart enough to effectively tackle the green or shared mobility issues plaguing global society.

Lofty aims and irresponsible messaging

This is compounded by the likes of Pure Scooters CEO, (the aforementioned Adam Norris) advocating for a change in road-based legislation by voicing his intention to encourage the use of “as many electric scooters as bikes within the next two years” in the UK. – All well and good if people aren’t getting hurt, killed (or breaking the law) by doing so.

I think a quote taken from a recent article on the topic of the Pure Scooter store’s opening sums up the issue quite succinctly, namely being a place “where potential criminals will be able to freely purchase the outlawed devices and ride them out of the doors and straight into the welcoming arms of local police.”

Bird’s CEO, Travis VanderZanden has also been espousing dangerous messages in his business. Not only did he call his company Bird because he wanted his customers to feel as if they’re “flying”, but he also refers to groups of riders as “flocks,” this doesn’t exactly conjure up images of urban user safety, does it?

The entrepreneur has also been taken to court in the United States by government officials where his business model has meant that his ride-share Bird scooters have been left abandoned around congested city centres –  hardly health and safety compliant either?

What can we learn from all this?

Whilst a desire to solve the mobility emissions issue is a noble one in theory, in practice and execution, it’s not always a safe, nor sustainable one – which is evident in the ongoing issues surrounding electric scooters.

Because, unless the people in power start making electric scooters that are legally fit for the roads, they’re not going to be doing much to help reduce the climatic burden our planet is facing.