It's starting to look like e-scooters are here to stay

Petr Malasek 18 May 2021

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of InQuire Media

Image courtesy of Petr Malasek

There has been a huge rise of interest in electric scooters, mainly as a progression from rentable bicycles. Metropolitan cities such as London or even New York have jumped on the idea of mobile e-vehicles, the UK has started schemes in a lot of cities, making ‘rented' e-scooters legal on roads from 4 July, 2020. There are a lot of pros to using them: they are environmentally friendly, they limit the use of cars and other motor vehicles while also offering a smooth way to solve the ‘last mile problem’ — offering an easy solution of travelling a distance too long to walk on foot and too short to drive a car.

The pandemic has also contributed to their popularity. Just the idea of standing in a full tube, surrounded by potential infected mouths and noses (in facemasks, sure, but it is still a poor sight) sounds stressful to anyone. Riding your own rented electric scooter is freeing, while also being cheaper than buying a bus ticket or filling up an Oyster Card.

And despite all of these advantages, I cannot see myself driving one. Maybe it is my fear of them (the one and only time I drove one was at the age of eight on an Earth Day fair – the ride ended comically with my face kissing the ground) or maybe it is the fact that I could very easily find myself in an accident. E-scooters exist as a hybrid between a pedestrian and a car – they are mobile enough to fit the pavement, but strong enough to be used solely on the road.

A select number of Canterbury's streets is now populated by e-scooters. The company Bird is in charge of them, opening up the routes and possibilities in three phases - the first started on 2 November 2020, allowing only UKC and CCCU students and staff to use them on a designated route between the two university campuses. The second phase, running until 17 May expanded the area in which the scooters may be used (making it legal to use them on the high street and in the city centre) while also enabling the general public, holding at least a provisional driver’s licence, to ride them. The final phase will allow e-scooters to be used all over the city.

From the sound of it, electric scooters are a complete life-changer of mobile transportation. Yet, electric scooters are facing the same problems that rentable bicycles faced in the beginning: the realisation that some city infrastructures are better suited for cycling than others. Cycling, and riding anything on two wheels, can be incredibly dangerous in fast-paced cities like London, yet it is possible that Canterbury may actually benefit from the introduction of e-scooters.

Canterbury as a city has two main travel points: the high street (the city centre) and one of the two university campuses. Let us look at the University of Kent campus. The Chaucer statue on the high street is at a walkable distance from the Templeman Library, but it takes some time — Google tells us around 35 minutes. By hopping on an e-scooter, it will take around 10, almost four times less. Not only that, the routes themselves are well established for vehicles like this with the bike lane on the Eliot footpath or the non-overwhelming number of cars in the streets. It will help on-campus students get into the heart of the city faster, while also cutting the time off-campus students would need to get to their in-person lectures and seminars.

But talking only about the advantages of this would be a little naive. There are moments when e-scooter riders may harm not only other people but also themselves. From driving on the pavements to not paying attention to the road. I am sure that many people will have the brilliant idea of using the scooter and driving home after a couple of Cherry Tree signature drinks, but such fun can turn into very expensive trouble. All of these problems are easily avoidable if people obey the rules, which in most cases they do – but the risk is still there. Take for example the tragic case of TV presenter Emily Hartridge who died in an e-scooter accident. It is important to think about riding an e-scooter like driving a motorcycle rather than a bike. If you choose to rent one, you should do so with caution: the scooters are not toys. Roads and pavements are not playgrounds. In the near future, with more and more COVID rules lifted, Bird has declared they will be organising safety events and helmet giveaways to educate people about these dangers.

I sincerely believe that for small cities like Canterbury, the rise of rentable e-scooters will be a great shift towards an easier and more environment-friendly lifestyle. Plans have been announced for the introduction of e-scooters in other UK cities, such as York and Durham; smaller cities with a big number of students, commuting from their accommodations to university lecture halls and back. Such an addition enables students to travel with relative ease, at a low monetary and environmental cost. I guess we will just have to see what the third phase of the electric scooters in Canterbury brings. Nevertheless, it is likely that e-scooters are here to stay with us.