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E-scooter riders should have compulsory ‘driving test’ say Nottingham researchers

E-scooter riders should have compulsory training that could help hire schemes improve safety and increase public acceptance, says a Nottingham research team.

An e-scooter hire scheme was first introduced in Nottingham as part of a Government-backed trial in 2020.

The scheme’s contract was run by US-based Superpedestrian and allowed people to hire hundreds of kerbside electric scooters through a mobile app.

Trials have now been extended by the Department for Transport until 2026 to help inform future legislation.

But at the end of December, Superpedestrian went into liquidation and its e-scooters were taken off Nottingham streets.

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The council says it is appointing a new operator, and expects the scheme to re-start in the summer.

But the collapse of the firm has prompted international questions over the future sustainability of the e-scooter industry, with some of the most significant challenges being put down to safety concerns and regulation.

Dr Petya Ventsislavova, a senior lecturer in the Department of Psychology at Nottingham Trent University (NTU), recently led research into e-scooter safety through a series of studies.

The full report, titled ‘Still the new kid on the transport block! Assessing e-scooter legislation knowledge and illegal riding behaviour’, was produced by Dr Ventsislavova alongside Thom Baguley, Josceline Antonio, and Daniel Byrne.

According to the research, recent crash data indicated the number of incidents involving e-scooters has been rising nationwide, with 1,437 casualties in incidents involving e-scooters in 2022 compared with 1,352 during the previous year.

Meanwhile, the studies concluded both riders and non-riders “exhibited insufficient knowledge concerning e-scooter regulations across a range of different riding scenarios”.

 

Dr Ventsislavova said:

“A big percentage of people seem to not know the rules, around 50 per cent,”

“It does not seem a lot, but it is, because when it comes to other modes of transport, for example with cars, you are expected to know the rules.

“This is a novel mode of transport and I don’t think it was taken with the seriousness it deserves, because at the end of the day they are still motorised vehicles.

“That is why we are advocating for a better education and compulsory training.

“Not just multiple-choice questions, with some information when you hire it, but actual training on how to operate them and how to perceive hazards, so very similar to the driving test.”

To hire a Superpedestrian scooter, users had to submit a copy of at least a provisional driving licence. The company also ran training sessions in the city, although these were not compulsory.

As scooters are legally classed as motor vehicles, they can only be ridden on roads and in cycle lanes.

It remains illegal to ride privately owned e-scooters in a public place. Only scooters part of a scheme such as the Superpestrian trial can be ridden in public legally.

Superpedestrian’s recent downfall is not a unique story.

US company Bird, a start-up considered one of the pioneers of the industry, filed for bankruptcy in the US at the end of last year despite being valued at more than $2bn when it went public two years ago.

Former Lyft and Uber boss Travis VanderZanden founded Bird in 2017 to initial success.

However, what followed was an “aggressive expansion” of copy-cat ventures, says Georgi Iliev, Venture and Product Development Manager at Nottingham Business School.

“Overall, the financial health of these sort of companies such as Superpedestrian is often quite shaky,” Mr Iliev said.

“One good example is Bird, which was one of the industry pioneers but they filed for bankruptcy.

“There was a lot of private investment that went into these companies, because everyone thought this was the next big thing.

“Probably they rushed it way too much, [so we went from] pretty much no market whatsoever to having a super-crowded market that is highly competitive.

“They are always trying to out-do each other, which is leading to an aggressive expansion in my own opinion, and that sometimes is at the cost of sustainability and community relationships.”

On top of significant operational and start-up costs, often funded by private investors and few other revenue streams to diversify income, operators have been struggling to integrate successfully into communities. 

Mr Iliev points to concerns raised after a 14-year-old boy was sentenced for causing the death of Linda Davis while on a privately owned electric scooter.

The boy, who could not be named for legal reasons, hit the 71-year-old grandmother while she stood on a pavement in Rainworth, Nottinghamshire, in June 2022.

The judge condemned the use of e-scooters on pavements at the time.

Such incidents have tainted public perception of e-scooters as a whole, Mr  Iliev says.

He is currently working with DOCK-Y, a start-up which has designed an active safety device for e-scooters, in a bid to help improve integration and safety of micro-mobility schemes.

DOCK-Y has been assisted through Nottingham Business School’s Centre for Business and Industry Transformation, which offers a venture builder to help start-ups gain traction.

“Everyone’s talking about safety,” Mr Iliev added.

“The main question is ‘how do we integrate this into the overall local transportation system?’

“Right now it is a bit shaky. Nottingham City Council is doing quite a good job, but I think it has to come from the Department for Transport in terms of what good practices are.

“Once we have a few successful case studies, we have a role model to learn from.

“If we do that the public perception might become quite good for these transportation services, because currently the public perception in the UK is quite mixed.

“We have to come up with a decision rather than keep extending these trials over and over again. Hopefully that happens in 2026.

“Once we clear out all of the regulatory uncertainties and we add all of these technological advancements from companies such as DOCK-Y, and increase public acceptance, I think mostly businesses will thrive.”

Dr Ventsislavova also explained local transport infrastructure must continue to improve to make e-scooters safer for both users and non-users.

“We should take a step back and actually start taking them seriously, provide this training and provide this infrastructure,” she said.

A DfT spokesman added: “Safety is at the heart of our e-scooter trials which is why we are extending them to May 2026, in order to gather further evidence as the technology develops and to ensure any future legislation balances safety, user accountability and market growth.

“We will consult in due course on the detail of possible regulations, including minimum rider ages and maximum speeds, this will provide vital information to help shape next steps.”

•  E-scooters off Nottingham city streets as operator ceases UK operations

•  Disgruntled customer throws three escooters into Nottingham river

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