ESC0030

Written evidence submitted by Halfords Group PLC

 

1. Introduction

1.1 Halfords welcomes the opportunity to submit evidence to the Transport Select Committee’s inquiry E-scooters: pavement nuisance or transport innovation?

1.2 Halfords is the UK’s largest retailer of motoring and cycling goods and services. We have 451 Halfords branded stores and more than 350 garages. In our last published annual results to 29 March 2019, group revenue was nearly £1.14bn.

1.3 We have been selling adult electric scooters since April 2019 but have seen a steep escalation in sales over the past six months. Increased interest has coincided with both the Government’s Future of transport regulatory review consultation – which focuses on micromobility – and the desire for alternative forms of travel as Covid-19 struck.

1.4 Sales of e-scooters and e-bikes are up 96% year on year. We are the leading retailer in both markets. We estimate that we could have more than half the share of the nascent e-scooter market.

 

2. Summary

2.1 The Government had initially planned to trial e-scooter hire schemes in four areas – the West Midlands, the West of England, Southampton and Portsmouth, Nottingham and Derby – next year. These trials have been brought forward to June 2020 and the trials will now be open to all local authorities.

2.2 Although Halfords does not operate in the hire market, we believe accelerating the trials is sensible in light of current circumstances. With a range of up to 15 miles in one charge, e-scooters offer a valuable alternative to taking public transport at a time when social distancing must be enforced.

2.3 Encouraging people to move from car use to e-scooters for shorter journeys will also help ongoing efforts to decarbonise the economy. Three in five of all car journeys under five miles are made by car. Many people are unable or unwilling to use a bike or e-bike for such journeys, but an e-scooter could be a suitable alternative to car usage for them.

2.4 Although there are challenges to address around the design of hire schemes, such as ensuring e-scooters are not dumped, we believe the trials will illustrate their fundamental safety and benefits. We hope this will then allow for legislation to legalise the use of privately owned e-scooters on our roads, catching up with other major economies around the world.

2.5 Findings from Halfords-commissioned research by YouGov – published in our Your streets report earlier this year - indicate the potential of e-scooters:

2.6 We have answered several of the topics raised in the committee’s call for evidence below. We would also be delighted to make one of our senior e-scooter experts available to the committee for an oral evidence hearing.

 

3. Whether the legislation for e-scooters is up to date and appropriate

3.1 The UK is behind its European neighbours and other major economies in legislating for e-scooters. For examples, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Denmark, Singapore, Australia and the US allow e-scooters on their roads.

3.2 The UK is currently restricting itself from enjoying an environmentally friendly alternative to car usage or travelling on public transport networks at a time when mobility has never been more important.

3.3 Halfords makes all e-scooter customers aware of the law, but our aforementioned e-scooter research showed that 7% of people protest against the ban by riding on public roads. Based on what colleagues have spotted in recent weeks, we believe that there might have been an upturn in their illegal use during lockdown. We do not believe such people regularly flout the law, rather they view the current legal position as archaic and irrelevant.

 

4. To what extent e-scooters have positive benefits, such as reducing congestion and promoting sustainable transport

4.1 According to our findings, a majority of people believe that e-scooters will ease congestion, with 55% believing they are good for the environment.

4.2 Our evidence suggests that the public would use e-scooters for shorter journeys, reducing their car usage. Studies around the world, such as by the Adam Smith Institute, suggest that about one-third of e-scooter rides replace car journeys. We would expect that figure to increase as public awareness and acceptance of e-scooters improves.

4.3 E-scooters are particularly useful for the ‘first’ and ‘final mile’ journeys of a long commute, so are especially beneficial for workers tired at the end of a long commute.

4.4 As much as we want to see people more active through cycling, some are not physically able to get on a bike. A power assisted scooter offers a flexible, green travel option to all the public, but particularly those who are unable to ride a bike.

4.5 Our research has found that e-scooters are, in the main, purchased by non-cyclists. For example, 56% of customers purchasing the bestselling e-scooter model are new and have not previously been identified as cyclists.

 

4.6 Similarly, people often refuse to take a short journey by bike if they are going to a meeting or engaging in formal business. An e-scooter means they do not have to take the car, but would still arrive unruffled and not sweaty.

 

5. Where in the urban environment e-scooters could be used (e.g. road, pavement, cycle lanes)

5.1 Whilst e-scooters travel at the same or similar speeds as bikes and e-bikes, they do travel more quickly than pedestrians and are therefore not appropriate for use on pavements.

5.2 We believe e-scooters should be legalised for use on the roads and in cycle lanes.

5.3 One issue with the Government’s current thinking is that it would like to restrict the speed of e-scooters to 12.5 miles per hour. This is in line with some European neighbours, such as France and Germany, but many others, including the Netherlands, Italy and Spain, operate a speed limit of 15.5mph.

5.4 We believe this higher speed is more appropriate for e-scooters in the UK. Around 95% of those Halfords has sold to date reach speeds of 15.5mph, making them analogous with e-bikes, which currently operate at that higher speed limit. We believe the differential could cause unnecessary confusion between riders of these forms of electric transport, particularly given many riders of traditional bikes operate at a similar speed. A speed differential also has the potential to cause unnecessary safety problems in cycle lanes.

5.5 Similarly, the Government is also considering a maximum power motor of 350W. However, higher power motors provide more torque and enables better hill climbing, whilst the speed of the scooter remains limited. Germany has been used as a benchmark for the lower speed limit, yet authorities there allow the significantly higher motor power of 500W.

 

6. Whether there should be advice or compulsory requirements to use specific safety equipment

6.1 We always recommend wearing a helmet while riding a bike and we see no reason why that should be any different on e-scooters.

6.2 Clothing that keeps the rider as safe and visible as possible – in line with guidance for cyclists in the Highway Code – should also be worn.

6.3 Lighting should also adhere to the Highway Code for cyclists: ‘At night your cycle must have white front and red rear lights lit. It must also be fitted with a red rear reflector.’  

6.4 As a minimum, rear reflectors should be fitted at the point of manufacture. We also recommend that front and side reflectors are fitted.

 

7. Conclusion

7.1 E-scooters are a valuable form of alternative transport that has clear potential for growth. We believe Brits should no longer be denied the opportunity of using e-scooters for commuting, vital journeys, or simply for fun and leisure. We applaud the Government and the committee for carefully considering their future use. 

7.2 We look forward to further helping the Transport Select Committee with its inquiry and will be available to answer any follow-up questions that you might have.

May 2020

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