Written evidence submitted by: Karl Farrell
A member of National Federation of the Blind of the United Kingdom (NFBUK)
I have spoken on behalf of NFBUK over several years, particularly on the subject of accessible streets and transport. I am particularly interested in issues concerning the footway.
Note: I have quoted the points raised by the Committee Chairman and given my response under each of them.
“whether the legislation for e-scooters is up to date and appropriate;”
I think the current legislation is appropriate to the extent that it does not allow the use of e-scooters on public streets in the UK. I take this view because I understand that, typically, a service provider will offer its fleet of e-scooters for hire to members of the public by distributing them at random in the street where customers will come across them. A customer can book to use the vehicle they find by identifying it via an app or online and pay to activate and use it. At the end of their journey, the user can park the vehicle and go their way. This encourages irresponsible parking and an under-manned police force is in no position to discourage this behaviour.
“to what extent e-scooters have positive benefits, for instance relating to congestion and promoting more sustainable forms of transport;”
The development of electric motors powered from rechargeable batteries makes possible a range of light vehicles for carrying people. E-scooters are one type of such a vehicle which perhaps appeals to the informal user so it may not be a commuter's first choice. E-scooters provide little protection in the event of a collision and on broken road surfaces they could throw off their rider.
“where in the urban environment e-scooters could be used (e.g. road, pavement, cycle lanes), and how this could impact on other road users and pedestrians, including people who have visual impairments or use mobility aids;”
The result of surveys of cyclists indicates that cyclists prefer not to have to mix with pedestrians on pavements and pedestrians, in turn, feel intimidated by cyclists speeding past them. While e-scooter riders may feel they are less of a threat to people walking, those walkers might not be so trusting. Other mobile carriers are not particularly welcomed on footways, particularly when they are parked awkwardly in front of shops or by the kerb. Because all motorised vehicles can travel much faster than people can walk, their proper place is on the carriageway and they should be parked not on any footway.
I, as a severely visually impaired pedestrian, collided with a parked dockless bike late at night while walking home. The bike fell on my legs, cutting my shins and tearing my trouser leg. The bike was standing diagonally on the footway so I did not have any warning of its presence before I collided with it. I trust that an e-scooter would not be so heavy but I don't wish to trip over e-scooters discarded carelessly after their temporary users have finished with them.
E-scooter users, if anything, are likely to behave more badly at controlled crossings than cyclists – they may believe they don’t have to stop when the light signals them to do so. If e-scooters are not easily heard on their approach, visually impaired people may not hear them and, in practice, lots of other pedestrians may fail to notice them too. At best, this behaviour is disturbing to pedestrians and at worst there is likely to be a collision.
“whether there should be advice or compulsory requirements to use specific safety equipment when using an e-scooter;”
From cyclists down to, no doubt, e-scooter users there is fanatical opposition to requirements to register their vehicle or to prove they have the competence to ride it, but everyone acknowledges that there are skills to be learned – training for cyclists and The Highway Code (which motorists are tested on as part of gaining a licence to drive). There is equally opposition to the use of safety helmits but in the event of an accident helmits can save lives.
“whether there should be safety and environmental regulation for the build of e-scooters, and what this might entail;”
E-scooters don't seem to offer any advantage over other light vehicles, other than that the user stands on them to get around. They are characteristically minimalist in design and, thus, unstable. If they are designed to be parked self-standing, they will end up cluttering footways and impeding the passage of pedestrians.
“and the experience of other countries where e-scooters are legal on the roads.”
Surveys in Germany, New Zealand and the USA suggest that e-scooter users are susceptible to head and upper body injuries. A head injury which requires the injured person to attend hospital may need a lot of medical attention - scanning for brain damage, dental treatment, assessment for any loss of vision. So if e-scooters became popular in the UK, the same types of accidents that doctors and lawyers abroad have flagged up will put pressure on the NHS here. The use of e-scooters at large on Britain's streets seems potentially dangerous. If a rider wanted more safety, they might get a vehicle where they can be seated. E-scooters might be seen as the slowest and the most vulnerable on the carriageway, even on the cycle lane, but they will be equally distained on the footway, whether they are driving amongst walkers or parking outside shops.
Local authorities are now responding to central Government’s calls to substantially widen footways. Yes, more people are being encouraged to cycle to work; but when obesity is so prevalent in society, many more people need the encouragement of wide and clutter-free pavements to walk that extra mile or two.