E-scooters: pavement nuisance or transport innovation? Contents

3Modal shift effects of e-scooters

18.The Government has said that presently there is “limited evidence” available about the impact of e-scooters on the road network.12 There is a debate about whether increased e-scooter usage primarily replaces journeys that would have otherwise been taken by car, public transport, or “active” travel modes such as cycling and walking. We cover each of these in turn below.

Replacing short car journeys

19.One of the greatest perceived benefits of e-scooters is replacing journeys that would otherwise have been taken by car, particularly drivers in singly occupied privately owned vehicles. The Government’s Future of Transport consultation states that micro-mobility devices such as e-scooters could “offer a new way of moving around […] as an alternative to making short journeys by car”.13 A significant modal shift from cars to e-scooters would help reduce road congestion and greenhouse gas emissions, and improve local air quality.

20.Evidence on the extent to which e-scooters replace car trips varies across different countries. A survey by the operator Lime of e-scooter use across Paris, Lyon and Marseille showed that 8% of trips had replaced car or taxi trips.14 A separate 2018 survey by Lime found that 21% of its riders in Lisbon reported replacing a car or taxi trip with an e-scooter.15 Data from the USA suggests a higher modal shift from cars to e-scooters. A survey by Portland Oregon’s Bureau of Transportation found that for the last e-scooter trip they made, about a third (34%) of participants said they would have either driven a personal car or hailed a taxi had e-scooters not been available.16 6% of survey respondents said that they had got rid of their car because of e-scooters, and another 16% had considered it. Similar levels of modal shift from cars to e-scooters have been observed in other American cities.17 However, the International Transport Forum has highlighted that the higher level of shift from cars in American studies is likely to reflect the generally higher level of car use.18 The Parliamentary Advisory Council for Transport Safety (PACTS) noted that “these conditions are not relevant to the UK”.19

21.Many witnesses to our inquiry were positive about the potential benefits of e-scooters journeys replacing car journeys within the UK.20 Dr Sherriff told us that e-scooters could “very much encourage people away from cars, or at least away from car journeys, particularly when they are combined with other modes of transport.”21 The e-scooter operator Bolt said that e-scooter journeys would “replace many that would otherwise be made by internal combustion engine vehicles, for both commuting and pleasure purposes” which would have positive benefits for reducing particle emissions, easing congestion, and connecting people to public transport networks.22

22.Other witnesses were concerned that, while there are numerous potential benefits in a shift from cars to e-scooters, current evidence shows a relatively low shift away from car use in European cities, and more of a shift away from active travel models and public transport.23 Transport for Greater Manchester said: “the shift from public transport and active travel to e-scooters (as opposed to from car) has been observed in Paris and Madrid and so this must be carefully managed.”24 Transport for London (TfL) also warned that “a mode shift away from car use is not a guaranteed policy consequence of legalising e-scooters”25

23.In evidence, Rachel Maclean MP, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport, told us that she expected people would be increasingly interested in alternative forms of travel to the car:

At the moment 58% of car trips are less than five miles; 24% of car trips are less than two miles. In an urban environment where over 40% of urban journeys are less than two miles, we believe that there would really be a significant benefit in providing this alternative method for people to make these short journeys which is not just jumping in a car to go to the shops.26

24.The Minister accepted, however, that the evidence base on modal shift was “weak” and stated that the trials will help gather more evidence.27 We asked the Minister if the Department had set any targets in the trials for reducing the number of short journeys taken by car. The Minister highlighted that the lack of a robust existing evidence base made it difficult to set such targets:

If we were to set a target, we would need to know where we are starting from and where we need to go to. We are not in a position to do that. We believe that the only way we will get that evidence is by running the trials in a real transport environment.28

Replacing public transport use

25.The key driver behind the Government’s decision to accelerate the e-scooter rental trials was to help provide an alternative form of transport while public transport capacity is reduced due to the coronavirus pandemic. As with the data on the modal shift from cars, data on the impact of e-scooters on public transport is variable. The study of Lime e-scooter use across Paris, Lyon and Marseille found a high modal shift away from public transportation, with 30% of survey respondents stating that they would have used public transport to reach their most recent destination had a shared e-scooter scheme not been available.29 Survey respondents reported that they chose to take an e-scooter over public transport as they felt it was more pleasant and offered the ability to travel door-to-door.29 However, despite this high shift, only 6% of respondents reported taking public transport less more generally. In a survey of an e-scooter pilot programme in Chicago, around 14% of respondents reported that they would have taken the bus or metro for their last journey if an e-scooter had not been an option and in Rosslyn, Virginia a survey found that 7% of respondents would have taken a bus for their last journey if they had not had an e-scooter available.30

26.Some witnesses felt positively that e-scooters could reduce overcrowding during busy peak hours on public transport and provide an alternative way for people to travel.31 The Urban Transport Group said that “e-scooters have the potential to ease congestion and free-up capacity on public transport networks provided they are used to replace car and public transport trips”.32 This was highlighted as a particular benefit during the UK’s recovery from the pandemic, while people are being advised to maintain social distancing.33 In addition, e-scooters are frequently cited as being a “first and last mile” solution, meaning they can be used to help people get to and from public transport terminals and their destination.34

27.Other witnesses expressed concern about e-scooters replacing journeys that would otherwise have been made using public transport, with some saying that use of public transport involves some degree of physical activity, which e-scooter use would reduce.35 There are also related concerns that e-scooters are not as environmentally friendly as public transport options in terms of lifetime carbon dioxide emissions (see Chapter 6 on environmental considerations).

Replacing cycling and walking

28.Concerns have been raised that e-scooters may replace trips that would otherwise be walked or cycled, thus reducing the number of journeys made by “active” travel. Our predecessor Transport Committee held an inquiry in 2017 on active travel and called on the Government to set more ambitious targets for increasing cycling and walking.36

29.The Government has made clear its ambition to boost active travel in the UK. It announced plans to support walking and cycling in response to the coronavirus pandemic, with some £2 billion of investment planned.37 The plans include more segregated space for cyclists, more funding and powers for local authorities to enforce traffic offences and a review of the Highway Code to improve road safety for cyclists and pedestrians.38 In its Future of Transport consultation, the Government said “we want to avoid a situation [with micro-mobility travel modes] in which people move away from more active choices such as walking and cycling”.39

30.Since e-scooter riding does not require physical exertion, it is not generally considered to be an “active” travel mode.40 Evidence from other countries shows that some people have opted to use e-scooters in place of walking and cycling. The Lime study of three French cities found that 44% of users said they would have walked for their trip instead of using an e-scooter, although only 6% reported walking less in general since the introduction of e-scooters.41 In the Portland e-scooter survey, 37% of e-scooter riders reported that they would have walked for their last journey had an e-scooter not been available.42 This reported shift from walking was similar in other American surveys, with findings showing this figure to be 30% in Chicago43 and 33% in Rosslyn.44

31.Many witnesses to our inquiry expressed concerns that e-scooters could deter people from active travel options.45 Cycling UK told us “the most significant potential down-side of e-scooters is likely to be the risk that they attract a shift of journeys from cycling and walking (either on their own or in combination with public transport), thereby reducing the health benefits of ‘active travel’.”46 Sustrans raised the additional concern that personally owned e-scooters would be even more likely to replace walking than rental ones, as users can carry out their full journey from door to door without needing to locate a rental scooter first.47 The AA told us that a survey of its members found that one fifth of respondents said they would consider buying an e-scooter as an alternative to walking and cycling. This was higher among younger people aged 18 and 24, with 32% of this age group considering one as a walking and cycling alternative.48 The walking charity Living Streets highlighted the importance of ensuring active travel was promoted particularly for young people: “you do not want to have a population who are less active, particularly among the younger age group who may be using e-scooters”.49

32.In contrast, some witnesses highlighted that there may be circumstances in which an e-scooter is preferable to walking or cycling. Pure Electric said that e-scooters may be suitable for people “wary of or unable to ride a bicycle or e-bike” or who “live too far from their destinations to be able to walk everywhere”.50 Halfords said: “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.”51

33.The Minister emphasised the Government’s commitment to promoting active travel, citing the £2 billion commitment to boost cycling and walking. She told us that the Government wants to see a modal shift, “not just on to e-scooters but on to other forms of active travel such as cycling and walking”.52 The Minister also highlighted that the Government’s high-level outline of its Transport Decarbonisation Plan, published in March 2020, sets out the Government’s ambition for a modal shift from cars to public transport and active travel modes.53

34.There is currently limited evidence within the UK on how the growth of e-scooters has affected other transport usage, and thus the modal shift which may occur as e-scooters continue to grow in popularity. In our view, it would be counter-productive if an uptake in e-scooters, whether rental or private, primarily replaced people undertaking more active and healthy forms of travel, such as walking, cycling, and even using kick-scooters. Promoting active travel must remain a key policy aim for the Department for Transport. The Department’s focus should be on encouraging the use of e-scooters to replace short car journeys rather than walking and cycling.

35.The Department, working with local authorities, must collect data during the rental trials on the modal shift observed with e-scooters. Should privately-owned e-scooters and rental e-scooter schemes be fully legalised, the Department should use this evidence base to publish its aspirations for modal shift in the medium to long term, with particular focus on how people can be encouraged to switch from the car to an e-scooter for some short journeys.

12 PQ 57277 [Electric Scooters], 17 June 2020

13 Department for Transport, E-scooter trials: guidance for local areas and rental operators, June 2020, p 20

14 (6-t), Uses and users of free floating electric scooters in France, June 2019; International Transport Forum, Safe Micromobility, February 2020

15 Lime, Year-end Report 2018, December 2018

16 Portland Bureau of Transportation, 2018 E-scooter Findings Report, January 2019

17 International Transport Forum, Safe Micromobility, February 2020

18 Ibid, p 31

19 Parliamentary Advisory Council for Transport Safety (ESC0051)

20 For example, London Assembly Transport Committee (ESC0033), Bird (ESC0058), Bolt (ESC0064), TIER (ESC0067).

21 Q3

22 Bolt (ESC0064)

23 Sustrans (ESC0044), Living Streets (Q44), PACTS (ESC0051)

24 Transport for Greater Manchester (ESC0071)

25 Transport for London (ESC0049)

26 Q105

27 Q101

28 Q106

31 For example, Taur Technologies (ESC0010), London Assembly Transport Committee (ESC0033), Peter Miller (ESC004), Motorcycle Industry Association (ESC0035).

32 Urban Transport Group (ESC0068)

33 For example, Helbiz (ESC0016), TIER (ESC0067), Lime (ESC0070), Zain Hussain and Stiofan Folan-Hasici (ESC0018).

34 Halfords (ESC0030)

35 For example, Parliamentary Advisory Council for Transport Safety (ESC0051), Cycling UK (ESC0086)

36 Transport Committee, Eleventh Report of Session 2017–19, Active travel: increasing levels of walking and cycling in England, HC 1487

37 “£2 billion package to create new era for cycling and walking”, Department for Transport press release, 9 May 2020; “PM kickstarts “2bn cycling and walking revolution”, Department for Transport and Prime Minister’s Office press release, 28 July 2020

39 Department for Transport, Future of Transport Regulatory Review: Call for Evidence, March 2020

40 Sustrans, Our position on e-scooters, July 2020; Parliamentary Advisory Council for Transport Safety (ESC0051)

42 Portland Bureau of Transportation, 2018 E-scooter Findings Report, January 2019

43 City of Chicago and Mayor Lori Lightfoot, E-scooter Pilot Evaluation, January 2020

45 For example, the Bicycle Association (Q 49), London Assembly Transport Committee (ESC0033), Go-Ahead (ESC0043), Transport for London (ESC0049), Parliamentary Advisory Council for Transport Safety (ESC0051).

46 Cycling UK (ESC0086)

47 Sustrans (ESC0044)

48 AA (ESC0045)

49 Q44

50 Pure Electric (ESC0031)

51 Halfords (ESC0030)

52 Q136

53 Q104; Department for Transport, Decarbonising Transport: Setting the Challenge, March 2020

Published: 2 October 2020