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The problem is the application of the precautionary principle. I think it is the fear of the unknown, which stifles and is the enemy of progress, that we are facing here. To me, the Segway is just an electric bicycle but with the wheels side by side instead of in tandem. Therefore, what, generically, is the difference? I am not sure why it does not qualify as a bicycle. Perhaps a bicycle has to be constructed with the wheels in tandem, but I have no idea. The great advantage of the Segway is that it has a smaller footprint when parked. Due to the handlebars and length of a bicycle, you could park several Segwaysprobably fourin the space taken up by two bicycles. There is therefore great potential there.
My feeling about Segways is that we should not over-regulate. We have plenty of laws concerning safety and dangerous behaviour, so we should prosecute people if they ride them dangerously without going overboard about it, as would be the case with any other vehicle, such as a bicycleor, for that matter, a horse.
My final point is that the Segway ticks all the boxes on the green agenda, as mentioned by the noble Earl, Lord Liverpool. Mass transport can get you to the hub. You can travel at high speed from London to Edinburgh or wherever, but it is the last mile that is the problem, and perhaps the Segway could be the answer
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Viscount Falkland: We are grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Haringey, and congratulate him on introducing the debate. It is many yearsI think the noble Earl said sevensince those of us in this place with an interest were made aware of the Segway. All of us who tried it, as has been expressed this afternoon, were impressed. However, we were quickly made aware that the wider interest, crucially depending upon the Department for Transport, was becoming a slow business. One is tempted to think that this issue was so troubling to the department that it decided to keep its head down and hope that it went away.
Well, of course, it is not going away. The noble Lord, Lord Harris, said that this was a timely debate. Well, of course it is, because electrical vehicles for personal use are growing in popularity. Indeed, in the middle spread of the Evening Standard today, two vehicles are praised and reviewed, the first by the art correspondent, Mr Brian Sewell, who has an electrically powered smart car. He praises it handsomely, which is quite unusual for Brian Sewell in his own field.
Then the well known actress Imogen Stubbs tells us thathaving for many years propelled herself around with the freedom that I enjoy on two wheels, on a scootershe has now discovered a machine called the power bike, which interests me a great deal. Its use as a bicycle can be supplemented by the new technology of a lithium battery which enables leg power to be supplemented by electric power. She therefore has all the advantages that I do not have due to Westminster Council. Every time I mention Westminster Council I get angry, so I will not do it again, but I have to pay to park my motorcycle in spaces and I cannot find any. The whole thing is becoming absolutely ludicrous. There, again, the Department for Transport should have dealt with the anti-motorbike business many years ago and seen that the cycle lobby against motorcycles is completely pointless with absolutely no substance to it at all, as will shortly be proved. When the mayor comes to review his giving of the bus lanes to motorcycles, he will find that there is no problem at all. That may jog the memory of the Department for Transport, which has been so slow to recognise it.
Most of the advantages of the Segway have already been mentioned. I notice that it is pronounced somewhat differently by the two Earls who have spoken. I await to hear how the third Earl will pronounce it; we are very heavy on Earls this afternoon. Personally, I will go for the first syllable rhyming with leg. The noble Earl, Lord Liverpool, who has great knowledge of this machine, prefers the first syllable to rhyme with hedge. I do not know which is correct, but I will go for the first.
The Segway is an amazing machine. I do not know anybody, apart from the golf professional at my golf club, who has had any difficulty with it at all. It takes about 30 seconds to get used to it. You relax after that and realise that you really think the thing along, rather than grip it with white knuckles while frightened of it. The last President of the United States is the only person who had difficulty with it, but that could be heartening to people.
The noble Earl, Lord Liverpool, has used a Segway for some time both on firm surfaces and on golf courses, where you need a different kind of tractionyou need different tyres to deal with the uneven ground. He has found it entirely satisfactory in both those applications. I tried to persuade my golf club to use it and said that I was coming up with the Segway salesman, who would be pleased to do a demonstration. Immediately, my wife got very alarmed messages from members of the committee, saying in frightened tones that personal golf transport was not allowed on this golf course. Luckily, golf courses do not all share that view. At the Royal and Ancient at St Andrews and at the Belfrytwo of the leading golf clubsit is now in increasing use. There are difficulties in changing the routines of speed of play, and so on; nevertheless, the machine has proved to be safe, capable of carrying equipment such as clubs when adapted and it is proving widely popular.
In most other countries in Europe and certainly in the United States, I would not have to be saying all this because it is already known. After all, this machine has been around for seven years, and in most countries it is now applied widely. A thousand police forces or enforcement agencies of some kind have used it, as the noble Lord, Lord Harris, said. I asked a policeman at the gates what he thought about Segway and he said, Whats Segway? I told him what it was and said that if he went round the corner he might find a man willing to demonstrate it. I am glad that he did not because the man was not there because the machine did not arrive, as was intended. He asked me if the police would not look rather ridiculous in inner-city centres and I said, To the contrary. I have spoken to police forces in which it has been tried and they said that in inner-city centres the police have been delighted with it, not only because it gives them ease of movement with economy but because it has encouraged the interest of people with whom they normally have little contactthat is, those who may cause trouble that they may have to deal with later on. That has increased the community spirit in those areas, so it has a benefit in that area, on the evidence that we have.
That is my anecdote, but I should not have to give these anecdotes; the Department for Transport should a long time ago have set up an inquiry into this vehicle, as it should with every new vehicle that could be used on the roads and elsewhere, to see whether it was suitable and how the law would accommodate it. As I understand it, if I go out on a Segwaycertainly in the Metropolitan Police areaI shall not be stopped by a policeman because they have been told by the Crown Prosecution Service that they have no chance of getting a conviction, so just to leave them alone. They would have great difficulty in proving that it is any different in its effect on the population from an electric cycle.
The applications of the Segway are wide and various and have been mentioned by noble Lords who have spoken. It can be used for postal delivery, for example. I cannot think of a better way for people to deliver post. It is quiet, efficient and cheap and has every possibility of adaptation for carrying parcels and letters. As for police work, I do not know what the cost of fuel is or the cost of pollution in this country from police vehicles going around and performing their normal duties, but if police forces took a fraction of their members and put them on this machine, the cost to the taxpayer would be considerably reduced.
As noble Lords were talking about applications, I thought, what about the Olympic Games? There is a lot of talk about bicycles going to the Olympic Games. Time goes more quickly than one expects and they will be upon us before we know it. I do not see any possibility of people coming to this country to see the Olympic Games finding a cycle-friendly city, despite a policy announced by the Government, which is a total mess. I cycle as well as motorcycle and it is ludicrous. On Sundays you cannot cycle at all in London, because all the cycle paths are blocked with parked cars and vans. People who come and expect a cycle-friendly city will have a sad experience. But if we used the Segway and found it to be operative in that area, it would go a long way to solving many of the problems that are likely to occur.
I wrote down gardens, garden centres and parks. There are all kinds of applications for this thing, but we will never know until the Department for Transport actually gets itself together and institutes a proper examination of the product and its application. When will the department do that? Why does it not do that?
I thought that my golf club was negative. It is a British thing: if something new arrives that does not tick all the boxes, people go to ground and hope that nobody will bother them too much about it. That certainly happened at my golf club and probably the Department for Transport is more conservative and nervous about this than my golf club. I hope that the Minister can give us some cheer on this subject, because it is here, it is good, it is high quality and cheap to run. It is likely to get cheaper in unit costs as people buy more of them. Its accident profile is negligible in so far as one can tell. If the Minister will institute trials, we will find out exactly what the risks are. We cannot just sit back, while the rest of the world uses a wonderful machine like this, and do nothing. For that reason, I emphasise my support for the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Harris.
Earl Attlee: I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Haringey, for raising this matter for the Committee by means of a Question for Short Debate. We have debated it before, but experience shows that it is rarely enough to raise the matter but once. I have also noted that we have a predominance of noble Earls in this debate. Perhaps we could have a word with Her Majesty and ask her to elevate the noble Viscount, and maybe also think about the noble Lord, Lord Harris.
Earl Attlee: The noble Lord, Lord Harris, made several extremely good points and I do not take issue with any of them, nor indeed those raised by any other noble Lord. The noble Lord, Lord Harris, talked about police using Segways in a public place. Will the Minister tell us how far from the kerb a footpath extends? A pedestrianised precinct is a long way from the kerb, but is it still a pavement or a footpath? Do the restrictions of the Highways Act still apply in the middle of a pedestrianised precinct?
My noble friend Lord Liverpool made much of the benefits of a Segway and how it is used in the United States. My noble friend gave us a good indication of the potential for these machines. Indeed, we have used them together at various events. As explained by the noble Lord, Lord Harris, the Segway is legal neither on the road nor on the pavement or footpath. The only vehicle allowed on the footpath is an invalid carriage. That is an out-of-date term, because it gives the impression of some ugly black contraption rather than the modern snazzy machines that several noble Lords use in your Lordships' House and elsewhere.
One cannot help wondering whether the department finds this legislative hurdle convenient, because it means that the Government need do nothing. Several noble Lords made more or less the same observation. Will the Minister tell the House the view of disability groups regarding the use of Segways on the pavement or footpath? Has his department received any representation from them?
It is easy to think that the Segway is some peculiar toy that requires considerable skill to ride. It is not, as observed by my noble friend Lord Liverpool. The Segway uses extremely clever technology, but it is only by riding one that it is possible to understand just how clever it is. I first tried one at the Ministry of Defence DVD show many years ago, but at the time I was amazed. Some time ago, I arranged an opportunity for Peers to ride a Segway in your Lordships car park. Many did and were surprised at how easy it was. Has the Minister himself or, more importantly, his colleague Mr Jim Fitzpatrick, who has ministerial responsibility for these matters, actually ridden a Segway?
The essence of the question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Harris, was to discover whether the Government were initiating a UK trial of some sort. The problem is that I suspect that it would be necessary to amend primary legislation, as the Highways Act makes it quite clear that only invalid carriages can be used on the footpath or pavement. Not even bicycles can be ridden on the footpath or pavement. Is there any way round this? We know that the Segway does not meet legal requirements for a road vehicle and the noble Lord, Lord Harris, touched on Section 44 of the Road Traffic Act which allows the Minister to relax the construction and use regulations. I have had a lot of involvement with Section 44, because that deals primarily with abnormal loads.
There is also a similar provision in respect of the type approval regulations that allows the Minister to relax those, so the construction and use and type
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We are now entering the closing stages of this Parliament where only a limited range of new primary legislation will be introduced and passed that has not already been announced. The Minister will be able to use his existing powers to exercise ministerial control of our railway system and many noble Lords in this Committee and the wider House admire his work in that area. However, I think that we will have to wait until the start of the new Parliament before we see anything new happening with this or any other technology.
The Minister of State, Department for Transport (Lord Adonis): Amidst this galaxy of Earls, Jacobite Earls and Viscounts, I feel distinctly inferior in replying to this debate. Only the proletarian Labour Party is represented here by mere life Barons. I am honoured to be in the distinguished company of my noble friend Lord Harris, who is a superior form of life Baron. I congratulate him on initiating this short debate and inviting the Committee to consider the potential benefits of the Segway Personal Transporter. This debate follows a debate in another place initiated by Mr Lembit Opik who, with my noble friend and other noble Lords, is an enthusiastic advocate of the Segway.
The noble Earl asks whether I have ever used a Segway and I have to confess that I have not. Indeed, my noble friend mentioned to me before the debate that he had not either. As a result of this debate, we must both jointly undertake to repair that omission forthwith. I thought that I took the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, to be offering a trial. If he is indeed offering another trial, we will be glad to participate.
My noble friend asked, first, what assessments we have made of the potential benefits of the Segway and, secondly, whether we will support a full road trial. Perhaps I may take the two issues in turn. On the assessments made by the Department for Transport, noble Lords may be aware that this debate follows a meeting with representatives of the All-Party Intelligent Transport Group at the Department for Transport in November last year, and further meetings between officials, Segway promoters and interested Members from another place in January and March this year. The meetings continue a dialogue over some years between Segway promoters and the Department for Transport.
As the noble Earl, Lord Liverpool, said, Segways are permitted on the road and/or dedicated pedestrian cycle paths and tracks in some other countries. However, the way in which they are treated in law elsewhere and
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The meeting on 26 March was helpful in clarifying that Segway promoters are now seeking permission in this country to use the machines on cycle facilities and on the road. Previously, they had also wished to include use on pedestrian facilities such as the pedestrian footway beside the road. There is an insuperable legal barrier to that in that no powered vehicles are permitted on footways under the Highways Act 1835, a regulation that goes back almost as far as the premiership of the noble Earl, Lord Liverpool, and is still valid as protection for pedestrians.
The noble Earl, Lord Attlee, raised the use of footpaths in pedestrian areas. Regulation depends on the relevant traffic regulation order for the particular road in question. However, there would be no problem in private pedestrian precincts for the use of the Segway.
At the 26 March meeting, Segway promoters gave a presentation on Segway use and benefits to officials from my department, who undertook to respond to it. I repeat that commitment today: my officials are analysing the issues and the further information made available to us and seeking further clarification as necessary, and we shall respond soon.
The Government recognise the potential benefits of electric vehicles as a wholewhich have been set out by the noble Viscountin terms of air quality and greenhouse gas emissions. Electric vehicles which comply with our road traffic law requirements benefit from advantageous treatment within the UK taxation system. They are, for example, exempt from annual vehicle excise duty, and electricity is exempt from fuel duty. In addition, the Government announced recently that it would make £250 million available from 2011 for a system of incentives to build the market for electric and plug-in hybrid cars by helping to reduce the purchase price and supporting the deployment of recharging infrastructure.
However, we are of the opinion that Segways, as powered vehicles, do not comply with our road traffic law requirements and may not therefore be used on the public road or on cycle or pedestrian facilities. The noble Earl, Lord Erroll, asked whether Segways could simply be treated as bicycles. Promoters have suggested that they might qualify as electrically assisted pedal cycles, which are not treated in law as powered vehicles. Electrically assisted pedal cycles may use the public road and cycle facilities without registration and insurance. Riders can be as young as 14 and do not require a licence. However, Segways meet neither the UK nor EU definitions of an electrically assisted pedal cycle. The most fundamental point is that both UK and EU law require pedals by means of which the vehicle can be propelled manually, which clearly is not the case with a Segway. British electrically assisted pedal cycle regulations are under review with the aim of closer alignment with those of Europe, but removing the pedal constraint is not, I am afraid, being proposed because the view is taken that the requirements ensure that electric vehicles used on cycle facilities are similar in performance and behaviour to other cycles using the same space.
I was more interested in the Ministers earlier statement about using cycle facilities or footpaths. Although we have said that it is totally impossible under an old law for powered vehicles to use the same facility, we still have what he termed invalid carriageselectric buggiesshooting up and down them. Presumably, that is illegalin which case, why are they not being prosecuted? Alternatively, there is an exemption, which could therefore be extended.
Earl Attlee: If I may have a little pop at the Minister while he is consulting his officials, he referred to the performance of a purely pedal-propelled bicycle compared with an electrically assisted bicycle and a Segway, but surely a conventional pedal cycle would have a much higher performance than a Segway.
Lord Adonis: I was simply explaining what our view of the law was at the moment. Of course it would be possible to change the law, but the Committee needs to know what the law is so that we know what obstacles would need to be overcome if the Segway were to be used.
On the point made by the noble Earl, Lord Erroll, about invalid carriages, there are specific legal provisions that enable invalid carriages and specific cleaning vehicles to be used on pedestrian facilities.
Lord Adonis: Parliament is, of course, supreme. As a distinguished legal jurist said, Parliament may do everything except make a man a woman or a woman a man, and even that is not certain. Noble Lords collective capacity to change the law is not in question. If we are to move in this area, though, we need to be clear what laws need to be changed.
Consequently, it is the departments view that the Segway may be used in this country only on private land with landowner permission. We are aware that Segways are being used in this manner to some extent; my noble friend Lord Harris, the noble Earl, Lord Liverpool, and the noble Viscount, Lord Falkland, noted various different contexts in which that was true, ranging from golf courses to airports, from show grounds to warehouses. That offers a considerable range of usage and marketing opportunities.
Segway promoters were invited some time ago to share with my department any information that they had on Segway trials and usage in other countries. We also suggested that they engage with a wide range of other stakeholders, such as Cycling England, Sustrans and Living Streets, and share the results of such discussions. They kindly made available German, Canadian and American reports on Segway trials and usage and a report on a private land trial at Heathrow airport, together with other materialfor example, on
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On the CO2 aspects, the material supplied has been considered by officials. The report set out comparisons in CO2 emissions on a per-passenger-kilometre basis between a wide variety of vehicles. However, it did not consider the whole-life carbon impact of the vehicle, which would include its manufacture and disposal. The Government would therefore welcome further views on the carbon issue, taking account of the whole-life CO2 cost of Segways and not simply the per-kilometre usage.
Taking stock, significant changes in the law would be required to enable Segways to be used in the way suggested by promoters. We have yet to be convinced that it would be right to change the law so that this could take place, but we will continue to analyse and consider representations and further evidence, including the evidence made available from international experience. As I have said, we will respond, as we promised to do at the meeting on 26 March, to the latest information that has been made available to us.
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