By Dr. Magda Cepeda-Zorilla, Department of of Strategy and International Business
In this blog I write about the return of e-scooters to Birmingham with a new rental company. I emphasise the absence of research on the advantages and disadvantages of using this mode of transport in the West Midlands. So far, the majority of e-scooter users are young men and e-scooters are not replacing short vehicle trips, but rather some walking and public transport trips. Therefore, the benefits if its use for modal shift are minimal and to date it doesn’t reflect on increasing access to mobility options to other road users such as women or elder people. This blog emphasises that currently its use represents a burden on public health caused by the cost of injuries from accidents using e-scooters. This blog concludes that although e-scooters have the potential to replace short car trips, this has not been the case so far and that it is crucial to incentivize its use with a focus on short car journey substitution; otherwise, there is a risk of a decline in walking trips that can have negative health effects on the population in the longer term.
E-scooters return to Birmingham
E-scooters (ES) are back in Birmingham as part of the Governmental trial. Trialled rental use was legalised on 4 July 2020 for use on UK public roads and Birmingham is now trialling it’s second provider of the scheme. Transport for West Midlands (TFWM), has stated that the idea behind the e-scooters as with other forms of micromobility in the region is to introduce more flexibility and more choice to give people more realistic and viable options to commute. Although this is important, in the case of ES it is also essential to conduct analysis of the public benefits of having them.
Benefits from the use of ES
Using ES to substitute short journeys by private vehicles could provide solution to some urban challenges such as traffic congestion, CO2 emissions as well as other pollutants, noise, and car accidents (Chang et al., 2016). They could provide a solution for the first-last mile problem or even be used for door-to-door trips (Hardt and Bogenberger, 2019). However, the Parliamentary Advisory Council for Transport Safety in the UK (PACTS) stated that international experience and evidence shows that “the public benefits are illusory and the disbenefits substantial, at least in a European context”. Following there are some of the challenges faced by the ES.
Challenges of the use of ES
First of all, trips made by ES are not replacing short vehicle trips, the journeys are very short and are rather substituting walking and public transport trips. According to a study from e-scooters users in Paris, the shift was mainly from walking and public transportation (72%) and few have increased their total mobility by making new trips which are mainly for leisure (6%) (Christoforou, et al. 2021). This poses a different problem as ES could potentially substitute active travel like walking and cycling and, thus, generate negative effects to public health (Civity, 2019). Environmental concerns such as higher CO2-emissions, negative effects caused by the production of ES, as well as charging, collecting and distributing of shared e-scooters are also noted in research (Laa and Leth, 2020).
Accessibility and inclusion is also a challenge. Different studies in European cities have found that the greater proportion of users are young males (Laa, and Leth, 2020 and Christoforou, et al. 2021). Research in Paris found that ES users are mostly men, aged 18–29, and have a high educational level. On the other hand, to hire an ES in the UK, you must have the category Q entitlement on your driving licence and therefore, people without driving licence cannot rent one.
The use of public space for riding, as well as for parking is a further challenge. In the case of the trial in Birmingham, parking might not a problem now that the scheme is taken by the new company, who have ensured ES are no longer free floating and will be parked in a dock next to the current bike share systems. In terms of public space, the risk of the ES being driven on the pavement can increase the feeling of insecurity for pedestrians and other road users, especially, it can be unsafe for people with disabilities, visually impaired or with compromised mobility.
Another issue related to the ES is the cost of injuries for the health system. In France, with the increase of use of ES, researchers observed a 23% increase in crashes involving microvehicles in 2018 (Christoforou, et al. 2021). Research from the UK found that the cost per patient was £1482.46 or £927.25 if immediate surgery was not required. And again, the profile of the people admitted to hospital were made by mainly men, and only a minority of the reported cases were associated with the influence of alcohol or drugs (7.4%) (Ahluwalia, et al. 2023).
In conclusion, although so far cities have been dealing with this form of micromobility with a trial and error method (Christoforou, et al. 2021) the balance between advantages versus challenges seems to incline more for the second (PACTS). This, because although ES have the potential to replace short car trips, the evidence shows that so far this has not been the case, therefore, it is crucial to incentivize its use with a focus on car journey substitution. Otherwise, there is a risk of a decline in walking trips which can affect negatively people’s health in the medium and long term. Regarding the current conditions of legality of e-scooters, the study from Paris stated that rules and legislation remain unclear in many cases (vehicle certification, right-of-way, speed limits, obligatory safety equipment, insurances) (Christoforou, 2021). This is another area that needs to be considered and there is also a need for more research on interventions to prevent ES injuries including protective clothing and helmet wearing to reduce unnecessary costs for the healthcare system (Ahluwalia, et al. 2023).
Ahluwalia, R., Grainger, C., Coffey, D., Malhotra, P.S., Sommerville, C., Tan, P.S., Johal, K., Sivaprakasam, M., Almousa, O., Janakan, G. and Din, A., 2023. The e-scooter pandemic at a UK Major Trauma Centre: A cost-based cohort analysis of injury presentation and treatment. The Surgeon, 21(4), pp.256-262.
Christoforou, Z., de Bortoli, A., Gioldasis, C. and Seidowsky, R., 2021. Who is using e-scooters and how? Evidence from Paris. Transportation research part D: transport and environment, 92, p.102708.
Laa, B. and Leth, U., 2020. Survey of E-scooter users in Vienna: Who they are and how they ride. Journal of transport geography, 89, p.102874.
Chang, C.C., Wu, F.L., Lai, W.H. and Lai, M.P., 2016. A cost-benefit analysis of the carbon footprint with hydrogen scooters and electric scooters. International journal of hydrogen energy, 41(30), pp.13299-13307.
Hardt, C. and Bogenberger, K., 2019. Usage of e-scooters in urban environments. Transportation research procedia, 37, pp.155-162.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the University of Birmingham.