TfL’s E-Scooter Hire Trial

TfL’s E-Scooter Hire Trial

Earlier today, Transport for London announced the long awaited E-Scooter trial will be launching next month. From 7 June, three companies – Lime, Dott and TIER – will be allowed to offer their dockless scooters for hire to Londoners.

There have been a few trials in other parts of the country, and in London there has been a scheme in the Olympic Park. But this is the first time it’s properly happened on London’s streets.

Currently, e-scooters are illegal to ride on both pavements and streets, but that’s not stopped loads of people buying them and using them. Lots of major retailers sell them, even if they’re only allowed on “private land” and few of us actually have access to any significant amount of tarmac on private property.

Lime sent out an email excited that they are one of the initial partners, except that the photo they used to illustrate the news had three riders posing in Trafalgar Square, outside the National Gallery.

One issue with that is that you can assume that TfL won’t want want people riding e-scooters around the pedestrianised Trafalgar Square. And nor will the City of Westminster. Because they’re not part of the trial at all!

Because such is the way of these things, only select boroughs/areas of London are taking part. From the press release:

Boroughs and areas participating from the 7 June

  • Ealing
  • Canary Wharf
  • The City of London
  • Hammersmith and Fulham
  • The Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea
  • Richmond upon Thames

Ride-through boroughs participating from the 7 June

  • Tower Hamlets

Boroughs seeking participation in the trial

  • Lambeth
  • Southwark

I thought I’d map those areas out:

The red areas are the participating boroughs, including a small blob for Canary Wharf which is within the borough of Tower Hamlets, itself just a “ride-through” borough. The blue boroughs are those who hope to be joining the trial which is due to run initially for a year.

But you will notice that even then, we have non-contiguous areas. What this means is that:

  • If you want to ride from Canary Wharf to the City of London, you can, but you shouldn’t stop and park-up en-route. At least not if you’re in Tower Hamlets.
  • If you want to ride from the City of London to Kensington, well, you can’t. Westminster stands in your way north of the river (and Wandsworth to the south), and it’s not in the scheme at all. It’s not even a “ride-through” borough.
  • If you want to get from Richmond to Ealing, then you better do so travelling via Hammersmith, because Hounslow, which lies between the two, isn’t playing ball either.

You can only hope that other boroughs get involved and at the very least let you ride through them. The scheme is heavily policed using “geo-fencing” to ensure that scooters are only used in areas that they’re allowed to be used in, and indeed parked in select locations too. Everyone is no doubt thinking of cities where chaos reigned, and thousands of scooters were left parked everywhere.

It seems like TfL is being especially cautious in the number of scooters getting rolled out, with only 60-150 scooters in each borough to begin with. Then there are lots of checks and balances carried out both TfL and local boroughs.

Part of the problem here is that TfL can’t do this on their own. They have to work with local boroughs who all have their own powers and agendas. While TfL controls most other aspects of London’s transport, it doesn’t extend much beyond major trunk roads in the city. That’s why, when Kensington & Chelsea recently decided to rip out a bike lane that they had only weeks earlier installed (at massive cost), there was little anyone could do.

(Ironically, Kensington & Chelsea are part of this scheme – although I’m not at all sure I’d want to take an e-scooter through the traffic hell that is Kensington High Street.)

Personally, I’m not 100% sold on e-scooters, at least not without more major infrastructure so that there is space for them. I can see that they are fun – although the one time I tried one in Brussels, I was scared stupid with the small wheels not affording much protection from potholes in the road. But they are clearly popular, and if we can drive more traffic from our streets and get people using these sorts of things, then more power to them. And with more and more people using them, regardless of the legality, they’re here to stay.

I tend to prefer e-bike solutions. Yes, I’m a cycling evangelist, but the bigger wheels and higher position makes me feel more secure. I worry a bit about riders on these scooters on busier and faster London streets. The devices will be limited to 12.5 mph, and in many cases it’s sensible to “take the lane” and not be “bullied” by drivers into the curb. With lower speeds being safer, that will no doubt frustrate some drivers.

Of course, why anyone would want to drive in central London is a whole other question. In Paris, their mayor is pushing on with plans that will ban most cars from the city entirely!