When it comes to micro-mobility, particularly e-scooters, safety concerns have always been one of the key talking points. Media articles have attempted to create a skewed perception of e-scooters being dangerous that do not necessarily correlate with reality, which is backed up by comparable data. This has created hurdles when it comes to the smooth introduction of e-scooters to the UK where the lists of benefits these sustainable modes of travel bring with them. Whilst the e-scooter legalisation process is well underway Blue Zoom wants to do our part to reveal some key facts to give parliament some helpful insight.
E-scooters’ rapid and unregulated overnight introduction across the world led to an overdose of media attention: big tech had made another bold move to solve a global problem, hoping to forgo permission now and ask for forgiveness later. For companies such as Bird and Lime this kind of attention was ideal and supplemented the excitement that e-scooters bought as they arrived in one city and then the next. When The Verge wrote about the latest fleet implementations, they brought to light emerging household phrases including commuters who will casually state “I’ll take a Bird” as an alternative to saying “I’ll Uber”. Electric scooter sharing experienced mass-adoption as students, professionals and tourists alike rushed to have a go at this novel and highly accessible mode of travel across cities and university campuses.
However, the media created a split opinion. People’s idea of e-scooters ranged from “commuting liberation” to “hazard”. Politicians' perception ranged from a low-cost, hands-free congestion solution to a public nuisance. And media companies kept writing to present both sides of the argument, like this piece from TechCrunch literally called “E-scooter Wars”. With such polarizing views, it became very hard to reach a verdict. It revealed two key benefits for e-scooter companies: the rapid uptake and therefore newfound reliance on these scooters meant that they were not going to be immediately removed from the street easily, and second, formal regulation was going to take a while to catch up. This meant e-scooter operators were free to seamlessly integrate with the very fabric of city furniture, further increasing the difficulty to upend them.
There is, however, one major problem with this much media attention. The moment a fatality occurs, it’s very hard for an e-scooter company to contain the news, let alone get a truthful explanation to the world before everyone is talking about a major accident. Ridership immediately drops, and cities aren’t built to react in a manner that safeguards the people and the industry. Instead, authorities have no choice but to introduce harsh regulations that damage adoption and encourage people to get back into their gas-guzzling cars for trips less than 3 miles. Yuk.
For an industry that has the potential to fulfill multiple catastrophic problems faced by major cities, such as toxic air, climate change, congestion, oh, and now social distancing - harsh regulations seem completely illogical. After speaking to a number of city officials, however, I have learned that this isn’t their intention. Recent polls state that the British nation very clearly wants e-scooters legalised (including the decision-makers in parliament) but the government is not structured to change laws quickly as there needs to be multiple hierarchical and separate department sign-offs, which is most difficult in the midst of a pandemic. Nonetheless, the UK has made incredible progress with several major cycle lane investment initiatives. The Government’s ambition is to double the number of journeys made by bike by 2025 and with some of the fastest uptake in cycling ever recorded from the measures created by the impacts of Covid 19, the speed of electric scooter legalisation may now increase - check out our opinion piece on this from our previous blog.
So, for all this perceived understanding, what does the data say about safety? It’s mixed. Some studies have taken to actively tracking e-scooter accidents and the level of injury, however, they fail to represent the true picture by comparing it to other modes, particularly cars. Take this article from The Telegraph on a particular study that actually presented a non-bias argument. The study shows that e-scooters are safer and far less likely to result in an injury to a pedestrian than a car or motorcycle. Mid-way through 2019, 8 American fatalities had been tied to e-scooters and 1500 injuries as of February, 2019. While presenting this data on its own may lead you to believe that e-scooters are dangerous, these numbers pale in comparison to vehicular fatalities and injuries. The National Highway Administration reported 102 fatalities per day in the U.S. for car travel - that’s 7,000 times as high as the e-scooter daily fatality rate.
So we can talk about potential flaws in micro-mobility safety all day, but there’s a more fundamental question that must first be addressed: Is it the micro-mobility vehicles and their riders that are the problem, or is our industry simply the victim of the dangerous driving habits of larger vehicles and a lot of media attention? A number of studies have proven that reducing inner-city vehicle speed can have a swath of major benefits for both cyclists and e-scooter riders safety. An insightful article by CityLab discusses the broad spectrum of benefits lowering inner-city road speeds has. Slower streets, as reported by Gabe Klein in Forbes, means improved quality of life for pedestrians who can more freely and safely explore their city. Kids can play outdoors without their parents playing hawkeye the entire time. And these impacts are all compounding. When drivers are forced to go slower and watch as e-scooters and e-bikes slide past them in bike lanes and the metro goes past overhead, it becomes more and more difficult to justify owning a car. As long as cities and private companies act to ensure they maintain the financial resources to continue expanding the necessary infrastructure needed for micro-mobility, this change will continue to grow momentum. Cities such as NYC are making positive steps forward and learning from each other as they go. Portland ran a major effort to reduce speeds to 20 mph across much of the city with efforts already planned to go further. We are making progress, but cities and companies must work together, not against each other, to preserve this positive movement.
At Blue Zoom, safety is at the core of our focus. Blue Zoom provides the next generation of electric scooters and electric bike fleets for our clients that are industrially designed to be universally rideable by all user groups. Both vehicles have a stable riding position and low center of gravity to allow riders of different levels of experience to have fun safely. For our B2B clients, we issue helmets to all of our clients’ riders and even perform workshops at their location where riders can be taught how to correctly operate the e-scooter or e-bike. Inclusive of our monthly subscription service, our specialists’ mechanics undertake regular maintenance checks throughout the month to ensure each vehicle in our clients fleet is ready for the next rider. We are also leading the charge in safety technology - we are currently using global satellite positioning technology capable of recognising when an e-scooter or e-bike is riding or parking on the pavement illegally where we can automatically reduce the vehicle’s speed by 50% and state warnings on our app. This is solving one of the major pain points so often laid out by city officials and pedestrians, as reported by the Washington Post. E-scooters are radically transforming cities and how we move, however, to keep momentum strong, we have to transform how the media reports vehicle data. E-scooters are safer. The data says so. Now we just need the media to say so too.