New trial of e-bikes and e-scooters in Cambridgeshire needs close monitoring to ensure it contributes effectively to active travel goals

On 6 August, it was announced that Cambridgeshire had been selected for the first national trial combining rental e-bikes and e-scooters. It is expected to begin within weeks. The trial, led by the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority (CPCA), will run for 12 months to test the popularity, safety and suitability of these vehicles as a way of reducing local air pollution and congestion.

E-scooters will soon be coming to King's Parade (image: Voi/Matthew Power Photography)
E-scooters will soon be coming to King’s Parade (Image: Voi/Matthew Power Photography)

The trial also forms part of regional and national strategies to support healthy and sustainable travel during the pandemic and support the uptake in active travel which was seen over the lockdown period. Announcing the trial, CPCA Mayor James Palmer said, ‘This year has seen a 27% drop in carbon emissions and a 200% increase in cycling. With people enjoying soaring air quality and fitter lifestyles, the benefits to moving away from cars and buses are clear’. The Department for Transport says that ‘e-scooters could be a fast and clean way to travel that eases the burden on the transport network and allows for social distancing’. It fast-tracked legislation to allow rental scooters on British roads from 4 July and the first trial has already begun in Middlesbrough and Hartlepool.

In the CPCA region, the e-scooter trial will begin in the centre of Cambridge where the CPCA believe 60% of current car journeys are only 1-2 miles in length. The authority says they will allow visitors, tourists, students and commuters to make quick, short journeys across town. The e-bike locations have not yet been confirmed but are likely to include rail stations across the county, Park&Ride sites and stops along the Guided Busway.

Camcycle will be closely observing the new trial with the expectation that local authorities have learnt lessons from previous dockless schemes, particularly concerning pavement obstruction. Helping people to minimise driving during the pandemic will be vital to keep everyone safe and healthy over the coming months, so having these vehicles available to hire at low cost should allow more people to choose sustainable travel for short journeys and for the first or last mile of longer journeys.

The existing bizbike scheme helps users ‘Park and cycle’ using e-bikes (Image: Cambridge Electric Transport)

We know that e-bikes help more people to enjoy cycling, including those who are older, less physically able, travelling longer distances or carrying heavy loads. Customers of the bizbike scheme which is already in place at some travel and business hubs have been pleased with the hire cycles, so we expect the Voi cycles to be popular too. However, e-scooters are newer and less well tested than e-bikes, so rigorous monitoring will be particularly important to gain an adequate assessment of their safety for riders and other road users, their carbon footprint and the number of riders who have switched from more polluting forms of transport.

In addition, no scheme like this will achieve its full potential without safe space on our streets for walking, cycling and scooting. A survey out this week showed that two-thirds of adults in England feel that cycling on the roads is dangerous, so it is vital that the Combined Authority and county council take action to deliver the emergency road reallocation schemes they have already approved and make other permanent changes to improve cycling and walking. Camcycle would also like to see the law clarified for mobility scooters so that they can safely use cycleways alongside cycles and e-scooters: this would ensure that all infrastructure that is separated from pedestrians and motor traffic becomes a safe ‘mobility network’ for all ages and abilities.

Camcycle is currently finalising its policy on micromobility devices, which includes e-scooters and e-bikes. For more information on our position and the evidence behind it, please read our response to the government’s call for evidence on micromobility devices, which we submitted in May 2020.