In spite of the legal minefield they represent, e-scooters have evolved into one of the key industry talking points of 2019. Four industry stalwarts give their take on e-scooters’ impact on the cycling industry and the micro-mobility market as a whole.
Today, we hear from Richard Thorpe, Gocycle founder and designer.
I’ll jump straight to the point – the cycling and e-bike industry should broadly support e-scooters becoming legal to operate on our streets – but maybe start on the sidewalk and see how responsible the riders can be before unleashing them on the road?
The reason I believe the cycling industry should broadly support e-scooters is that the users of these products are on a journey to eventually end up on an e-bike.
For the most part, (this is my opinion from anecdotal evidence), e-scooter riders don’t cycle, many don’t even know how, and they probably believe that cycling is dangerous – which is really weird when many would have no issue unlocking a shared e-scooter with an app, jump on and whizz off down the road.
Evidentially, these riders have an adventurous spirit and are open to the risk that comes with commuting on two wheels – two necessary traits of any new potential bicycle owner.
I’ve been riding an e-bike for 20 years, so I get what electric power does and feels like when combined with a lightweight two-wheel vehicle. E-scooters have similar weights and power to e-bikes – but that’s where the similarities end.
While the e-scooter form factor and electric power may seem amazing to e-scooter evangelists and represent the perfect new personal commuting vehicle, I just don’t see that in any way whatsoever. What I see is a stressful and unhealthy commute.
If I chose an e-scooter for my commute, at some point on my ride to work, I’m going to be swallowed up by a new pothole (or even a small one) or drawn off line into traffic by a crack in the road, or worst of all, mistaken for a pedestrian with a walking speed by a motorist.
It’s about perspective, as regular cyclist /e-cyclist commuters, we all know the e-scooter format is completely inferior to the bicycle. But if you don’t ride bikes or don’t like bikes, you don’t yet get that.
Initially stress masquerades as fun and exhilaration. But over some weeks and months of e-scooter commuting, riders will realise that “this is actually quite stressful.” And of course, considering the much vaulted “last mile” solution, instead of walking a few miles a day, you’re now standing – see Disney’s Wall-E for more information on where that ends.
However, what will shine through to new e-scooter commuters is the absolute convenience and feeling of freedom that we all know comes with riding an electric two-wheeler, not to mention feeling that you are doing your bit for the planet. And it’s at this point that the “e-scooter plague” becomes a rich field of sprouting new customers ready and willing to upgrade to a vehicle with far more comfort, peace of mind, and road-going capability than an e-scooter can ever offer.
The natural end to the e-scooter customer journey is becoming an e-bike owner.
Upgrading to an e-bike (I’d say bike possibly too, but I think e-scooter riders will see moving to a non-powered bike as a downgrade) will come with positive health benefits and a shift to so-called ‘active commuting.’
So e-scooters are good for our industry. The money behind the companies that are driving the market opportunity has paid for an enormous amount of positive lobbying for what is essentially cycling infrastructure and at almost no cost to our industry – probably one of the most cost-effective lobbying forces for the cycling industry in recent years.
At Gocycle, our greater mission is to accelerate the adoption of more healthy and sustainable personal urban transport and I believe e-scooter companies (ok, maybe not the backers, maybe the employees and founders), share that goal minus the word healthy. Their rollout is messy. Their approach is probably not that responsible. Sharing, probably not really caring.
And sadly, like cycling, death and injuries do and will occur. But we should take a consequentialist mindset and focus on the greater good and our aligned goals.
If more people choose to commute on a light electric two-wheeler, that’s a good thing and a new generation of e-bike customers in the making.