University of the West of England (UWE Bristol) researchers have published the results of the West of England rental e-scooter trial.
E-scooters have become a common sight in Bath, Bristol and South Gloucestershire. The scheme launched in October 2020 and is one of 32 e-scooter trials permitted in England by the Government. With three times as many trips as any other scheme in England, the West of England scheme has been by far the largest in the country. The trial offered short and long-term e-scooter rental options to the public and has been operated by Voi Technology, with new operator Tier taking over the running of the scheme later this year.
UWE Bristol was commissioned by the West of England Combined Authority to conduct a comprehensive evaluation of the impacts of the scheme. The findings of that evaluation have informed the specification and award of the new rental scheme contract, which will also offer e-bikes and e-cargo-bikes.
The researchers used data from the trial operator about how people used the scooters alongside other data on collisions and injuries and how e-scooter riders interacted with other street users. Both users and non-users were interviewed about their experiences with e-scooters.
Kiron Chatterjee, Professor of Travel Behaviour at UWE Bristol, who led the study, said: “We found many people in the area have adopted e-scooters into their way of life. In February 2023, 64,000 different people were using rental e-scooters in Bath and North East Somerset, Bristol and South Gloucestershire each month, that’s the equivalent of 7 per cent, or 1 in 15 of residents of these areas.
“People are using them to get to work, college and university, as well as leisure and shopping. Users are predominantly younger adults with 85 per cent of all e-scooter trips made by 18-35 year olds.
“Younger users generally do not have a car and the scheme has made it easier for them to get around and provided access to destinations previously not possible. However, e-scooters are used far more by younger than older adults and by men than women, and it would be preferable for a shared system like this to be used more broadly across the population.
“The new contract starting this autumn will offer e-cycles as well as e-scooters and will be attractive to a wider demographic than current e-scooter users.”
The study assessed how the scheme is helping cut carbon emissions. John Parkin, Professor of Transport Engineering at UWE Bristol, explained: “We estimated that use of the rental e-scooters is leading to a net reduction in carbon dioxide emissions. The reduction makes a small contribution to the reduction we need to see in transport to meet net zero, but all reductions of any size are necessary. Reductions would be bigger if the scheme led to more car users switching to e-scooters.”
One concern is whether e-scooters are safely interacting with other road users. Dr Jonathan Flower, Senior Research Fellow at UWE Bristol, explained: “Observations at sites in Bristol showed a very high number of near-misses involving e-scooters and other road users, but this also applied to cyclists. That’s when an e-scooter or cyclist rode within a metre of a parked vehicle, or when a vehicle overtook a rider and left a gap of less than 1.5 metres. Some 95 per cent of near misses were with motor vehicles.
“The proportion of e-scooter riders and cyclists riding through red signals and riding on footways was similar to each other. But while 57 per cent of cyclists wore helmets, only nine per cent of scooter users did which may explain high injury rates from falls for e-scooter riders.”
Dr Flower added: “We found the lowest rates of pavement riding in places with separated cycle infrastructure. Good cycling infrastructure will meet the needs of both cyclists and e-scooter riders and will help increase the diversity of users. Creating good quality environments for both walking and riding should be a high priority.”
An important aspect of the study was to examine interactions between e-scooters and pedestrians.
Dr Tamara Bozovic, Research Fellow at UWE Bristol, said: “Walk-along interviews allowed us to gain a better understanding of pedestrian experiences. We found that rental e-scooters could cause stress, especially to disabled participants, and sometimes lead them not to visit places with high concentrations of e-scooters or even reduce how much they walk.
“We found that users generally felt safer around e-scooters than non-users, when walking in the city. Older and disabled people were more likely to experience diminished walking experiences due to e-scooters, including feeling less safe.
“These findings are important and timely - deciding whether and how to implement rental e-scooter schemes should be based on sound evidence on what they mean, for diverse groups of citizens, and their rights to the city.”
Reflecting on the study, Professor Chatterjee said: “Given the e-scooter trial in the West of England has been the largest in the UK, this evaluation is of national importance. Other scheme providers can learn from it.
“It shows e-scooters provide a valuable addition to the urban transport mix for many people, but it also highlights issues that need to be addressed.
“I am pleased to say that the West of England Combined Authority has taken account of the evaluation findings and the next phase of the trial will involve e-cycle hire as well as e-scooter hire and has provision to reduce adverse impacts on pedestrians through better management of parking.”
The full report has been published on the website of the West of England Combined Authority, which funded the evaluation.