In recent months there has been a lot of discussion around ‘micromobility’ vehicles, including e-scooters (electric scooters), and their legalisation for use in UK public spaces. As this prospect gets closer to reality, we have serious concerns about the impact these vehicles will have on the safety, confidence and independence of blind and partially sighted people.
The House of Commons Transport Committee has asked for views on whether e-scooters should be legalised, and the Department for Transport (DfT) is set to begin trials of rental e-scooters sooner, and in more areas, than previously planned. The DfT says these trials have been brought forward because of the coronavirus pandemic, to support social distancing by creating another travel option in light of reduced public transport.
Micromobility vehicles are small mobility vehicles, which are powered partly, or fully, by a motor. For example, e-bikes (electronic bicycles) have already been approved for use, including for dockless bike hire schemes in many areas around the UK. But there are several types of micromobility vehicles which are not currently allowed on public spaces in the UK. These include e-scooters, electric skateboards and self-balancing vehicles.
In our recent travel survey, 81 per cent of respondents to told us it is important, or very important, to be able to walk independently, without a sighted guide. The prospect of an increase in quiet vehicles on our streets is making many worry about the impact on their safety. For example, we were told:
E-scooters are extremely difficult for blind or partially sighted people to see and hear. It may not always be obvious to someone riding an e-scooter they are approaching a pedestrian with sight loss. These vehicles will travel at higher speeds more often than pedestrians or pedal bicycles. They can be heavy, so we have serious concerns about the risk of collisions with blind or partially sighted pedestrians.
Where dockless bike schemes exist currently, we have already seen a big increase in bicycles parked on pavements, causing dangerous trip hazards for blind and partially sighted pedestrians. Dockless e-scooter hire schemes will add to this problem. Speaking of existing dockless bike schemes, one person told us:
We remain concerned that even with steps taken to reduce the risk of collisions, e-scooters on our streets pose a threat to the confidence and independence of many blind and partially sighted people when walking.
However, with the prospect of e-scooters being trialled soon, we’ve made recommendations to reduce the risk of collisions and to stop streets from becoming inaccessible. Our recommendations include:
We asked blind and partially sighted people to share their views and experiences through our transport survey and online focus groups, and we’ve submitted our responses to the Transport Committee and the DfT.
There’s still another Government consultation open, which is focused on the long term future of e-scooters and other micromobility, and the rules e-scooter owners would have to follow in the future. So we still need you to share your experiences in our survey, which is open until 15 June.
Any changes to our streets must be accessible for everyone. Councils are rapidly making changes to our streets to encourage more walking and cycling, so that fewer people rely on public transport. Along with our concerns over e-scooters, we’re worried that the speed of change will make it more difficult for blind and partially sighted people to get out and about.
Please write to your local councillor, asking them to make sure any local changes are accessible for everyone.