Transport, travel and logistics
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Unlocking a new, greener mode of transport for the UK
E-scooters have become an increasingly visible phenomenon in cities around the world as authorities seek to address issues of congestion and poor air quality. In 2019, riders took 136 million trips on shared micromobility vehicles in the US alone. With such an increase in uptake, it’s estimated that the global e-scooter market will grow to $30 Billion by 2025.
In May, driven by COVID-19 constraints and a need for socially distanced travel options, the Department for Transport (DfT) announced accelerated rental e-scooter trials across the UK, with West Midlands leading the way. Drawing on insight from other countries, we supported Transport for West Midlands (TfWM) to design the UK’s largest e-scooter trial. With 400 vehicles at launch, the trial is providing people in the West Midlands with a new, greener and more sustainable travel option.
used insights from global pilots to shape the design of a trial with potential for up to 10,000 e-scooters – the biggest in the UK
informed the development of critical operational rules, ensuring TfWM could launch the trial in only four months
showcased emerging micromobility best practices to make choices clearer, and easier for senior stakeholders and decision-makers
Four hundred e-scooters were launched on the streets of central Birmingham and Coventry in September, and up to 10,000 could join them over the next year. They’re part of a trial – the biggest of a series around the UK – investigating if e-scooters can offer the potential for convenient, clean and cost-effective travel.
COVID-19 has made the UK’s search for new forms of urban transport still more urgent. Even with one-metre social distancing, the pandemic has cut capacity on buses by at least 66 per cent. For keyworkers who must travel to work during national and regional lockdowns, micromobility vehicles are critical to ensuring they can work while not endangering those operating transit vehicles. Rather than encourage people to use cars to make short journeys, trials like TfWM’s aim to demonstrate that there is a sustainable, affordable alternative. They also aim to clarify how e-scooters can co-exist safely with other modes, as well as pedestrians.
A trial like the one in the West Midlands was originally planned for 2021, but the DfT accelerated trials for implementation as early as June 2020. And it picked TfWM to run one of the first of a series of trials around the UK.
Working with our partner Ride Report, a Software as a Service (SaaS) platform provider that works with cities to help make sense of their micromobility data, we shaped the trial, and its design, by contributing analysis and insights from 70 cities globally.
Ride Report’s platform ingests vehicle and trip data from shared mobility operators and provides cities like Austin, Texas and Auckland, New Zealand, with metrics in report, map, and graphical views. Using insights drawn from these cities and others with scooter programmes, our transport and delivery experts strategically advised on important parts of the West Midlands trial’s design. These included defining the areas where the trial operates (trial zones), approaches for TfWM to manage e-scooter parking, and rules and regulations on issues like scooter speed limits and geofencing.
For example, our insights from international trials meant TfWM could make informed choices on:
Introducing a new mode of transport at the right pace
Chicago’s launch schedule showed the value of building the size of the scooter fleet gradually to balance operators’ capacity, public demand and the need to avoid filling city streets with unused scooters.
Adopting ‘smart parking’ in a dockless world
The experience of Paris led us to recommend the adoption of a ‘smart parking’ approach that combined designated parking zones, physical on-street ‘corrals’, geofencing technology and incentives to stop users leaving scooters on streets.
Managing the user experience
Research for Auckland Council by Ride Report showed the value of designing robust operational rules. For example, setting operating hours from 5am to 10pm would enable commuters to use scooters to travel to and from work and reduce the level of night-time nuisance riding.
The one-year trial started in central Birmingham and Coventry, just four months after TfWM announced plans for it. The plan is to expand it beyond city centres as demand grows.
By highlighting key issues for TfWM to consider, our work has helped them shape the overall trial design, avoiding many common pitfalls along the way. We’ve shown it’s possible for the UK to benefit from coming late to micromobility by drawing on the lessons learnt from around the world, helping local authorities and transport bodies make complex decisions easier. Our recommended approach from the very beginning has been to start small and scale fast as a way of boosting the chances of a successful trial.
The trial will tell TfWM how much demand there is for e-scooters, who uses them, and for what kinds of journeys. For instance, it could show that commuters take to them as an alternative to buses for the last section of their journey from railway stations to work. These insights will help make the next steps clearer as TfWM decides what sort of future e-scooters can have. The trial will also contribute to national policies that could make e-scooters a more common sight on the UK’s streets.
We’re very pleased to have been asked to stage such an important e-scooter trial. Designing and launching it in such a short time was clearly a challenge. But PA’s work enabled us to rapidly benefit from global best practice, and quickly access a broad range of expertise. It’s meant we can carry on offering sustainable, alternative public transport as we build back better from COVID-19. And it’s made the trial more likely to succeed.
We’re excited to see the UK and TfWM start operating scooter programmes. Around the world, we've seen how cities are using data to evaluate micromobility, shape regulation, and oversee day-to-day management. TfWM's scooter programme can become a playbook for how to successfully implement new mobility rather than simply react to it.