Trials of electric scooters on UK roads are to be ‘fast tracked’ and £2Bn will be spent on walking and cycling as part of Government efforts to encourage more sustainable travel habits during and after the Covid-19 crisis.
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Transport Secretary Grant Shapps told the nation at Saturday’s Downing Street briefing that plans to test e-scooter rental services in four Future Transport Zones will now be brought forward from next year to next month.
The trials will also be opened up to “every region in the country that wants them, in a bid to get e-scooter rental schemes up and running in our cities as fast as possible”, he added.
The Transport Secretary said that introduction of the technology could help to reduce car use for shorter journeys and take pressure off bus services. “These trials will help us assess their safety and benefits, together with their impact on public spaces.”
The West Midlands is expected to be one of the first places in the UK to begin trials in Birmingham and Coventry. The region’s mayor Andy Street commented: “This trial will help bring more flexibility, choice and greener travel solutions for the region, at a time when we are facing a climate emergency and urging people to leave the car at home.
“We will also use the trial to look at the current transport challenges the Coronavirus pandemic has presented us with and explore how e-scooters could be used to help tackle them.”
The UK’s other Future Transport Zones are in the West of England, Portsmouth & Southampton and Derby & Nottingham.
Consultant WSP’s head of future mobility Giles Perkins described the acceleration of e-scooter trials as a positive step in the right direction. “As part of a future facing, integrated mobility system, e-scooters could play a vital role in providing another mobility mode within an expanding suite of sustainable transport solutions.”
Sector commentators have also broadly welcomed Grant Shapps’ announcement of a £2Bn package to boost cycling and walking, which includes a £250M emergency active travel fund for local councils to deliver pop up bike lanes and wider footways. They warn that the opportunity must not be wasted to encourage more sustainable travel behaviours over the long term.
Walking group Living Streets’ interim chief executive Jenny Wiggle said: “Now, more than ever before, it's important we reduce the barriers to exercise, travel healthily and ensure our public spaces are fit for the future. This investment will help more local authorities to do this.”
She added: “Now is the time to plan our public space for the future. We all need to walk more and drive less to tackle the crises of public health, traffic congestion, air pollution and climate change.”
Cycling UK policy director Roger Geffen said: “Councils now need to seize the initiative and introduce new cycle provision while our roads are relatively empty, to make sure we keep our streets clean and safe for children to return to school, and to help the wider economy get moving again in a cleaner, healthier way.”
Road safety charity Brake’s director of campaigns Joshua Harris commented: “This horrific pandemic has caused a huge amount of pain and damage but we must learn what we can from it and it is clear that people value cleaner, quieter and safer streets – it is incumbent on the Government to grasp this unique opportunity and make a permanent change to the way we get about.”
A further announcement regarding plans for the remainder of the £2Bn fund is expected in the summer, when an updated cycling and walking strategy is due to launch. New statutory guidance instructing councils to reallocate road space for significantly increased numbers of cyclists and pedestrians has also now taken effect.
Also, a new national cycling champion is set to be appointed and GPs are urged to prescribe cycling to help patients improve their fitness.
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps added: “We know cars will continue to remain vital for many, but as we look to the future we must build a better country with greener travel habits, cleaner air and healthier communities.”
In addition, the Government is working with technology companies to explore ways in which mobile phone apps could help commuters stagger their journeys and advise on alternative modes of travel to prevent public transport from becoming overcrowded.
(Photograph: Joaquin Corbalan P - Shutterstock)