The West of England Combined Authority (WECA) is spearheading a £28million project to test how people will get around in future.
It includes trialling e-scooters – currently illegal on UK roads and pavements – that commuters could hire for the first and last mile of their journey to the workplace and home.
WECA will test new technologies to make it radically easier for householders to hop between buses, taxis and other transport on a single ticket, with the ultimate goal of cutting congestion and improving air quality.
The Government has chosen the region to be one of three new “future transport zones” and awarded it £24million, with the combined authority providing the rest of the cash.
But WECA has been forced to deny it is testing self-driving cars as part of the study, after the Department for Transport incorrectly claimed in a press release that trials would take place between Bristol Airport, central Bath and north Bristol.
The most controversial aspect surrounds the use of electric scooters, which come under the broader term “micromobility vehicles”.
A DfT consultation document, released on Monday 16th March, alongside the announcement that the West of England has been chosen as one of three pilot areas with Southampton/Portsmouth and Derby/Nottingham, outlined the potential flaws in the plan.
It said: “Most micromobility vehicles are currently illegal to use on the road or the pavement. This is because they are ‘motor vehicles’ in law, which requires them to meet a wide range of requirements that, by their design, are hard for them to comply with.
“The review will look at whether, and how, regulation should change to legalise the use of some or all micromobility vehicles on roads. With the right regulatory framework, micromobility vehicles could offer benefits for individuals and society. Robust accident data is not yet available, as e-scooter use is a relatively new phenomenon. A number of deaths have been reported, as well as concerns about the level of hospital admissions relating to e-scooter use, mostly in cities in America.
“A study of dockless electric scooter-related injuries in Austin, Texas, from 2018 showed that the majority of injuries appear to involve the rider falling or losing control, and many riders were not wearing helmets. There are concerns about those riding on the pavement causing problems for disabled people and about the risk of obstruction and littering from poorly parked hire scooters. We want to learn from other cities to minimise these risks.”
West of England mayor Tim Bowles said: “Once again, our region is leading the world with innovation that will benefit our residents, our environment and our businesses.
“We will soon see people able to plan and move around the region at the touch of button, using the very latest technology, including e-scooters.
“Making the West of England a future transport zone brings together two of my big aims for the region – making us a global centre of innovation excellence and getting the region moving by cutting congestion and improving our air quality.
“Our future transport living lab is ready to go as we’ve already been working with universities, businesses and councils to develop the plan; now we’ve got the green light, we can start making better use of our transport network.”