A BIT OF LADY FLORENCE.
Photo: Taken during our time at Stellas Cafe pop up with Muswell Hill Creatives.
Electric Scooters have been making a few headlines this past year and a half. Stories about people on scooters mugging people, reckless riding on pavements, exploding on public transport and basically being a nuisance or just downright dangerous. We hear little about the people who actually use them as forms of transport the way electric and pedal bicycles, motorcycles and cars have been used on a daily basis for the past 100 years. I’d like to shed some light about this little known culture that I myself, am on the fringes of.
I purchased my first scooter at the beginning of 2021. I seriously am not even sure how I came to buy one as I was not even looking for one. Such is the internet... I recall having seen a rental scooter in Warsaw in winter 2019 and thought- that must be fun and a great way to get around a city- although I did not attempt to get on one. I have always had a love of portable modes of transport such as skateboards, bicycles and push scooters (all of which I have and had at some point). Movement and flight has a been a fascination of humans from Da Vinci to the Wright Brothers and I guess I am no different in that respect. I was also getting more local orders at the time and wanted to deliver them personally. However, after a few months riding on the scooter I had purchased, I realised that I needed a scooter with a more powerful motor to ride up hills and suspension to soften those lovely London potholes. Thus now I have two. Like children, I love them both differently and for different reasons.
1- In the UK, privately owned scooters are only legal to ride on private roads- it doesn't have to be a private road you own, but it does need to be private. i.e. It is illegal to ride them them on public pavements or roads.
2- You can legally purchase a scooter from John Lewis, PC World, Halfords and a host stores of specialising in electric transport. Yes that is correct, it is legal to buy and illegal to ride.
3- Rental scooters went on trial in the UK in 2020 and are legal to ride on roads and pavements- All of them are capped at a top speed of 15mph and are only available in certain cities and limited areas (I have never even seen them in London though I hear they exist). During a crackdown in May 2021 over 500 privately owned scooters were confiscated during the exact same week that rental scooters were introduced. Make of that what you will.
4- If you are caught riding a privately own scooter on a road you can be fined £385, have 6 points taken off your drivers license and have your scooter confiscated and destroyed (literally with giant angle grinder or such).
5- Privately own scooters are legal to ride on the road in most countries in the EU such as France, Spain, Netherlands and Germany (they all vary with age restrictions, speed of scooter etc).
6- You can charge the battery from your home outlet- just as you charge your phone, overnight.
7- Motorised scooters are not new. They were on roads in 1916.
8- A mid range scooter can have a speed of around 30-35mph and can have a range of 15-60miles per charge (some have even higher specifications and can cost up to £7000).
9- There are communities of E Scooter riders all over the world- like a new generation of environmentally aware Hells Angels- albeit with smaller wheels and less leather.
A Hells Angel in her own right, this is Lady Florence Norman, a suffragette, on her Auto- Ped in 1916. Photo: Public domain. The Retronaut.
Like Lady Florence here, I ride on the road as I would a bicycle. I wear a helmet, hi viz and elbow pads. And I have lights for when it is dark. I follow the Highway Code just as I would if driving my car or riding a bicycle. I have ridden all the way to Waterloo in around 35mins which is about the same time it would take on the tube. Often during the pandemic with only around 50% of people wearing face masks on the tube (even when mandated), a scooter became a safer way to travel into town without getting all sweaty on my bike. There is a sense of freedom on an electric scooter that is hard to explain. A friend of mine tried it once and said it was like ‘floating’. With the speed of a moped, you’ll never have experience so much fun just standing upright. But most importantly, it serves as a means of getting from A to B on a mode of transport that cost next to nothing to maintain and cleaner for the environment than a car.
I too have read about the accidents they have caused but all vehicles, including bicycles have caused accidents- e scooters are not alone in this regard and therefore logically should not be singled out. I agree that they shouldn’t be ridden on pavements and certainly not with two people on board. This is the prevailing negative image and public perception of e scooter riders but it is certainly not true of all of us. Anyone who rides them on roads should wear a helmet- just as you probably should while riding a bicycle. But with any vehicle, it is the ride who is safe or reckless- not the vehicle itself (I can't speak for Lady Florence...).
Some people do not have the financial means to buy and keep a car. An e scooter offers another viable way to travel in a more environmentally responsible manner. I have been approached by all sorts of people asking about my scooter. Once I spoke to a nurse who had to travel back and forth to peoples homes and was thinking of buying one as it was more convenient than a car and less hassle than the bus. She didn't know the first thing about them but I was happy to give her a lowdown. Although keen, she was however, concerned about the grey area of legality. She said how convenient it would be instead of waiting for a bus all the time. It is very convenient. Instead of a 15 min walk and back from trip to the shop, I save around 30mins zipping in and out to the post office or the shops. It is also easier to move in and out the house than a bicycle and take less space- and even less when folded.
E scooters and other forms of personal electric transport are a force for change in the way we move around a city- in a greener, space saving method. With our need to change our infrastructure in transportation and the reliance on fossil fuels, electric vehicles have answered this call and this change needs to be ushered in with regulations, not fines, confiscation and destruction of said vehicles (creating more waste in the process which is just downright lunacy). Banning them is not the answer, regulation is. Without regulation, it is the Wild West.
Advertisement for Puck Magazine in 1916.
Should you be inclined to find out more or want to try an e scooter, one wheel or Unicycle (those single wheel self balancing devices), PET is a warehouse store that allows you to book a test drive of any of their products. They are based in Walthamstow/Leyton and I will leave a link below.
I found out about PET because of a case regarding a young woman named Kayla who was charged £385 and had her scooter confiscated by police while she was riding on the road. PET had found out about this and not only gave her a job at PET but have been helping her to challenge the £385 fine she incurred. More info:
Kayla at PET also was the person who accompanied me for a test ride on one of their scooters a few months ago. They also invite people to come by on Saturdays to try out their scooters, one wheels and unicycles.
Over 100 years have passed since Lady Florence rode her scooter. She also helped change the laws about who can vote in the UK. No doubt she was an individual who was forward thinking towards a brighter future. We all have a bit of Lady Florence in us. The sooner the UK changes the laws on e scooters, the sooner we all can have access to a safer, space saving, more environmentally friendly mode of transport.