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Ministers urged to regulate e-scooters as Pedicabs Bill clears Commons

Ministers have been urged to set out road rules for e-scooters and e-bikes, as measures to regulate London’s pedicabs moved towards becoming law.

Labour claimed the Government had continued to “duck” its responsibility to regulate electric-powered bikes and scooters, but transport minister Guy Opperman told MPs he was keen to see them regulated in the long term.

It came as the Pedicabs (London) Bill cleared the Commons, paving way for the first attempt at regulating the vehicles to become law.

The Bill faced criticism from Conservative grandee Sir Christopher Chope, who claimed the cycle rickshaws are to London what gondolas are to Venice.

Coronavirus – Mon Sep 28, 2020
A pedal-powered rickshaw rides along Old Compton Street at closing time in Soho, central London (Yui Mok/PA)

Concerns have previously been raised that many pedicabs lack basic safety features and can cause traffic problems, such as parking in bus lanes or flouting one-way rules.

Regulations would include licensing, fares, safety, roadworthiness and speed restrictions.

Transport for London is currently unable to regulate pedicabs and the police have few powers to control them effectively.

Shadow transport minister Simon Lightwood told MPs: “Whilst there was no doubt that this Bill is hugely welcome to London’s West End and a handful off other London areas, these measures should have been introduced as part of a far wider transport Bill.

“Because elsewhere in transport policy, there remains desperate need for major transport reform, particularly on e-bikes and e-scooters, but the Government continues to duck this responsibility and has refused to use this opportunity to bring forward a long-promised and long-delayed transport Bill.”

Labour MP Matt Rodda (Reading East) meanwhile pressed the Government to reveal if it had plans to regulate e-bikes and e-scooters in the near future.

He said there needed to be a “sensible approach to these new vehicles” which encourages the use of more environmentally-friendly transport, but also “keeps them off the pavements and avoids people being scared to walk down the street”.

Transport minister Mr Opperman said regulating e-scooters and e-bikes would be complex, adding: “However, it is unquestionably the case – and I speak as the minister who answers for accessibility issues – that it cannot be the situation in the long-term.

“I accept that there is an ongoing research project effectively going on in respect of these particular alternative vehicles, but it cannot be the case long-term in my humble opinion that we have an unregulated system where vehicles can be deposited on the pavement, which particularly for those who have accessibility, or who are blind, or have other disability issues, are unquestionably compromised by that.

“There has to be regulation going forward. I am very keen to see that, but again… there has to be a way to get what is the right form of regulation to allow this to go ahead.”

Conservative former minister Sir Christopher had earlier urged caution about overly restrictive new rules for pedicabs, though ultimately withdrew his series of amendments to the Bill.

He told MPs: “Pedicabs are to London what gondolas are to Venice, an essential part of the colour and vibrancy of our capital city.”

The Christchurch MP added: “In the same way as I don’t think many people in Venice use gondolas as a means of getting from A to B quickly, pedicabs are not I think essentially used as a means as an alternative to getting on a bus or the Underground, they are there for a bit of fun and recreation.

“And why would this Conservative Government want to be legislating them out of existence? Well I don’t think it does.”

He went on: “Is this Bill then the equivalent of a morphine syringe driver, to kill off pedicabs?

“Or is it a necessary protector of responsible pedicab operators? Both I and I think the minister want it to be the latter.”