A letter to all local authorities with e-scooter trials from CoMoUK, the national charity for the social, economic and environmental benefits of shared transport
CoMoUK has a track record since 1999 of seeking best practice in shared transport, working closely as it does with public authorities via forum meetings, 1:1 conversations and guidance; and with private sector providers via operator memberships and collective discussions.
I am motivated to write this letter by our concern for good practice in shared transport procurement, in this case via proportionate and high quality procurement of e-scooter trial extensions that will lead to greater sustainability and success for this mode as a whole rather than threatening it.
In CoMoUK’s view the e-scooter trials have been a success in terms of sustained and high numbers of riders alongside low incident rates. We will soon be publishing our own report into the UK e-scooter trials, based on extensive data sharing by operators and extensive interviews with both authorities and operators.
But there are new challenges now facing e-scooter providers in what we hope is an interim period before Government creates its new powered light vehicle class and thereby moves to legalise and set comprehensive standards for e-scooters. With the welcome announcement from Government of e-scooter trials being extended to May 2024, some trials will be re-procured.
The recent significant worsening of the UK and global economic outlooks combined with the highest rates of inflation for two generations have changed the dynamics for e-scooter operators. Capital-raising for operators has become significantly harder. Operational costs have risen sharply in this high inflation environment. The length of time it is taking for the UK to move to legalisation is taking its toll on investor confidence. Unlike many other forms of sustainable transport, e-scooter trials have not received any public subsidy and do not benefit from any preferential tax treatment.
We urge authorities to exercise caution in seeking financial contributions from operators, both as a matter of good public procurement practice and to avoid threatening the viability of schemes and operators. Revenue-sharing arrangements are an example of approaches which are likely to be overly onerous financially. Instead, we would favour examining profit-sharing options, in the context of the tough financial and economic conditions described above. Additional financial contributions are also sometimes being sought from operators. These are highly unlikely to be sustainable. They also raise troubling questions of procurement practice. Any criteria against which tender bids are judged should be objective and clearly communicated. Weighting towards financial contributions necessarily sways procurement outcomes. This is an approach which neither fits with good procurement practice nor is likely to be ultimately sustainable for any party involved. Such emphasis being placed on the financial side of bids inevitably downgrades the scores that can be achieved by bidders for vital areas such as hardware and software development and deployment, community relations, safety. All costs of operations will to a degree bear down on users, reducing equity of access.
We share with authorities their ambition to see any reprocurements done on a fair basis that will be sustainable through to May 2024 and beyond as part of growing and stability what is still a nascent sector in the UK. This should be done by focussing on the socio-economic benefits that this subsidy-free mode brings in terms of social value, decarbonisation, sustainability, productivity and growth.
Richard Dilks, Chief Executive, CoMoUK