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Mandatory Electric Scooter and E-bike Registration?!

Should electric scooter and bicycle registration be mandatory? Would that be a dis-incentivising policy, and is it good to dis-incentivise electric scooter and e-bike use?

Table Of Contents (T.O.C.):

  1. Introduction
  2. Is it wise to de-incentivise electric scooter use?
  3. Are there better solutions?
  4. Update: Throttle-assist 500W+ e-bikes?
    4.1. Pedal-assist (PEDELEC) vs throttle-assist e-bicycles
    4.2. Motors: 250 W vs 500+ Watts

1. Introduction

In my country (Serbia), the government will introduce mandatory electric scooter registration starting on June 2024. This brought a lot of uproar from cycling and ecology associations, NGOs, and the likes.

Basically, briefly put, the new regulations say:

  • Scooters must have technical docummentation about their max. power, speed, weight – or pass a rigorous test (that the owner pays for) to confirm those if the manufacturer’s official data is not available.
  • They must be registered with an annual fee and a registration sticker (again, the owner pays for this).

A helmet is already obligatory for the e-scooters according to the Serbian traffic law.

– T.O.C. –

2. Is it wise to de-incentivise electric scooter use?

I think it’s clear that mandatory registration and fees are in fact de-incentivising electric scooter use. The only question is whether that’s a wise thing to do. Let me explain why I think it is.

I already wrote about electric scooter pros and cons. Briefly:

Relatively fast
You can easily go over 20 km/h (13 mph) on an electric scooter, even if you are sleepy or distracted. On a bicycle, you need some effort, even on flats, to surpass that speed, and it also takes more time to accelerate, so you spend less time going over 20 km/h (at least when it comes to average commuters, not everyone is an avid cyclist in good shape, unfortunately). Riding with effort keeps you more concentrated and awake (pulse and adrenaline rise).

Small wheels
You can more easily lose control or fall when you hit a bump or a pothole. Another thing I’ve noticed while riding in my city (Novi Sad) is that scooter riders often turn or brake without announcing it, often when they come across a road irregularity that is small enough for most cyclist to casually ignore.

Harder to control
Compared to a bicycle, with an electric scooter it is much harder to make a sudden stop or turn sharply (the rider’s position and the handlebar height relative to the distance between the wheels are the main reasons for this).
I do a lot of tutoring & education, and based on that experience, I’d say that avid cyclists often overestimate the handling (and braking) skills of your average rider.

Lower visibility
Even “ordinary” bicycles are less visible than cars (the difference between being seen, and being noticed). However, that gets a lot worse with scooters. Why?

  • The rider stands with one foot in front of the other, so their profile is narrower.
  • The rider is completely static – no up-down pedalling leg movement.

This makes electric scooters a lot more difficult to notice in traffic.

Not eco-friendly
A lot of people believe that electric vehicles are eco friendly. This would require a separate article, but here’s a short version:

  • Making “electricity” pollutes the environment.
  • There are additional losses when converting “electricity” from the grid into the “battery capacity” and then into mechanical power for driving the vehicle.
    Electricity, voltage, current, battery capacity etc. explained – video
  • Batteries also pollute the environment.
  • Greater weight of electric vehicles leads to increased tyre wear – making new and recycling old tyres also pollutes (recycling is never 100% clean).

No health benefits
Standing on an electric scooter isn’t good for your health. Cycling or walking (even at least to and from a bus stop) will help more.

Summa summarum
Electric scooters are fast, hard to control, and hard to notice. This makes them more risky (more dangerous) for the scooter riders and for the others (pedestrians, cyclists, and motorists).

That’s why it makes sense to de-incentivise their use.

What about the electric bicycles?
Electric bicycles with pedal-assist motors (so no “gas throttle,” you need to pedal for the motor to help), called PEDELEC, have fewer downsides. Though they too should be controlled (max. speed assist should be limited to 25 km/h, brakes should be good etc.).

– T.O.C. –

3. Are there better solutions?

Of course.

Fuel prices, registration & insurance fees, traffic jams, scarce parking space – these are all de-incentivising people from using cars.

It certainly makes sense to invest in better public transport and improved cycling infrastructure. Money from electric scooter registration could be used to improve those.

A digression:

I’ve already published an article called: “Why cars are not sustainable?” However, as the article’s author (André Gorz) wrote, for drastic transport mode changes, we must first change how the society (and production) is organized.

Related to that, to reduce the pollution created by automobiles and planned obsolescence (making stuff so they break down quickly or become obsolete by other “tricks”), we need to quit capitalism. Thanks to brainwashing, such thoughts are a heresy for most people (and they will consider you to be an idiot if you suggest socialism or other alternatives – because “capitalism just needs to be fixed“). So, we’re stuck tinkering with car use de-incentivising regulations (at least for the poor, the rich are flying with private jets), and public transport subsidies.

– T.O.C. –

4. Update: Throttle-assist 500W+ e-bikes?

I saw UK e-bike regulations discussed on Reddit. And I think it’s a good idea to discuss the e-bikes as well as the electric scooters. These are my thoughts about the maximum e-bike motor power, and whether the throttle-assist (“gas throttle” that propells the bike even when you aren’t pedalling) should be allowed.

4.1. Pedal-assist (PEDELEC) vs throttle-assist e-bicycles

  • With pedal-assist bicycles, the motor kicks in only when you are pedalling.
    The pedal-assist bikes are called “PEDELEC” (PEDal ELEctric Cycle).
  • With throttle-assist e-bicycles, you have a throttle lever that works like a motorcycle throttle – you needn’t pedal to go.

One of the things that helps cyclists be noticed in traffic is the up-down leg motion when pedalling (why such motion helps you be seen).

That’s why I think that throttle-assist e-bikes are more dangerous in traffic – you go faster than on an “ordinary” bicycle, and are less visible at the same time.

Yes, I know that most regulations limit the motor assist to 25 km/h. See the third paragraph (“Relatively fast”) in chapter 2 to understand why it’s still a lot faster on average.

– T.O.C. –

4.2. Motors: 250 W vs 500+ Watts

A fit cyclist can sustainably put out about 200 Watts of power for a longer period. Your average joe commuting puts out about 100 W or less.

So, having a 250 W motor is a big help. Even for loaded cargo bicycles!

What about 500 or more Watts?

  • For “ordinary” e-bikes: a 500 W motor turns them practically into motorcycles.
  • For cargo e-bikes: 500 W makes them go faster on flats too, and faster and easier up hills.

The extra power adds weight: bigger motors require bigger batteries and allow you to go fast with their extra weight. The extra power lets you go a lot faster on flats (reach the 25 km/h limit in seconds) and up hills. But, the extra weight also makes you go a lot faster down hills, and the extra weight does tax the brakes (and the fork, if using disc brakes).

So, you need high-quality brakes and trained riders (again – with a 500 + W motor, you now basically have motorcycles… with pedals).

E-bikes are awesome. They let you commute by a bicycle even in hilly areas (without getting all sweaty), they help the elderly and injured/disabled, but I don’t think we should turn them into motorcycles – not without registration, MOT, driver licence (and training), etc.

That is why I think that e-bikes should be limited to pedal-assist bikes, with a maximum motor power of 250 W. More powerful motors or throttle-assist bikes should be treated as (electric) motorcycles.

– T.O.C. –

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