E-scooters for hire outside South Ken Tube

How about this, some photos photoed by me, yesterday!

E-scooters, of the only sort that are legal in London, outside (see above) South Kensington tube.

When and where can I ride an e-scooter legally? Is that what you’re wondering? Follow that link to find out.

E-scooters can go at 60mph, but these ones are fixed so they can only do 15mph. You can ride them on the road but not on the pavement. This way, the e-scooting community will be in danger themselves, but will subject pedestrians to fewer dangers. All will depend on how this is policed.

My current personal opinion is that making e-scooters work will require a major upheaval of the transport system, and this will not happen in a city like London any time very soon. Much more likely is that some place, somewhere on earth, where the masses really want e-scooters and are very willing to take the risks of driving them at a worthwhile speed, will subject itself to this upheaval, and may even make it work semi-safely. At which point, the rest of the world will look, and copy, maybe. But, I think all of that is quite a way off. For now, they’ll only be toys for boy racers. During Lockdown, the roads were rather empty and they worked well and were winked at the by law, even though supposedly illegal. I suspect that will all end now.

But, those are only my guesses. We shall see.

My photos don’t show the details of what was on those cards legibly. Sorry about that. In can tell you that the middle card of the three in the last photo was “Rules of the Road”, but the rules were unreadable. The bloke in my photo presumably did better in that regard. Maybe I should have used my mobile.

Why electric cars will soon displace petrol cars (and some general thoughts on the significance of non-disruptive technology)

I have been keeping half an eye out for a piece of writing that summarises how, and why, electric cars have been on the up-and-up, and today such a piece presented itself to me, by Justin Rowlatt, the BBC’s Chief environment correspondent:

The first crude electric car was developed by the Scottish inventor Robert Anderson in the 1830s.

But it is only in the last few years that the technology has been available at the kind of prices that make it competitive.

The former Top Gear presenter and used car dealer Quentin Willson should know. He’s been driving electric vehicles for well over a decade.

He test-drove General Motors’ now infamous EV1 20 years ago. It cost a billion dollars to develop but was considered a dud by GM, which crushed all but a handful of the 1,000 or so vehicles it produced.

The EV1’s range was dreadful – about 50 miles for a normal driver – but Mr Willson was won over. “I remember thinking this is the future,” he told me.

He says he will never forget the disdain that radiated from fellow Top Gear presenter Jeremy Clarkson when he showed him his first electric car, a Citroen C-Zero, a decade later.

“It was just completely: ‘You have done the most unspeakable thing and you have disgraced us all. Leave!’,” he says. Though he now concedes that you couldn’t have the heater on in the car because it decimated the range.

How things have changed. Mr Willson says he has no range anxiety with his latest electric car, a Tesla Model 3.

He says it will do almost 300 miles on a single charge and accelerates from 0-60 in 3.1 seconds.

“It is supremely comfortable, it’s airy, it’s bright. It’s just a complete joy. And I would unequivocally say to you now that I would never ever go back.”

We’ve seen massive improvements in the motors that drive electric vehicles, the computers that control them, charging systems and car design.

But the sea-change in performance Mr Willson has experienced is largely possible because of the improvements in the non-beating heart of the vehicles, the battery.

The most striking change is in prices.

Just a decade ago, it cost $1,000 per kilowatt hour of battery power, says Madeline Tyson, of the US-based clean energy research group, RMI. Now it is nudging $100 (£71).

That is reckoned to be the point at which they start to become cheaper to buy than equivalent internal combustion vehicles.

But, says Ms Tyson, when you factor in the cost of fuel and servicing – EVs need much less of that – many EVs are already cheaper than the petrol or diesel alternative.

At the same time energy density – how much power you can pack into each battery – continues to rise.

They are lasting longer too.

Last year the world’s first battery capable of powering a car for a million miles was unveiled by the Chinese battery maker, CATL.

Companies that run big fleets of cars like Uber and Lyft are leading the switchover, because the savings are greatest for cars with high mileage.

But, says Ms Tyson, as prices continue to tumble, retail customers will follow soon.

How fast will it happen?

The answer is very fast.

It’s not just a question of price, although too high a price for a new technology is of course a deal breaker. Equally important is that because of all these recent discoveries and improvements, electric cars will no longer be a disruptive technology. They will fit right into the road system we now have, without too much in the way of expensive infrastructure (think petrol stations), which means, crucially, that as each individual judges that now would be a good time to make the jump, that jump can be made without fuss.

See also, robot cars. These will require infrastructural upheaval on a grand scale, hence the endless delays, with robot cars having been just about to arrive in a big way for about as long as any of us can remember. Hell, even electric scooters are a disruptive technology, because even they require a whole new network of disruptive infrastructure for them to work without constant fatalities and injuries. But these electric cars will be no harder to fit on the roads than regular cars already are.

If you’ve been paying any attention to this change, you will know that electric vehicles are, of course, already with us. If, like me, you have recently taken a taxi ride or a bus ride, and realised that stopping and starting have recently become unnaturally quiet and smooth, then you’ve already travelled in an at least partly electric vehicle, on a regular road.

When a technology arrives without half the people looking at it realising that that’s what it even is, that’s non-disruptive. Because of personal computers, a whole generation has been spouting drivel about the joys of disruptive technology, but the non-disruptive kind is far more transformative. Because, to take the example of electric cars, who knows what they will end up doing, once everyone but a few freakish petrol-headed hobbyists have bought into the basic idea. Eventually, once electric cars have entirely replaced regular cars, there will then be all sorts of disruptive consequences of that having happened, on all manner of other processes and experiences. In the longer run, historians may perhaps decide that the long term significance of electric cars was that they made it possible for cars to be properly robotised, in a non-disruptive way as far as the mere roads are concerned, step by small step, bit by bit. But all of that is still to come.

Another totally non-disruptive technology is 3D printing. Despite all the crap you may have read about 3D printing transforming everything, 3D printing is not now nor is it ever going to be transforming home or work life, the way personal computers have. 3D printing is, quite simply, a new way to make stuff, to add to all the other tricks and turns that stuff-makers have been using down the centuries. Unless you are intimately involved in manufacturing, you could have ignored this new technology completely, just as you may have been ignoring electric cars. Yet 3D printing is already huge.

E-scooters big and small – safe and unsafe

I get emails whenever e-scooters are mentioned on the internet, but the problem with these emails is that they often refer to very different sorts of vehicles.

E-scooter can mean this …:

… which is a photo I found in a piece linked to in today’s google email.

Or, perhaps more commonly, e-scooter means this …:

.. that being a lady I photoed e-scooting along Vauxhall Bridge Road last week.

Another piece linked to in today’s e-scooter email was to this report which says that hired e-scooters are to be tested in various parts of London from early next month.

This piece claims that:

In the U.K., the electric kick scooter is classified as a PLEV, or Personal Light Electric Vehicle, and these are illegal on British roads or pavements.

That sentence includes two verbiages I’ve not encountered before, “electric kick scooter” and “personal light electric vehicle”, in an only moderately successful attempt to clarify that they are talking about e-scooters like the one in my Vauxhall Bridge Road photo, rather than about something heavier like the Honda photo above. The giveaway being that they still felt the need to include a photo of an e-scooting person standing on an e-scooter like the one I photoed, to make it entirely clear which they meant.

As for the notion that these contraptions are “illegal”, well, in London, they fall into that category of “illegal but actually allowed”, along with such things as possessing marijuana, or big left-wing demos during total Lockdown. As all Londoners know, e-scooting of the second sort above is regularly to be observed on London’s roads and bicycle lanes and footpaths. And as my photo also illustrates, this is not only being done by dodgy looking male teenagers in hoods but by respectable looking people like the lady in my photo. I could of course be quite wrong, but something about how she has arranged everything in her backpack, and her all-round appearance of sartorial organised-ness, to say nothing of her womanly as opposed to girlish figure, says, to me anyway: “steady job”. Which I believe she was engaged in getting home from when I photoed her.

I remain very curious to see how this story plays out, post-lockdown. My understanding is that the rulers of the world won’t be happy until they have entirely banished all private cars from all places like London, and that if any e-scooters get mown down by old school internal combustion type traffic, the traffic will be blamed rather than the maimed or killed e-scooting persons.

In my opinion, e-scooters like the above Honda are basically okay in the current traffic regime, but that to accommodate “personal light electric vehicle” type e-scooters will require a major rewrite of the traffic rules, and a massive amount of physical re-arranging. This is because, in my further opinion, e-scooters like the above big scooter are more or less safe, so long as you are careful, whereas e-scooters like the above smaller scooter are deaths and maimings just waiting to happen. I have talked with several random members of the “illegal” e-scooting fraternity (“Excuse me, I write on the internet about transport matters, I wonder if you could tell me about these machines …”), and they seem to feel that, appealing though these things are as an idea, they are not, as of now, nearly as safe as they’d like them to be. My guess, as I say, is that they will eventually be made to work safely, but only after what amounts to an urban transport revolution.

We shall see.

Two dogs and two e-scooters

Spotted by me this afternoon, as soon as I set out to the Medical Centre:

That’s two dogs there, and two e-scooters. You can tell they’re e-scooters rather than just scooters, because of the wires, and because what couple, with dogs, would have, you know, scooters? That they had to push along? Also, they walked right past me, and I got a close look.

This charmingly convivial scene doesn’t tell us that e-scooters will survive the resumption of, if you get my meaning, London. When the traffic finally roars back, will e-scooters be safe enough for such people? I now somewhat doubt it. But maybe they’ll find their niches, in the quieter and more bike-friendly bits of London, like the bit where I live, the quiet bit between Horseferry Road and Vauxhall Bridge Road and north (or is it east?) towards Vincent Square. I saw several other e-scooter drivers today, including, rather interestingly, a guy with an e-scooter which had a wider platform than usual, so he could stand with his feet next to each other, in the manner of this gizmo.

What the above photo does tell us is that there are maybe more people than is widely realised who would like e-scooters to have a future in London. This couple are not your normal e-scooter drivers, burly singleton types speeding to and from work, or with rucksacks on their backs and delivering at speed. These two look like they’ve settled down, and would like that settling down to include e-scooters.

Like I’ve been saying for months now, we shall see.

Lots more e-scooters – and an e-scooter near miss

When out-and-about yesterday afternoon, I lost count of the e-scooters I saw. These are about half of them, or so, maybe less. The photo-quality is rubbish, because I was usually busy photoing something else, and because, on London’s currently very empty roads, these things go really quite fast, and are usually past me before I even notice them. My speciality is static stuff, like architecture and sculpture and signs and photoers photoing and taxies-with-adverts stopped at traffic lights. E-scooters are seldom static, and when they are I tend not even to see them:

The best photo of an e-scooter by far that I photoed yesterday showed a very clear face of the person doing the e-scooting. Since there are legal uncertainties about whether and where these things are allowed, I didn’t show that one.

As Lockdown drags on, I become ever more impatient to learn whether these machines have any long term future in a traffic-heavy city like London. Lockdown has created very e-scooter-friendly circumstances on London’s roads, but that cannot last. I am zero-ing in, in my autodidactic way, on a law of transport, which says that all vehicles are really systems. You can invent a superbly clever vehicle. But if the right environment for it does not exist, or is the kind of environment that the powers-that-be are not inclined to create, then it’s no go. Steam locomotives are obviously also railway networks. Cars and lorries are, almost equally obviously, road networks, for which, in the early days of the car, there was huge political backing. Bicycles likewise need bicycle networks, or at the very least laws restraining the cars and lorries from running them over on what is basically their network.

Perhaps my waning enthusiasm for e-scooters is linked with the near miss I was subjected to very recently by a delivery e-scooter, e-scooting on the pavement I was slowly walking along. He was in a big hurry and had he hit me, I’d have suffered serious damage. I can remember when such behaviour was fairly common with juvenile-delinquent propelled bicycles, but someone or something seems to have taught some manners to the scumbag cycler fraternity in recent years. The e-scooting people will have to learn similar lessons if they want any help from the politicians, to create an e-scooter network. The e-scooting people I see, in London SW1, are almost none of them juvenile delinquent in demeanour or dress. They all seem like hard-working young citizens. That delivery guy is the nearest to an e-scooter delinquent I’ve encountered, but he too was working, very hard indeed, which is what caused the problem. Needless to say, I had no time at all to take any photos. He wasn’t stopping to apologise, quite the opposite. If he’d hit me, he’d have done a hit-and-run escape, assuming he was able to.

Once anecdotes like that start circulating, the politics of e-scooting will become more like the politics of knife crime. As in: Why the hell isn’t it being stopped?

Promising looking e-scooter from TAUR

This looks rather promising. It’s a new design for an e-scooter which, by the look of it, is still portable, but which answers some of the doubts that are now being expressed about e-scooter safety.

Carson Brown, the designer and public face of TAUR argues that a basic cause of e-scooter danger is the ungainly body posture demanded by the current and less bulky versions of the e-scooter:

One thing that sets TAUR apart is the foot platforms, which provide a dedicated place for the rider to stand. Instead of placing your feet behind one another with your hips twisted awkwardly, you stand fully facing forward with your feet side by side. The platforms are 2.5 times wider than the deck of a typical scooter and help the rider with stability. The benefit of facing head-on with your body aligned is that you are able to twist 180 degrees in either direction — giving the rider maximum ride awareness.

There are other tweaks added to achieve much greater safety, like much bigger and tougher wheels, and lights to signal your presence. In general, the TAUR, Carson says, is an e-scooter designed to travel on roads, rather than merely on super-flat surfaces like shopping centre pedestrian areas.

Having been watching the e-scooter story unfold, I note that a big problem now is that to achieve maximum portability, safety seems to have been sacrificed. That’s a deal breaker for many and probably most people. I’d sum up the TAUR by saying that the “traditional” e-scooter, the one we now see trundling about in London from time to time, is the smallest and cheapest and most portable e-scooter you can have that still goes reasonably well. The TAUR, on the other hand, is the safest e-scooter you can still carry by hand when you’re not travelling on it. It’s not as light as it can be, so you can lift it easily. It’s as heavy and bulky as it can be, while still remaining liftable.

This reminds me somewhat of the definition of, I think it was, the General Motors Cadillac. A car like the Ford Model-T was the cheapest car you could have, and that of course was mass produced, to make it as cheap as possible. And of course GM had their version of that also, at the bottom end of their range. But, the top-of-the-range Cadillac was the most luxurious car GM could still sell in sufficient numbers for it to be mass-produceable. This notion of satisfying a basic requirement while maximising another very desirable variable is a powerful way to think about the design of manufactured things, I think. The trick being to choose exactly the right variables, to be satisfied, and to be maximised.

Some more e-scooter photos

If obliged to select just one of the many photos I have photoed during Lockdown and before Lockdown was over and done with (i.e. now and for the foreseeable future until all this nonsense ends and we can get back to whatever the new normal turns out to be), I think I might well choose this one:

The big point about the photo above, photoed earlier this week, is the state of the road that the e-scooter is travelling on. No other traffic. London is still in a state of semi-Lockdown, of a semi-voluntary sort. Roads like the one you see above are often empty, and into this emptiness several dozens of e-scooters have raced joyously, as shown above. But if and when anything resembling normality returns to this road, it will fill up with regular traffic, and it will then change from the total safety you see above to a state more like “you almost certainly won’t die today”. For an e-scooter, it will be like being in Bomber Command during the war. Your chances of surviving the next trip will be quite good. Surviving a tour of two dozen operations, not so much. Commute every day for ever and you’re doomed to severe injury or worse.

A few dozen minutes later, in Parliament Square, I saw something with much more of a future, namely a fully functioning bicycle road, both ways, with a white line in the middle, just like a regular car road. And all this in a spot which has been a shambles for about half of the last decade, on the Parliament approach to Westminster Bridge, with Big Ben up on the right as we look:

And then, on this same cycle road, an e-scooter:

That arrangement has a future, because this is a glimpse of the new normal. E-scooting and bicycles seem to coexist very happily safely. This is especially so if the e-scooters make a point of going at the same speed as the cyclists, whenever overtaking would be any problem. The point being that e-scooters can go much faster than bicycles, but often shouldn’t.

I was going to show a couple more e-scooter photos, but a blogging rule I constantly forget but have remembered now is: if you can separate out your points into separate postings, it’s probably best to do that.

So, I’ll end on this point. Bicycles and heavy motorised traffic don’t go together well. But bicycles and e-scooters, with the heavy traffic removed, that works very well.

Just as bikes flattened the roads to make way, literally, for the first cars, so too now, bikes are now narrowing their roads, to exclude those same cars and to make way for e-scooters. I believe “History” to be in the category list for this posting with good reason.

E-scooters on a train

Today, GodDaughter2 and I finally met up with each other. The timing changed again, from yesterday afternoon to this afternoon, but the location was as previously rearranged, Acton Central railway station.

Once in Acton and wandering around therein, I did little photoing. Surprising though it may appear to many regular readers of this blog, I focussed almost all of my attention on GD2 herself. We did take a few photos of each other, but I did little in the way of photoing the many attractions of Acton.

However, once I got into the train back home from distant Acton, normality reasserted itself, and in the train I sneaked a few photos of something I’ve not seen before, namely a guy with an e-scooter, on a train:

I’m surprised I’ve not seen this sooner. I thought I had spotted one a week ago, but the guy said it was a mere scooter.

But this e-scooter was the real thing, and it wasn’t the only e-scooter I observed, as GD2 and I wandered around seeking an eatery, and then a drinkery. I reckon there were about half a dozen, all told, although I wasn’t counting at the time. Including another e-scooter mate of the guy in the picture who turned up just after I took the above photos. But we were all then getting off at the same stop, and I wasn’t able to photo the two of the together.

As a modified version of Lockdown persists, e-scooters are multiplying in London. But will they survive the return of traffic normality?

Two early e-scooter sightings

I only seriously noticed e-scooters this year. But whenever I seriously notice something, the pattern is usually that I have already noticed it, but rather less seriously.

So it was with e-scooters. Here are the two earliest photoings of these devices that I’ve so far been able to discover in the photo-archives.

This one was spotted and photoed by me in July of last year, in the vicinity of the Tate Gallery (ancient version):

And then, two weeks later, in August, there was this, beside Victoria Dock, out east:

A piece of up-and-coming technology being driven towards some ancient tech that is now only a sculpture. When I say ancient tech, I’m talking about the lower reaches of the old dock crane there, not the ship. The ship is still a real ship. Well, nearly. It’s now a hotel. But it could surely still travel, if business would be better elsewhere. And behind all that is the footbridge across the dock, a particular favourite of mine.

My next task is to discover what e-developments suddenly made e-scooters possible, during the last five years or so? Was it just that e-motors got smaller? Was it the batteries that made the difference? Once again, the Internet falls over itself to tell me how to buy an e-scooter, but is less forthcoming about why I am suddenly able buy such a thing at all.

My taxis-with-adverts enthusiasm is no more than an aesthetically driven hobby, the way my granny used to collect ornamental plates, or so I recall it. Watching what happens to and with e-scooters during the next few years will be to watch a little slice of transport history.

E-scooters in Oxford Street and buying a Dyson fan in the only place I could have bought one

Today I went shopping in Oxford Street. I was photoing cranes and roof clutter and scaffolding and suchlike, when an e-scooter wizzed by, so I was able to photo that instead, and when I got home, I discovered there was another e-scooter in my photo:

Because I was swinging my camera from left to right, the invisible face would have been in focus but was invisible, but the visible face was out of focus, so it all turned out rather well.

As did the shopping. I was at the Dyson Shop in Oxford Street to try to purchase a Dyson God machine, one of those ones shaped like the a giant version of the end of a needle where the hole is. You sit in front of these magic devices, twice a day, morning and evening, chanting rhythmically, and if you do everything right, you get turned into a perfect person who will live for ever. They sell it as a machine which spits out cold or hot purified air to order, but I know better. Because London is in the grip of a heatwave, I assumed that these devices, which all you Muggles think are just devices to stay cool with, would all have been sold and I’d have to wait a month, minimum, until London is cold again. Which I was willing to do, because immortality is something that I for one am prepared to be patient about.

But no. No, I realise I’m not going to be immortal and it’s just a hot/cold fan. That was just to add some comedy to this blog. But no again, they hadn’t run out of these fans in the Dyson Shop. Everywhere else in the world had run out, on and off line, but not this one shop, the Dyson Shop, which had been hoarding them for itself to sell. So I was in the one place on earth where I could have a good retail experience. How cool is that? Comfortably cool, if all goes according to plan.

These Dyson fans were selling like hot cakes. I saw three grey-haired geezers just like me taking theirs out of the shop while I was waiting for mine. Hot cake shops, meanwhile, were presumably not doing nearly such good business.

Next, I will open it and try to get it to work. Wish me luck.