‘Rideables’ could be the future of urban mobility – if only they were legal

Electric bikes at a factory in France. Image: Getty.

If you live in a big city, the chances are that you share Transport for London’s dream of quiet, clean, and open streets.

Cars are noisy, polluting, congesting and, for the most part, simply unnecessary. They’re a leading cause of air pollution in the capital, contributing to 9,500 premature deaths in 2015 alone and, embarrassingly, have made Marylebone Road Europe’s worst nitrogen dioxide hotspot

The Congestion Charge (£11.50 per day), T-charge (£10 per day), and incoming Ultra Low Emission Zone (£12.50 per day) have succeeded in turning London’s roads into the domain of white vans and the super-rich; but congestion has remained stagnant since 2013.

The supposed trade-off for the rest of us is London’s network of Cycle Superhighways, on which Boris Johnson spent £79m a year and Sadiq Khan will spend a whopping £154m per year during his term. He aims to get us making 1.5m journeys by bicycle everyday. But given that the percentage of Londoners who commuted by bike only increased by 1.35 per cent between 2001 and 2011 despite over £1bn pounds of investment, the mayor is a long way from getting Londoners peddling.

Brave the cycle lanes around Blackfriars Bridge on a weekday morning and you’ll find yourself overrun by a grunting, sweaty peloton of middle-aged men in lycra (MAMILs) – hardly an attractive proposition to the families and casual cyclists for whom the superhighways were developed in imitation of the cycling cultures of Denmark and The Netherlands.

This massive investment in London’s cycling infrastructure is underpinned by TfL’s contention that 6.5m journeys are potentially cyclable everyday. But to my mind, this claim is clearly flawed.

That’s because, for the majority of Londoners, the health benefits, savings on the cost of public transport (both financial and to our sanity), and convenience of travelling from door-to-door are mitigated by the fact that cycling to work often leaves you sweaty and dishevelled. It might be an advantageous look for Boris Johnson, but it certainly isn’t for most of us.

There is hope, though, for those who want to escape the hell of commuting by Underground, but who’d rather not peel off sweaty lycra on arrival at work: personal electric vehicles. The prospect of a clean, quick, and comfortable commute from door-to-door, without the requirement for parking space or a work-place shower, isn’t a distant dream, but a contemporary reality.

“Rideables”, as they are known, are not intended to supersede bicycles, but to democratise access to the cycle lanes that we are all, ultimately, paying for. They come in many forms, from electrified versions of traditional systems – the Emicro push scooter and Evolve skateboard, for example – to less conventional personal transportation solutions like the URB-E.

All three will hit 15mph, charge fully from a household plug in about an hour, take you over 10 miles on a single charge, and are small enough to be carried on public transport or stored under a desk. Many will also hold your shopping, your children, or your deliveries.


The problem? They are illegal on all British roads, cycle lanes, and pavements.

London’s population rose by 13 per cent between 2001 and 2011 and is projected to reach 10.5m by 2041. The pressure that 2m additional commuters will put on London’s already strained transport infrastructure could be eased by getting more people into cycle lanes, however they choose to use them. Giving people access to their streets by removing legal red-tape would help delay the staggering £1bn cost of new underground stations, not to mention increasing the catchment areas of existing stations.

Rideables are not a panacea for democratising metropolitan transport – but then, there is no single solution. At about £1,000 each, none of the vehicles proposed above are accessible, like bicycles. Part of the reason for their high cost is the law’s stranglehold on a potentially enormous market. Faced with the daily possibility of the confiscation of their expensive new commuting vehicle, few but the very rich will invest in a rideable as a daily tool; that restricts the size of the market, and so disincentivises the investment and economies of scale that would lower the price of rideables for all.

Since the legal status of electric bicycles was clarified in 2015, prices have fallen within reach of the average commuter; rideables would no doubt experience similar price reductions while competing with electric bicycles, lowering prices across the board.

Brompton, the ubiquitous small-wheeled folding bicycle company, has been manufacturing in London since their inventor identified the enfranchising potential of a personal transport solution compatible with public transport. The company has since grown 1,500 per cent, created 115 jobs, and been awarded the Queen’s Medal for Enterprise.

Brompton were the future once; it’s now time to allow rideables to compete – starting with legalisation.

Alfie Shaw tweets as @shaw_alfie.

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In New Zealand, climate change is driving an eco-nationalist revival

The green and pleasant land of the South Island. Image: Getty.

“Ten years ago I would have called them settler f*****g land squatters,” Mike Smith, Maori-dom’s most tenacious activist, said last November as he reflected on the agriculture industry’s central role in driving climate change. “Now I have to try and get these people on board.”

Smith is infamous for taking a chainsaw to Auckland’s most prominent tree on a damp October night in 1994 in protest of the “Pākehā” – or white European –dominated government’s fiscal envelope restraining treaty settlements. Now he’s turned his hand to another cause close-to-home for the Maori, New Zealand’s indigenous population: the environment.

“We’re super vulnerable, like we are to anything,” Smith says. “When it comes to climate change it’s like the poorest people in the world are going to be hit the hardest first, and that’s a lot of us.”

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern appears, at least rhetorically, the most sympathetic leader to his cause in a decade. In her campaign launch speech late last year, she made the future government’s position clear: “Climate change is my generation’s nuclear free moment.”

This message should resonate with followers of her Labour party: the NZ left has long nurtured an environment-orientated “culture-of-protest”. So Ardern’s call to arms was bound to gain her loyal support among children of the 1960s and ‘70s, who led the march against nuclear ship visits, spurring on the government of the time to wriggle out from the US nuclear umbrella, and place a ban on foreign nuclear ship visits.

Now, it is to the tycoons of deep sea oil exploration they aim to close NZ’s ports.

In this, Smith is not short of support locally, with marches run by grassroots organisations and international animal welfare funds beginning to gain traction with every day New Zealanders. In this, Ardern’s prediction is correct: the Coal Action Network Aotearoa (CANA), is reminiscent of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND), an earlier cluster of left-wing pacifists and nature lovers who drove the creation of the nuclear free zone.  

In December, 15,000 passionate protesters marched through the capital. And with the government’s recent ban of offshore oil exploration projects, Jeanette Fitzsimons, former Green party co-leader and the head of CANA, is optimistic about similar change to the energy and farming sectors.

The Labour-NZ First-Green party coalition seems focused on setting a new global precedent, weaning NZ away from a United States which has jettisoned the Paris Agreement. The move replicates another 20 years ago, when New Zealand’s anti-nuclear movement was central to an upsurge in New Zealand nationalism. Now, the same sense of going it alone on foreign policy is apparent both locally and in Parliament.

Dr. Gradon Diprose, a senior lecturer at Massey University, argues that this echoes an older expression of colonial nationalism, that saw “New Zealand as a land of natural abundance”. This: “eco-nationalism” is centered on “protecting certain visions of picturesque landscapes and unspoiled natural beauty”. The slogan “Clean, green New Zealand” is prevalent in popular culture and tourism marketing. The public seems to have latched onto it too, and ranked keeping NZ’s waterways “clean and green” top of a recent survey of of kiwis’ top concerns.

Three decades ago, it was the 10 July 1985 sinking of the Greenpeace flagship Rainbow Warrior that thrust local activists’ fears into the public eye, resulting in an almost nation-wide expression of climate-protectionism.


The bombing, a French intelligence operation sparked by Greenpeace’s calls for an end to foreign nuclear testing in the Pacific, galvanised a great deal of change to New Zealand’s overseas defence policies. A lack of censure from New Zealand’s Western allies drove Wellington to distance itself from the United States, while the shock of seeing a friendly nation violate NZ’s sovereignty left many at home seething.

Thirty years on, the foreign policy split throughout the Anglosphere, regarding Russian-Western relations, globalism, and the old international rules-based order, is becoming wider. Climate change is just the tip of the iceberg.

Most Kiwis you talk to will shake their heads in disapproval at US president Donald Trump’s scandalous outing last year in Helsinki. But US defiance of internationally brokered climate resolutions is something they can see clearly reflected in rural communities across the country.

The country saw records broken at both ends of the extreme weather spectrum last year. As 2018 kicked off, Kiwis sweltered through the hottest summer on record, while in Golden Bay, a small inlet near the northern tip of the South Island, residents endured the largest flood in 150 years. So, when President Trump tweets “So much for Global Warming”, the majority of New Zealanders look back fondly on NZ’s 1985 decision to boycott the “ANZUS” treaty, putting New Zealand at odds with its war-time ally America on defence legislation.

Public calls to take the same track on environmental regulation have become louder in the wake of Donald Trump’s election. The former US Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, received a frosty “unwelcome” while on a flyby to the capital in 2017, with the New York Times’ Washington correspondent, Gardiner Harris remarking: “I’ve never seen so many people flip the bird at an American motorcade as I saw today”. Protests against President Trump’s stance on climate change are beginning to gain greater traction further still, with the hundred-strong “march for science” setting the tone for the new government later that year.

New Zealand certainly isn’t afraid of radicalism, and its activists are persistent. It’s already banned single use plastics in supermarkets. Plenty more is to come, Smith says.

And yes, reform is going to inhibit sometimes vital industries: “It doesn’t matter which way you spin the dice on this, whatever’s being done is going to hurt. People who are looking for a painless way of mitigating climate change, [but] I don’t think there is one.”

But among Smith’s troupe of climate agitators, the feeling is that, without drastic change, “the land”, the heart of the Maori ethos, is going to be hurt far more.

Back in Auckland, NZ’s financial hub, an electric scooter craze is gripping the city. This, too, has gained the support of local environmentalists. In New Zealand, a national sense of pride is always coupled with a certain eccentricity. In a country this size, change always starts small.