- What are the health impacts of e-scooters and e-bikes?
The Department for Transport (DfT) published the Future of Mobility: Urban Strategy in March 2019. The strategy committed the UK to becoming a world leader in shaping the future of mobility, to support a ‘green’ restart of local travel and help mitigate reduced public transport capacity. In July 2020, DfT put in place regulations allowing trials of rental electric-scooters (e-scooters) to be fast-tracked and expanded. Several pilot rental schemes are operating in various cities. In 2021, DfT launched a pilot electric-cycle (e-cycle) scheme providing e-cycles (also known as electric bikes, or e-bikes) to those with the highest need.
It is legal to buy or sell an e-scooter in the UK, however riding those that are privately-owned on public roads, pavements or in cycle lanes is against the law. It is only legal to use, in this way, e-scooters that are provided as part of a DfT pilot scheme. E-bikes are covered by the same regulations as pedal bicycles.
E-scooters, as well as e-bikes, are an increasingly popular form of transport in urban areas. E-scooters and e-bikes could have both positive health impacts (e.g. reduced air pollution, increased active travel) and negative health impacts (e.g. more injuries, pavement clutter, physical inactivity). Both could impact on health inequalities. The act of riding e-scooters in itself is unlikely to offer physical activity benefits, indeed some health researchers have expressed concerns that e-scooters may replace active forms of transportation such as walking and cycling. E-scooters may be more affordable than other forms of public and private transport, enabling opportunities for employment, education and leisure. E-bikes, on the other hand, have been highlighted as a method of active travel that could overcome some of the commonly-reported barriers to cycle commuting. E-cycling can contribute to meeting physical activity recommendations and increasing physical fitness. As such, e-bikes offer a potential alternative to conventional cycling. In addition, e-bikes are a potentially viable and more affordable alternative to car usage in an urban environment due to their load-carrying capacity and range. Affordability may impact on health inequalities by enabling economically disadvantaged populations greater travel opportunities.
There are potential barriers to e-scooter and e-bike usage including initial costs, storage, charging, cultural acceptability, and availability. Gaining a better understanding of the true positive and negative health and health inequalities impacts of e-scooters or e-bikes should start with a greater understanding of users, patterns of usage, and barriers and enablers to use. The potential health impact of e-scooters and e-bikes is related to user behaviours, for example whether and to what extent substitution for other forms of transit occurs, whether use is for commuting or recreation, and level of compliance with safety regulations.
The Public Health Research (PHR) Programme wishes to commission research on the health impact of e-scooters and e-bikes. The PHR Programme is predominantly interested in interventions operating at a population level rather than at an individual level, and which address health inequalities and the wider determinants of health. The PHR Programme recognises that interventions are likely to impact different (sub)populations in different ways and encourages researchers to explore such disparities in their study design.
The PHR Programme recognises that this call may be broad in its nature but would like researchers to be targeted in their chosen research area. Primary outcomes must be health related. The health impact may be indirect, however a health outcome must be specified. A range of study designs and outcome measures can be used. Researchers will need to clearly describe and justify their choice of health outcomes, target population group, as well as justify their chosen methodological approach. Researchers are encouraged to consider additional outcome measures including the broader determinants of health and inequalities of health, which should be specified and justified. Researchers will also need to specify key outcomes and how these will be measured in the short, medium and long term.
Understanding the value of public health interventions – whether the outcomes justify their use of resources – is integral to the PHR Programme, where resources relating to different economic sectors and budgets are potentially relevant. The main outcomes for economic evaluation are expected to include health (including health-related quality of life) and the impact on health inequalities as a minimum, with consideration of broader outcomes welcomed. Different approaches to economic evaluation are encouraged as long as they assess the value and distributive impact of interventions. Applications that do not include an economic component should provide appropriate justification.
Researchers are strongly encouraged to ensure that service users, including people with lived experience from the target audience, are involved in the design and planning of the intervention or as potential costed members of the research team. Researchers should demonstrate the relevance of their proposed research to decision-makers and people with lived experiences and they might do this through involving them as costed members of the research team. Researchers are encouraged to explain how they will share their findings with policy makers, public health officers, special interest groups, charities, community audiences and other relevant stakeholders.
Researchers are expected to be aware of DfT evaluations of pilots and other studies in this area, as well as relevant developments in practice, in order to ensure that their research is complementary and adds value.
For further information on submitting an application to the PHR Programme, please refer to the Stage 1 guidance notes and PHR supporting information. These can be found by clicking on the relevant commissioned call on the main funding opportunities page. This also includes closing dates and details about how to apply.