Following a couple of fires on the London Underground, TfL has decided to impose a ban on all e-scooters and e-unicycles across its entire network and its stations.
From Monday (13th Dec), customers using either sort of device will not be permitted to enter any premises on TfL’s network or travel on any of its services, including on the Tube, buses, Overground, TfL Rail, Trams and DLR.
The reason for the ban being introduced is that there have been two fires in recent months involving the battery-powered devices – one in Stanmore tube station, and the other on a tube train at Parsons Green.
Following a review, it was found that the fires had been caused by faulty lithium-ion batteries which ruptured without warning, resulting in fires that caused toxic smoke to be released. Lithium-ion batteries are considered to be a fire hazard, and it often only takes a small manufacturing fault or software glitch can cause sudden temperature rise and often serious fires. Although when used in smartphones, the fire risk is these days minimal as manufacturers have doubled down on battery safety following fires in phones a few years ago, there seems to have been less focus on battery quality in low-cost unregulated e-scooters and similar devices.
So it’s not that the concept of an electric scooter as a form of mobility is a problem — although some may argue that point — the issue is that cheaply made e-scooters seem to be a potential fire risk. And quite big fires at that.
Announcing the ban on e-devices from next week, TfL said that it is concerned that if fires were to happen again and occurred in an enclosed area such as a tube train or a bus, there could be significant harm to both customers and staff, as well as secondary injuries from customers trying to escape the area.
There is also the awkward fact that most privately owned e-scooters are illegal to use on the public streets and pavements anyway, and people shouldn’t be buying them, but they are.
TfL’s own trial of rental e-scooters, which began in June 2021 as part of trials permitted nationally by the Department for Transport (DfT), offers the only e-scooters legally allowed on London’s roads. These e-scooters are also not allowed on TfL services.
The ban will apply to all e-scooters and e-unicycles, but does not include mobility scooters that are permitted on the network or e-bikes. TfL says that e-bikes are generally subject to better manufacturing standards and the batteries are usually positioned in a place where they are less likely to be damaged, and so are less of a fire risk.
Anybody who does not comply may be refused entry, directed to leave the network or face a fine of up to £1,000. The Metropolitan Police has also appealed to retailers to be responsible when selling e-scooters, and has reminded Londoners that the use of privately-owned e-scooter and e-unicycles on public roads, cycleways and highways is illegal.