Coventry City-Centre e-Cycling Ban

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Following its consultation on proposals back in September, Coventry City Council confirmed last month its intention to ban e-cycles (and e-scooters) from the pedestrianised city centre. We now have greater clarity on that prohibition where the wording of the PSPO led to a number of questions.

The original proposition by the City Council was to ban all forms of cycling and e-scooter use in the city centre. Since then, the actual amendment to the Public Space Protection Order (PSPO) only covers e-cycles and e-scooters, and rightly makes allowances for people who use e-cycles as mobility aids following representations by the likes of Wheels for Wellbeing. However, questions were still raised as to what the Council considers an “e-bike” for the purpose of the PSPO, whether an EAPC* compliant e-bike would be caught by the Order if the motor were switched off, how people are expected to demonstrate a need for a cycle as a mobility aid, etc.

This is the relevant wording of the Public Space Protection Order:

f. Pedal cycles, Skateboarding and manual scooters
Any person riding a pedal cycle, skateboarding or riding a manual scooter must do so in a
careful and considerate manner and must dismount if requested to do so by an enforcing
officer when continuing to ride would cause a danger to the public or public offence. Failure
to comply will leave them liable to enforcement.

g. E-bikes and E-scooters
Any person is prohibited from riding, cycling, or using an E-bike or E-scooter, within the
protected area shown on the attached map (Appendix 2b). Unless:

  1. that person has a reasonable excuse for failing to do so; or
  2. the owner, occupier or other person or authority having control of the land has
    consented (generally or specifically) to that person failing to do so.
    Any person may push and walk alongside their E-bike, or E-scooter through the defined area.

Nothing in this order applies to a person who uses a mobility scooter for access reasons or a
person who uses an E-bike or E-scooter as a mobility aid and cannot safely dismount and
push a cycle for any significant distance, but these persons must use these aids in a careful
and considerate manner.

Coventry City Council, Public Spaces Protection Order (City Centre) 2023

On the surface then, this isn’t terrible. Anyone riding a non-electric-assist cycle, a normal unpowered scooter, or skateboard can continue to do so as long as their riding is in a careful and considerate manner, which is exactly as it should be.

The difficulty comes with “e-bikes”. Given e-cycles that are compliant with the EAPC specification are legally treated as pedal cycles, are these actually caught by the Order? If they are, what about if the motor is switched off within the defined area? Does the Order actually only apply to non-compliant cycles (i.e., what would legally be classed as electric mopeds or motorbikes)?

And then (and more importantly), if the vehicle is used as a mobility aid, what is the definition of “significant distance” in the Order? Would those who technically can “safely dismount” albeit with difficulty or discomfort be forced to walk their cycles? How would users be expected to prove the mobility aid exemption to an officer if stopped?

These were all questions put to Coventry City Council on 09 November, to which they responded earlier this month. Given the Order was technically in force from 11 November, it was disappointing if unsurprising that these responses weren’t provided sooner, but we have them now.

Clarifications on “e-bikes” caught by the Order

The City Council has confirmed that its definition or meaning of “e-bike” is any bike that is fitted, or appears to be fitted, with a motor. This would therefore include EAPC compliant cycles, despite them being legally classed in the same category as regular pedal cycles.

It has also confirmed that the matter of whether the motor is activated, or is capable of being activated, is irrelevant for the purpose of enforcement. So, any rider who has switched off e-assist, or who has a flat battery – or has even removed the battery – would still be in breach of the Order should they ride through the protected area.

The reasoning is perhaps obvious – if an enforcement officer sees a motor, they can stop the rider regardless of its activation state. However, should an actual prosecution be sought for sensibly riding a deactivated e-bike through the area, it would seem extremely unfair where in the same circumstances the rider of a regular unpowered cycle would be permitted to carry on.

Clarifications on the use of e-bikes as mobility aids

Coventry City Council has confirmed that the exemption based on the use of an e-bike as a mobility aid will be on a case-by-case basis, with no clear definition of what constitutes a “significant distance” nor any clarity over how a rider is supposed to prove their exemption – again, noting that each instance will be determined on a case-by-case basis.

The response here unfortunately appears to lead to uncertainty and leaves open the possibility of unequal treatment – what one enforcement officer may permit, another may not. It raises doubts over whether the City Council will judge an impairment to be “enough” to warrant the use of an e-bike as a mobility aid, especially where it is a “regular” bike rather than perhaps a more obvious adapted vehicle that is being used – and who are the enforcement officers to make that judgement anyway?

While it is good to see the exemption listed, there is an ongoing lack of clarity, definition, and process which leads to risks.

The full request for information

The text of the full request and the associated responses can be found in this document (PDF).

EAPC – Electrically-Assisted Pedal Cycles i.e., those with a motor limited to 250w, a maximum assisted speed of 15.5mph (25kph), and that must be pedalled for the motor to activate (back).

Cover image by West Midlands Fire Service. Available under Creative Commons licence CC BY-SA 2.0 DEED.

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