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Black e-scooter riders disproportionately targeted by London police

While Britain continues to hash out regulations to standardise the use of e-scooters, alarming data shows that Black riders are most likely to be stopped and penalised by police in the capital.

2020 is largely regarded as the year the world stood still. However, emerging from numerous lockdowns, e-scooters have become a big and unexpected addition to city living.

Throughout the early knockings of Covid-19, there was a real lack of clarity on how safe it was to continue making regular use of public transport like buses and tubes in Britain – among a whole lot else.

This became the catalyst for an unprecedented explosion of e-scooter buys up 35% over 2019. A year on, market estimates predict a continued growth in value over the next six years.

Are private e-scooters legal to ride in public?

Since 2020, the government has wrangled with safe ways of fully integrating e-scooters into Transport for London, and ultimately decided that private use on public roads is too risky.

Now declared illegal, though inconsistently enforced, associated insurance firms have massively bumped up their rates.

As of July, the only authorised way of getting around London on an e-scooter is through a government hire scheme. Reasonable fees for pre-determined journeys – those who’ve used Santander bikes dotted across the nine boroughs will know the drill.

In the goal of amassing data over the next 12 months, the government will measure how safe, sustainable, and of course profitable e-scooters can be before looking at opening up private use once again.

Generally, there is still real confusion about the legal requirements of e-scooters, where they can be ridden, and what constitutes a ticketable offence. Yet since the start of the year, 2,300 of these pricey vehicles have been seized and impounded.

In that time, Vice has been doing research of its own to see where the majority of reports are stemming from. While on this track, it inadvertently discovered a police propensity to target Black riders at a far higher rate than white people.

Disproportionate policing

Official data taken from a Met Police transparency report showed that Black people accounted for 30% of all traffic offence reports issued between January and May of 2021, despite making up just 13% of the capital’s population.

On the other hand, white people – which make up 60% of the population – were responsible for 50% of e-scooter tickets. In context, the rate of stoppages for Black riders was far higher.

Before private e-scooter use was declared illegal in public, Met Police explained that guidance is to stop and engage with all drivers to ‘explain guidance, enforce traffic legislation, and seize scooters that are being used illegally.’

Instead, by admission of its own data, Black riders were far more likely to be stopped regardless of whether road rules – such as not wearing a helmet, running a red light, or using a cycle lane – had been broken.

Overall, eight in 10 Black offenders were punished on the spot compared to 67% white. Once actually hit with a Traffic Offence Report, figures showed that Black riders were twice as likely as white people to face prosecution.

With the most commonly ticketed group aged between 18-29, there is concern from equality NGOs that police may be perpetuating the harmful stereotype that young Black men ‘are up to no good.’

Response to the findings

Katrina Ffrench, a director at Unjust – an NGO focused on equitable policing and public safety – stated that she found the statistics to be ‘worrying, but not surprising.’

Pointing to similar ethnic disparities with stop and search penalty notices throughout the pandemic, she suggested there is a continued ‘overrepresentation of Black people in engagements with police.’

‘It’s about them being seen as suspicious,’ she says.

‘E-scooter safety is not a Black issue, but what is clear is that other members of society aren’t on the sharp end of the policing of e-scooters.’

‘I’m not saying Black people should not be stopped if they are doing something wrong, I’m just asking for parity. If you are stopping lots of Black people you should be stopping lots of other people as well.’

Despite the promising rhetoric that followed the height of the BLM movement in 2020, we’ve seen regular reports of racial gaps widening in some facets of society.

Still disproportionately affected in the search for work and mortgage applications in the UK, this latest report is further proof that government has yet to really make movements towards real equality.

In wake of these reports, it’ll be interesting to see what the numbers look like in the next transparency breakdown. The pressure is now on to make genuine progress.