Electric scooters, usually described as e-scooters, are an increasingly common sight in British towns and cities, offering an option for making short journeys. Exact figures do not exist but it is assumed that thousands of people in the UK currently use privately owned e-scooters to make local journeys—and their popularity is increasing. Using e-scooters in this way, however, is currently illegal: the UK remains the last major European economy where e-scooters are still banned to use anywhere except on private land. In many other countries the use of e-scooters is already well established, including both privately owned scooters and those available to rent.
In March 2020 the Department for Transport launched a consultation to explore whether micro-mobility vehicles, such as e-scooters, should be legally permitted on the road, and if so what vehicle and user requirements would be appropriate. In May, in light of the coronavirus pandemic, the Secretary of State for Transport, the Rt Hon Grant Shapps MP, announced that a series of planned rental trials would be fast-tracked and expanded around the country. Several trials are already underway with more set to follow.
We welcome the Department’s work to examine the legal status of e-scooters. Privately owned e-scooters are already a familiar sight in many British towns and cities, despite remaining illegal. They have the potential to offer a low cost, accessible and environmentally friendly alternative to the private car. The Department’s focus should be on developing and implementing a sensible and proportionate regulatory framework for legal e-scooter use, drawing on lessons from other countries, which ensures that potential negative impacts on pedestrians and disabled people are avoided. The Department’s review of micro-mobility transport and introduction of rental trials will allow important evidence and data to be gathered to help determine the best way to legally incorporate both rental and privately-owned e-scooters within the UK transport mix.
There is currently limited evidence within the UK on how the growth of e-scooters has affected other transport usage, and thus the modal shift which may occur as e-scooters continue to grow in popularity. In our view, it would be counter-productive if an uptake in e-scooters, whether rental or private, primarily replaced people undertaking more active and healthy forms of travel, such as walking, cycling, and even using kick-scooters. Promoting active travel must remain a key policy aim for the Department for Transport. The Department’s focus should be on encouraging the use of e-scooters to replace short car journeys rather than walking and cycling.
It is essential that the Government’s rental e-scooter trials are accessible to a wide range of people and take place in a diverse set of locations. This includes city centres but also suburban areas and market towns where other transport options are not as readily available. We recommend that the Department continues to maintain close oversight of the locations of the rental trials and ensures that, when approving bids for new schemes, there is a good geographical spread around the UK and a balance in population density.
It is unfortunate that, due to a legal technicality, users of rental e-scooters in the Government’s trials are required to have a driving licence. People without driving licences ought to be a key target demographic for the rental schemes, yet they are excluded. We believe the rental schemes should be accessible to the widest possible groups of people, particularly given the context of the pandemic. We are also concerned that the driving licence requirement will result in the trials not being as representative as they should have been. Should the Government legalise e-scooters following the trials, users should not be required to have a driving licence either for rental schemes or private use.
In our view, the speed of e-scooters should be suitable for the local environment they are deployed in. A “one size fits all” approach will not work. Speed limits in the trials can be determined at the local level by local authorities and, in the case of rental e-scooters, via ‘geo-fencing’ technology installed by companies. Operators should work closely with local authorities to plan and implement the most appropriate speed limits for rental e-scooters in local areas.
An e-scooter travelling on a pavement at a speed of up to 15.5 mph—the Government’s maximum speed limit for the trials—is a serious hazard both for the user and pedestrians. Local authorities need plans in place to monitor and discourage pavement use during rental trials in their local areas. Rental e-scooter operators must use the technology available to vigorously discourage pavement use. Local authorities and e-scooter operators must be able to demonstrate that measures to tackle such dangerous and antisocial behaviour are effective. In responding to this Report, the Department should clarify how it intends to monitor whether e-scooters during the rental trials are being ridden on pavements and the number of users penalised for this offence, and that it has evaluated and identified effective measures to eliminate such antisocial behaviour. At a later point should privately-owned e-scooters be legalised, the Government should ensure that the law clearly prohibits the pavement use of e-scooters, that robust enforcement measures are in place and that such measures are effective in eliminating this behaviour.
Rental e-scooters left on pavements as ‘street clutter’ can cause a hazard for pedestrians, particularly people with visual impairments and those with limited mobility. We do not want to see British towns and cities develop the dangerous and unsightly street clutter problems with e-scooters, experienced in some other European cities. The Department, working with local authorities, should closely monitor the trials to determine whether any problems are developing with scooters being left on pavements as ‘street clutter’. If so, the Department will need to trial and evaluate whether stronger regulation to specify where users must deposit rental e-scooters after their journey is effective in eliminating these problems. This ought to be done before a decision is made whether to legalise rental e-scooters on a more permanent basis.
E-scooters have the potential to improve local air quality and help meet the Government’s carbon emission targets, particularly if they replace car journeys. However, we note there are valid environmental concerns relating to the lifetime of the scooters and the processes used to charge their batteries. We recommend that local authorities involved with the trials make it a condition that e-scooter companies seeking to participate operate in an environmentally sustainable way. The Department should closely monitor the environmental impact of e-scooters during the rental trials and, if needed, consider introducing stricter requirements around sustainability.
The rental trials will provide a crucial evidence base for future legislation on e-scooters. The data collected from local authorities and operators will provide valuable information on the impact of e-scooters on safety, the environment, and people’s journey choices. While we support the Government’s desire to enable companies and users to take up this new innovative and environmentally friendly form of transport, this should not be to the detriment of pedestrians, particularly disabled people. The Department must use these trials to ensure that any regulations governing e-scooters are effective in providing a safe environment for both riders and other road users.
Subject to the conditions we outline in this Report being met, we believe that the Department should take swift action to legalise the use of privately owned e-scooters on roads and cycle lanes. We would expect this to take place within the next 18 months.
Published: 2 October 2020