E-scooters: pavement nuisance or transport innovation? Contents


1.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.

2.In many other countries, the use of e-scooters is already well established. The global e-scooters market size has recently been valued at $17.4 billion (around £13 billion) and is expected to have a compound annual growth rate of 8.5% over the next 10 years.1 It is legal in many countries for individuals to use privately owned e-scooters on roads or cycle lanes. In addition, rental schemes are popular in a number of major cities globally, including Paris, Berlin and New York. Companies offer hire services, which allow users to download a software application, pick up a scooter, make their journey to their destination, leave the scooter there and make payment in the app. UK rental schemes, in contrast, are in their infancy.2

What is an e-scooter?

An e-scooter looks like a normal push scooter, but it is powered using an electric motor and battery. E-scooters generally run between 9–15mph, but some models can reach speeds of 40mph and higher. They are also known as Personal Light Electric Vehicles (PLEVs) or micro-mobility vehicles. Other types of micro-mobility vehicles include electric bikes, electric skateboards and segways.

Why are e-scooters illegal?

3.In the UK, e-scooters are classed by default as “motor vehicles” under the Road Traffic Act 1988. This means they are subject to laws requiring them to be built and used safely, including requirements for users to have insurance, driving licences, number plates, and helmets. Offences relating to driving standards and speeding also apply. The design of e-scooters makes it difficult for them to meet the regulations on vehicle construction so, in practice, their use is illegal on the road. Currently they can only be used on private land, with permission from the landowner.

4.In many other countries e-scooters have fallen outside existing vehicle categories and so are not prohibited from being used on the road. For this reason, e-scooter rental schemes outside the UK have been able to begin to operate without any direct regulation from government or local authorities.

Future of Transport Regulatory Review

5.On 16 March 2020 the Department for Transport launched a consultation for its ‘Future of Transport Regulatory Review’.3 A key aspect of the review was 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. The consultation closed in July 2020. The Department is also currently conducting rental e-scooter trial schemes at various locations across the country, to help inform the future legal status of e-scooters and associated regulations (see Chapter 2). A decision on the legal status of e-scooters is expected in 2021.

Our inquiry

6.We launched our inquiry in April 2020 into the regulation of e-scooters. We timed our inquiry in order to report ahead of the Department concluding its regulatory review of micro-mobility vehicles. We invited written evidence on the safety and legal implications of e-scooters, their impact on congestion, and potential contribution to reducing the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions.4 We received 82 submissions of written evidence.

7.We held two oral evidence sessions in July 2020 with transport policy academics, road and pedestrian user groups, disability charities, e-scooter rental companies, and Rachel Maclean MP, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, and Anthony Ferguson, Deputy Director of Traffic and Technology, at the Department for Transport. We are grateful to all those who provided evidence to our inquiry. We are also grateful to the e-scooter company Bird for facilitating an e-scooter demonstration for us.

1 Department for Transport (ESC003), para 22

2 Until recently, the location of the only approved e-scooter rental scheme was the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park in east London. This was due to the legal status of the park as private land.

3 Department for Transport, Future of Transport Regulatory Review: Call for Evidence, March 2020

4 The full terms of reference are available at the Committee website.

Published: 2 October 2020