8.In March 2020 the Department announced, as part of its consultation on the Future of Transport Regulatory Review, plans to trial rental e-scooters in four “future transport zones” to assess their safety and benefits in a contractually managed deployment. These trials would have taken place from early 2021 over 12 months, with findings available from 2022.
9.Two months later, however, in light of the coronavirus pandemic, the Secretary of State for Transport, the Rt Hon Grant Shapps MP, announced that the rental trials would be fast-tracked and expanded. The main rationale was to ease the burden on the transport network as people return to work. The trials would now begin from July 2020 and all local areas in England, Scotland and Wales were eligible to participate.
10.In May, the Department explained the purpose of the trials in written evidence:
Trials will be limited to rental e-scooters. This allows trials to take place in a controlled manner while we gather evidence of their safety and impacts. Limiting trials to rental scooters ensures that only approved scooters are used, and that they can meet legal requirements. It will also ensure the evidence we gather is robust enough to make decisions on whether e-scooters should be fully legalised. The rules for privately owned scooters will not change; they will remain illegal to use on roads, cycle lanes or pavements and can only be used on private land with the permission of the land owner.
11.The Department sought views on the legal changes to enable trials to start, via a short consultation and engaging with user groups and enforcement bodies. On 30 June the Government laid the necessary regulations to enable the trials to take place from 4 July. Guidance was published for local authorities and rental operators, providing detail on the design, implementation and management of the trials.
12.Local authorities that wish to introduce an e-scooter rental scheme are required to work with the Department and e-scooter operators to design trials to run for 12 months. The Department is responsible for assessing all trial proposals and has the final decision on which trials take place. On 3 July, the Mayor of the Tees Valley, Ben Houchen, announced that the first e-scooter rental trial in the UK will be held in Teesside, Darlington and Hartlepool, with 100 scooters available for rent. As of September 2020, trials have also been announced in Milton Keynes Borough, Northamptonshire, and the West Midlands.
13.We explored with witnesses whether they supported the general principle of encouraging the legal use of e-scooters in the UK. Most witnesses agreed that e-scooters were already a reality on British streets and their use should be legalised. Many were positive about the contribution that e-scooters could make to the UK’s transport mix. We heard that e-scooters had potential to help reduce congestion and improve air quality by getting people out of their cars. E-scooters could also be used to help people get to and from public transport terminals, which may be a particular benefit in suburban areas that are traditionally harder to serve by public transport than cities. They were also deemed a viable transport alternative as the country recovers from the coronavirus pandemic and people avoided public transport to reduce infection risk.
14.Professor Jillian Anable from the Institute for Transport Studies, University of Leeds, had a “positive” view of the contribution e-scooters could make to the transport mix:
The reason is that I look at the transport system as a whole. I think that they can play a very important role, not so much in the short term to encourage modal shift away from the car but in the longer term as part of a less car-dependent transport system. They will play a very important role for certain groups of people, mainly younger generations, to delay the onset of car ownership or perhaps prevent car ownership altogether.
Dr Graeme Sherriff, Research Fellow, University of Salford, was likewise positive:
Having looked into sustainable transport futures for quite a few years, I can see e-scooters as part of a sustainable transport future. I can see the benefits in environment, health and social inclusion. […] They are a very affordable and accessible mode of transport. Clearly there are some accessibility issues, though, and they are not necessarily for everyone, but I think we should welcome them and give them a role in our transport system.
15.As with any new technology, witnesses also highlighted potential risks. We heard concerns that without adequate regulation and enforcement, e-scooters could pose a safety risk to other road users and to the riders themselves. Specific concerns were raised about e-scooters being ridden on pavements, causing a safety hazard for pedestrians. There were additional concerns that dockless e-scooter schemes could contribute to “street clutter”, as seen in other cities around the world, which have a negative impact for pedestrians. People with visual impairments or mobility difficulties could face particularly significant difficulties from such clutter. We explore the benefits and risks of e-scooters in greater detail in the remainder of this Report.
16.Privately owned e-scooters are already a familiar sight in many British towns and cities, despite remaining illegal to use on roads and pavements. They have the potential to offer a low cost, accessible and environmentally friendly alternative to the private car. The Department for Transport’s focus must 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.
17.We welcome the Department’s work to examine the legal status of e-scooters. The review of micro-mobility transport and the introduction of rental e-scooter trials will allow important evidence and data to be gathered to help determine the best way to incorporate both rental and privately-owned e-scooters within the UK transport mix.
5 Department for Transport (ESC0036), para 13
6 The Electric Scooter Trials and Traffic Signs (Coronavirus) Regulations and General Directions 2020 ()
7 Department for Transport, E-scooter trials: guidance for local areas and rental operators, June 2020
8 Taur (ESC0010), Helbiz (ESC0016)
9 Wind Mobility (ESC0028), Helbiz (ESC0016)
Published: 2 October 2020