Going for Green: E-scooters now legal in the UK

July 13, 2020

2 min read

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What's going on here?

The Department for Transport (DfT) announced on 30 June 2020 that rental e-scooters are legal on British roads as of 4 July 2020. This will enable the government to test whether e-scooters offer “clean and cost-effective travel” in a bid to increase greener transport.

What does this mean?

Under the new DfT framework, local authorities and the devolved administrations in England, Wales and Scotland are allowed to run e-scooter sharing schemes as part of a 12-month “closely monitored” trial. So far, 50 local authorities have expressed an interest. The main purpose of the trials is to gather safety information to evaluate how people are using the scooters, what the ultimate benefits may be, and find ways to mitigate any problems that could arise in the future.  

To hire an e-scooter, users will require a full or provisional car, motorcycle or moped licence and be aged 16 or over. Additional safety regulations have been implemented that are similar to those of electric bikes. This means that e-scooters are banned on pavements, have a 15.5mph speed limit and riders are recommended to wear a helmet. 

What's the big picture effect?

Whilst the initial government proposal to legalise e-scooters came in March 2020 (to see our article on that, click here), in May Transport Secretary Grant Shapps revealed a £2bn package to support green transport (walking, cycling and e-scooters) as the pandemic has considerably altered the way we travel. In April, public transport usage was down 90% and cycling has seen an overall increase of 300% since the start of lockdown. Crucially, this change gives companies scope to capitalise on the lucrative micromobility market, since e-scooters offer a faster, cheaper and more sustainable mode of transport.

Moreover, the trials will spark competition between market leading e-scooter companies and smaller start-ups. US-originating micromobility companies Lime and Bird are currently dominating the talks with local authorities. However, European start-ups Voi and Tier are aiming to level the playing field. In particular, Voi are already in talks with Transport for London (TfL), various London boroughs and cities including Manchester, Bath and Birmingham in an attempt to secure UK business. 

Unfortunately, the introduction of e-scooters elsewhere in Europe has not been a wholly enjoyable ride: limited regulation has led to 20,000 e-scooters being dumped on the streets of Paris and authorisation by vehicle licencing agencies is now required in the Netherlands to keep track of rising numbers. Concerns have also been raised by the disabled about the dangers of e-scooters, as they are silent vehicles. Their greatest concern is that the scooters may end up obstructing pavements when roads become too busy, creating additional complications for those with mobility issues.

If the trials are a success, the permanent introduction of rental (and eventually private) e-scooters on public roads will facilitate the government’s long-term “green transport revolution”. The revolution aims to reduce high emission transport in order to bring the UK closer to its goal of carbon neutrality by 2050. It remains to be seen whether we will benefit from going green with our transport, but it is certain that whatever the outcome, the UK transport sector is continually evolving to keep up with technological and environmental demands of the present and future.

Report written by Evangeline Taylor

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