It might surprise you to learn that e-scooters are not currently legal for use on the streets of the UK. This could be surprising for a couple of reasons. Firstly, e-scooters are a common sight on the streets of many European cities and have been for a few years. Secondly, if you’re in the UK, you’ll have seen many e-scooters being ridden on the streets (illegally).
The only place where e-scooters can legally be ridden in the UK is on private property. Bird runs a shared e-scooter scheme in the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park surrounding the venues of the 2012 London Olympics, but there are few other opportunities to ride an e-scooter legally.
Until recently, the UK government’s Department for Transport (DfT) had planned to pilot e-scooter trials in four cities. The pace was unhurried, and the scope limited. These would be test-cases to see what regulations and limitations should be applied before e-scooters were permanently made legal for use on the public highway more widely. The first e-scooters wouldn’t be on the streets until 2021.
Since the Covid-19 pandemic dramatically affected everyone’s life, these plans have been accelerated and broadened. Getting people back to work, and the economy moving again, is now an urgent priority, but this needs to be achieved without causing an increase in Covid-19 infections.
Traditional public transport is doing its best to get people to work, with more frequent cleaning of buses and trains, plus attempts to run with fewer passengers to maintain social distancing. This has reduced the capacity of the public transport network considerably.
For most major cities, cars are not an option. Before Covid-19, approximately two million people commuted into London on a typical working day. There just isn’t enough parking spaces in central London for that many people to switch from public transport to private car, plus the traffic jams would be horrendous.
It is against this background that the government has massively accelerated and broadened its plans for e-scooter trials. If current schedules are met, there could be legal e-scooters on the streets of some cities by the end of June 2020. The limit of just 4 cities has been removed, so many more cities can now pilot shared e-scooter schemes.
Anadue encourages the Department of Transport and cities to think about the wider good that e-scooters can make to society and the environment and build these objectives into the pilot specifications. Shared scooters from leading US and European companies like Bird, Lime, Voi and Dott are “connected vehicles” able to send valuable data to the city in real-time that can be used for far more than just making sure scooters don’t go where they aren’t meant to go or planning where to locate scooter parking spaces.
Anadue is working with like-minded companies to help define the wider range of benefits that shared e-scooter data can help deliver. This data can be used:
to manage e-scooter operators’ behaviour and compliance fairly and equally by building trust and working together for the benefit of all.
to improve safety for all micromobility users (riders of shared scooters, shared bikes and privately owned bikes/scooter) by planning additional cycle paths on the most popular routes.
to evolving Park & Ride schemes to shared e-scooters as well as buses
to show how shared scooters are used to help people access public transport that is usually difficult for them to reach (multimodal travel).
The UK may be catching up with the scooter revolution, but this gives us the time to learn from others and make sure we gain the maximum possible advantage from this additional transport option. Shared e-scooters offer a route to cleaner city air, lower carbon emissions and streets that are designed around people, not cars. Planned correctly, the “new normal” can be better than the “old normal”.