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Rental-only electric scooter trials: Two steps forwards, one step back

May 19th 2020

For the past week, there’s been a fantastic level of excitement about the prospect of riding e-scooters on UK roads, thanks to the UK Government’s fast-tracking of e-scooter trials. However, the Government has now announced news that only rental electric scooters will be able to take part.

The upshot is that privately-owned e-scooters will remain illegal for use on public highways during the trials.

While this still represents a major step towards the potential legalisation of e-scooters, there is a danger that this decision to legalist rental e-scooters only for the trial period might negatively affect the potential outcome of electric scooter trials. Especially, safety, hygiene and public perception risk being compromised.

What exactly has the Government announced?

The Government is now consulting on how rental e-scooters will operate within the trial. This covers what rules e-scooter users will need to follow, what specifications the e-scooters will need to adhere to, plus how legislation is to be amended to allow the trials to go ahead. Their suggestions are as follows:

  • E-scooters taking part in the trials will be for hire only. Privately-owned e-scooters will remain illegal to use on the road, cycle lanes and pavements.
  • Only specifically-approved rental e-scooters will be allowed in trials to control safety and data collection.
  • You will be able to unlock an e-scooter using an app, ride to your destination, park the e-scooter and pay in the app.
  • Costs will likely be determined by the length or duration of your journey.
  • E-scooters will be regulated similarly to e-bikes for the trials.
  • They will continue to be classed as motor vehicles, so you will need insurance (likely to be inclusive within your rental fee) and a full, valid driving licence.
  • Those without a driving licence will be able to apply for a provisional licence in order to use a trial e-scooter, which will allow e-scooter use from the age of 16.
  • Trial e-scooters will be exempt of vehicle taxes.
  • Trial e-scooters may have speed limiters keeping them in the region of 12.5-15.5mph.
  • E-scooter weights limited to 35kg.
  • Maximum motor power of 350 Watts.
  • Cycle helmets will be recommended but not mandatory.
  • Riders will be required to park in designated spaces only.

Clean and green rental e-scooters?

The Government claims that the fast-tracked trials are “in response to the COVID-19 pandemic [to] deliver a green restart of local transport” (GOV.UK, 18/5/20). However, if e-scooters are part of the fight against COVID-19, use by multiple users with shared touch points is almost certainly not the most hygienic solution. In this respect, privately-owned scooters present a more hygienic option.

We ask: How many rental users will have wipes or hand sanitiser with them to wipe down their scooter before and after use? And, if hand sanitiser was available at all docking stations, how often would it realistically be re-filled?

On top of this, we are concerned about how green rental scooters will be in the long term, when they are likely to be mis-treated by a minority, left abandoned on street corners and potentially consigned to disposal in a matter of months?

Could e-scooter accident rates soar?

There is also a logical argument to be made in suspecting that e-scooter owners would tend to ride more safely and considerately than many rental users - perhaps wishing to take care of their own e-scooter and the consequences of causing any accident, instead of riding with a ‘drive-and-forget’ mentality often seen in the car rental business.

Importantly, private e-scooter owners are also almost certain to take their scooter home with them, and are more likely to maintain and take care of them (for example, by regularly charging and service it) rather than potentially abandoning it on the side of the street when their usage time is up or their destination reached.

First mile-last mile solution in jeopardy

E-scooters have long been held up as a solution to the first mile-last mile gap, which describes the points from when you first step out of your door before arriving at public transport and as you arrive at your public transport stop but before your final destination.

However, if rental scooters must be taken from and returned to a docking station when they’re used (in order to prevent them being abandoned), then they won’t be able to plug these fundamental holes. Instead, they’ll become another form of transport that doesn’t quite get you to where you need to go – just like public transport.

Is rental the sole answer for these trials?

We don’t think so.

The UK already has an army of riders ready to take their privately-owned e-scooters onto the roads and cycle paths with government approval – ready to show how successful they can be as an alternative to public transport. Their e-scooters will be of different shapes, sizes and power outputs, just like cars and motorcycles; why not monitor their usage and behaviour and then draw some conclusions from a more realistic, representative sample?

We firmly believe that private e-scooter owners should be able to take part in the UK’s e-scooter trials. These would be our suggestions for regulation:

  • Speeds limits set to 15.5mph (matching e-bikes in the UK), but not limit essential motor power required to climb hills efficiently, especially for heavier riders.
  • Advocate the wearing of helmets and high visibility clothing.
  • Use on designated cycle lanes and roads only – not pavements.
  • Daytime running lights to be used at all times.

The Government is asking the public to make their views on e-scooters and their regulation known. You can complete their online survey today to tell them what you think: https://www.smartsurvey.co.uk/s/QNXUS4/ or email your views to: micromobility@dft.gov.uk

If you would like to be kept informed on the latest e-scooter news and legislation changes, sign up below and we’ll send updates directly to your inbox.

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