Department of Transport announces that local authorities across the UK can apply to trial e-scooters as part of a year-long trial that will test the cost-effectiveness and convenience of the low-carbon mobility solution embraced by other European countries
Rental e-scooters will be legal in the UK from Saturday, the government has announced, in a move designed to ease pressure on public transport and introduce a new type of low-carbon, socially-distanced transport to the nation's roads.
The Department for Transport (DfT) confirmed on Tuesday that the first legally-approved e-scooter schemes would be available from next week, as it published new guidance for rental operators.
Any local authority can now apply to trial rental e-scooters, the government said.
The vehicles will be banned from pavements and limited to 15.5mph, according to the new regulations, while renters must be aged 16 or over and have a full or provisional car, motorcycle or moped license. Helmets will be recommended, but not mandatory.
Transport Minister Rachel Maclean said the move was part of a wider push from the government to encourage new green transport practices in the wake of the coronavirus crisis. "As we emerge from lockdown, we have a unique opportunity in transport to build back in a greener, more sustainable way that could lead to cleaner air and healthier communities across Great Britain," she said.
She added that the trials, which are set to last 12 months, would allow the government to test whether e-scooters could offer "convenient, clean and cost-effective travel that may also help ease the burden on the transport network, provide another green alternative to get around and allow for social distancing".
However, the government stressed that private scooters will remain illegal on UK roads.
The announcement ushers in a new era for the UK's micromobility industry, with the decision to run year-long rental trials nationwide a significant acceleration of a government plan to run e-scooter trials in four regions across the UK. Those trials, set to take place across Portsmouth and Southampton, the West Midlands, Derby and Nottingham and the West of England Combined Authority, were brought forward by the government by a year to June in response to the ongoing coronavirus crisis.
The government has faced mounting pressure during the pandemic from academics, planners, and industry to emulate other European countries and legalise e-scooters, a low-carbon form of transport that allows drivers to maintain social distancing and avoid crowded public transport.
However, opponents of e-scooters contend that the silent vehicles cause safety issues for drivers and other road users and can crowd out pavement space when docked, causing particular problems for people in wheelchairs and with disabilities.
E-mobility companies welcomed the government's decision to speed up the deployment of rental e-scooter schemes on UK streets.
Zachary Wang, chief executive of Singapore e-scooter service Neuron Mobility, said the firm was in discussions with a number of councils to introduce the technology. "Covid-19 has led to a fundamental rethink of the way we travel and e-scooters have the potential to radically improve how we get around our towns and cities," he said. "We are delighted that people in the UK will soon be able to benefit from shared e-scooters, they will allow people to continue social distancing while also providing a more efficient travel option than gas-guzzling alternatives."
And Benjamin Bell, head of public policy for Northern Europe at Berlin e-scooter company Tier, said: ""The arrival of e-scooters was rightly fast-tracked in the wake of Covid-19. By providing safe, green transport for millions of people, they can play a crucial role in getting the UK back to work. Tier is already a partner to governments across Europe and we look forward to building lasting relationships in the UK and beyond."
Bell was recently recuited by Tier from Uber as part of the firm's broader preparations for its UK launch. Rival companies have been making similar investments in talent as they gear up to enter a major new market, with Swedish e-scooter company Voi recently hiring Richard Corbett from competitor Bird to head up UK operations.
At present, San Francisco-based Bird is the only e-scooter hire company operating on British soil, due to the fact that it operates on private land at the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park in East London.
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