Rented electric scooters will be legal to ride on some British roads starting this Saturday, July 4th, as part of trials to be held in cities around the country. Around 50 councils are reportedly interested in hosting trials. The government said the first trials are expected to commence next week. Privately owned electric scooters will continue to remain illegal to use on public roads.
The move marks a big step forward for electric scooters in the UK, which have been illegal to use on the country’s roads despite how common they’ve become in the US and other European countries. This is because the country’s preexisting laws treat them like traditional motor vehicles, saddling them with safety and legal regulations that are impossible for them to comply with. Laws also prohibit their use on sidewalks.
The government’s announcement includes some health and safety requirements, including a 15.5 mph (around 25 km/h) maximum speed limit. Users will also need to be over the age of 16, and will need to have at least a provisional car, motorcycle, or moped license. Helmets will be recommended but not mandatory, and the scooters will continue to not be allowed on sidewalks.
Over the course of this year, the UK’s government has started taking steps toward legalizing electric scooters. Back in March, it announced a public consultation into their use, with a goal of starting the first scooter trials in late 2020. However, more recently, the government’s plans have accelerated as social distancing requirements have made it difficult to use public transport safely, and alongside bicycles, electric scooters are seen as an environmentally friendly alternative. Last month, the country’s Department for Transport announced that it would be bringing these scooter trials forward as part of a series of measures that also included big investments in cycling infrastructure.
“E-scooters may offer the potential for 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,” said the UK’s Transport Minister, Rachel Maclean, “The trials will allow us to test whether they do these things.”
Although scooters have technically been illegal to use on the roads, punishable with a £300 fine and six points on a driving license, they’ve become an increasingly common sight in cities across the UK. One scooter rental company, Bird, has even been operating a scooter rental service in London’s Olympic Park, taking advantage of laws that say electric scooters are legal to ride on private property. Tens of thousands of people have rented its scooters as part of the scheme, Bird said.
In a statement, Bird welcomed today’s news. “Shortly the whole of the U.K. will be able to benefit from having a greener and more convenient alternative to cars,” Bird’s EMEA head, Patrick Studener, said. “Decreasing car trips will reduce congestion and air pollution and make our towns and cities more liveable for everyone.”
Other scooter-sharing companies have also welcomed the move. “Working together with the UK government, micromobility services like Spin can speed the recovery of public transport networks, which may temporarily fall short of meeting people’s needs due to reduced service,” scooter rental company Spin’s European head, Felix Petersen, said, “Micromobility delivers a convenient, clean and cost-effective travel choice instead of buying a car or using ride-hailing services that increase congestion and pollution.”
Another rental company, Tier, said it already has “more than 1,000” of its scooters ready to be deployed from its UK warehouse, while Voi told BBC News that it could have as many as 90,000 of its scooters distributed across the UK by the end of the year.
Update June 30th, 5:33PM ET: Updated with official government announcement of the plans.