Britain could become the biggest market for e-scooters in Europe after the Government announced new legislation to legalize them, industry experts have told the.
Under current laws, only licensed e-scooters are permitted for use in a group of around 30 towns and cities where trials have been taking place since the summer of 2020.
But people will soon be allowed to legally ride them on public roads as part of a new Transport Bill announced in the Queen’s Speech on Tuesday.
It marks a significant milestone in the rapidly-evolving “micromobility ‘” industry – the term which usually refers to small, lightweight vehicles such as bikes and scooters which operate at speeds below 15mph.
Around 20,000 e-scooters are currently available to ride legally under rental schemes in cities such as Bristol, London and Liverpool.
But private sales have also boomed in recent years despite the fact that they aren’t legally allowed on the roads.
Industry sources believe there are as many as one million e-scooters in circulation already, with the number expected to grow following the Government’s announcement.
Adam Norris, founder of Pure Electrics which sells e-bikes and e-scooters, told the: “I wouldn’t be surprised if the UK becomes the biggest market for e-scooters in Europe.
“France and Spain [where they are already legal] added a million e-scooters this year.
“Around half of people who live in an urban environment [in the UK] can’t store a bicycle.
“It’s absolutely massive, it could be the same as cycling is to the Dutch.
“It’s easy, it doesn’t matter if there’s a hill, it’s easy to store. That’s the revolutionary bit. “
VOI, the company which runs the majority of e-scooter share schemes in the UKsays it has seen 400 per cent growth year-on-year.
Among the cities most enthusiastic about e-scooters is Bristol which has become one of the most established markets in Europewith four million rides in little over a year.
Jack Samler, general manager at VOI, said he believes the success of e-scooters in the UK is in part due to a “broken” public transport system.
But he added: “They’re also really easy to use and they’re fun. When something’s got the ability to make your life easier and it’s fun – you’re onto a winner. “
Private market booming
The potential for a flood of new vehicles on the roads has put pressure on the Government to act.
The UK is lagging behind the rest of Europe where almost every other major economy has already implemented legislation around e-scooters.
Giving evidence to the House of Commons’ Transport Select Committee last month, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps admitted there is a need to “crack down” on the private market.
He said the current trials have been “very successful” and that e-scooters are proving “extremely popular” as part of a shift away from reliance on cars.
However, Mr Shapps conceded it is important that e-scooters are “properly controlled” through a range of safety rules around licensing, speed limits and insurance.
Accidents involving e-scooters have proven fatalwith at least nine deaths and 300 injuries recorded in 2021.
In March, a 14-year-old girl died after being hit by a van while riding an e-scooter in London.
Last week, researchers at the University of Warwick set out a “roadmap” of how e-scooters could become operational in the UK by mid-2023 following input from more than 100 organizations, including road users, transport bodies and safety groups.
They argued there is already agreement on a broad range of regulations, including a minimum age limit for e-scooter use of 14-years-old.
Under the current trials, people must 16 and have at least a provisional driving license. Campaigners believe there is the potential for e-scooters to reduce school-run traffic.
Age limits vary across Europe; in France children as young as 12 can ride them, but in Italy it is only those over 18.
Meanwhile, it has been recommended that speed limits remain at 15.5mph, the same as the current trials.
It is believed this keeps e-scooters roughly in line with cycling speeds and maintains its appeal as a commuting option.
Some believe helmets should be compulsory, but the University of Warwick team argue they should only be “strongly recommended”.
The team also argued that other possible e-scooter regulations, such as holding a license, paying vehicle tax and having insurance, should not be imposed as they would prove a “barrier to entry”.
Instead, people could be encouraged to take up training, especially schoolchildren before they are old enough to use them.
A new problem for police?
In December, Greater Manchester Police (GMP) ran a campaign reminding parents not to buy e-scooters for children at Christmas because they are illegal on the roads.
Over the course of 2021, GMP said it seized 148 e-scooters that were either riding illegally on the road or were involved in a collision.
The force found some that were able to reach speeds of up to 70mph and were “incredibly dangerous”.
The University of Warwick team recommended that local authorities gain more powers to tackle anti-social use and that existing criminal laws are used where possible, such as drink-driving.
They also recommended new offences for “higher grade” issues such as passing an illegal vehicle off as a legal one and tampering with vehicles in order to allow them to exceed the speed limit.
Cycling groups have expressed some concerns about the rise of e-scooters.
Sustrans, a walking and cycling charity, said that while they have the potential to offer a “useful” addition to traveler choice, e-scooters do not offer the same health benefits as cycling or walking.
The charity is recommending to the Government that cycling infrastructure will need to be improved to accommodate e-scooters.
A spokesperson added: “Regarding any change in law relating to e-scooters, the needs and safety of all road users, particularly people walking, wheeling and cycling, must be considered.
“Evidence suggests they are replacing trips that would otherwise be walked, cycled or taken by public transport.
“However, they could help reduce congestion and improve air quality in urban areas if they replace journeys by car.”
Josh Cottell, research manager at the Center for Londontold the e-scooters do “seem to appeal to a broader range of people” than cycling.
He said that when two per cent of all trips in the capital are by cycle, it shows the potential of e-scooters.
“These new types of transport are here [already] – that’s why we’re recommending that the Government introduces legislation regulating it to make sure people are doing it safely, ”Mr Cottell said.
“And that there is the infrastructure for people to do it.”
Mr Norris argues e-scooters could play a crucial role in offering better transport options for people on low incomes.
He said his shops have had to turn away thousands of interested customers in recent years because e-scooters are not yet legal on the roads. “These are teachers, carers, nurses, predominantly people on low incomes,” he added.
He urged the Government to bring in legislation as soon as possible capitalize on the interest adding: “We need to do it soon, we musn’t let it drag.”