Will the UK government’s ‘Future of Transport’ consultation result in electric scooter legalisation before 2021?

A group of smiling protesters stand proudly with their electric scooters, skateboards, and unicycles outside Downing Street.

The UK has long been at the forefront of transport innovations which have changed the way we move around the world. The passenger railway, the commercial jet airliner and the underground metro system were all life-changing inventions birthed here.

But technology is always advancing and, as much as the Government wants the UK to remain a world leader in transportation, abiding by regulations as archaic as the Highway Act of 1835 is not exactly maintaining that momentum. But without change, Britain will not keep up with the rest of the world in adopting cleaner, cheaper and more convenient forms of travel. 

To address the overdue need for regulatory change, the UK Department for Transport has recently finally announced a ‘Future of Transport’ regulatory review to be conducted during 2020, beginning with the public consultation which launched in March. The Government will look into the following four main areas: 

  • 1. Micromobility, including e-scooters
  • 2. Buses, taxis and private hire vehicles
  • 3. Mobility as a service
  • 4. Wider transport issues

All of these areas are important to the future of transport, but we are particularly concerned with what the review will mean for micromobility.

What are the key things to know about the consultation?

This consultation is essentially a call for evidence and is open to the general public. The Department for Transport (DfT) wants to assess the costs and benefits of new transport technologies and services, exploring aspects such as sustainability, safety, social impact, and their effect on road space and congestion.

The consultation period began on 16th March and will now run until 3rd July 2020. During this window, anyone can express their views on the areas identified by the review. The results will be published three months later, and hopefully be reflected in new legislation coming out later this year. However, there has been no mention of specific dates yet.

We were hoping that e-scooters would be legalised during 2020, however the announcement of the extension to the consultation raises concerns that bureaucracy may result in a postponement of the legislation.

What does the consultation mean for electric scooters?

Despite its claim to being ‘the world’s greatest transport innovator’, Britain is seriously lagging behind most other Western countries in adopting micromobility – it is in fact the last major European economy to legislate the use of these vehicles in its streets. Interestingly, the UK government wants transport to be cleaner, safer, healthier, greener, cheaper, more convenient and more inclusive. Is it just us, or doesn’t that sound a lot like the description of an electric scooter?

The DfT acknowledges the benefits micromobility vehicles offer – such as improved transportation choice, accessibility, environmental benefits, reduced congestion and integrated journeys – and aims to more specifically explore how to safely regulate electric scooters and other micromobility vehicles such as hoverboards and e-skateboards. We’re delighted they can finally see the value these personal light electric vehicles (PLEVs) would add to the lives of individuals and to society as a whole.

Given that safety has been a recurring concern regularly voiced by the press and pedestrian associations, safety rightfully forms a significant part of the review. The key aspects the assessors will consider when it comes to regulating micromobility vehicles include:

  • • Vehicle standards 
  • • Speed limits and motor power restrictions
  • • User requirements
  • • Road use and parking
  • • Rental service providers

The Government also wants to trial electric scooters in the UK to collect live evidence on how well these new technologies work, as well as on their impact on road users. The trials were originally limited to four designated ‘Future of Transport’ zones: Bristol & Bath, Portsmouth & Southampton, Derby & Nottingham, and the West Midlands. But recently the Government announced that these trials will be expanded across the whole country and could start as soon as June 2020. In order to make this possible, the Government will have to pass secondary legislation so that electric scooters can be lawfully trialled, however it has not made clear how this process will occur.

What is our stance on the consultation?

This regulatory review is quite possibly the ‘biggest shake-up of transport law’ in a generation, as described by the Government. It will open up countless opportunities for both people and businesses like us, who want to transform how we move around. We couldn’t be happier that this conversation, largely overdue, is finally taking place. If you follow us on Twitter or LinkedIn, then you may already be aware we are joining in the discussion by submitting our own evidence to the review. 

Our opinion is that safety should be the overriding consideration when it comes to regulating micromobility, and here’s a summary of our views:

Vehicle standards

  • 1. Speed: This is one of the most important aspects of regulation, and it affects other safety issues such as protective helmets. E-scooters should be able to travel at comparable speeds to the surrounding traffic, so we recommend the Government to set in place a speed limit of 15.5mph, similar to that applying to e-bikes.
  • 2. Power: The nominal power of e-scooters should be limited, similarly to e-bikes. But since e-scooters have no pedal power, a higher limit of 750 nominal watts seems sensible to prevent them travelling at dangerously slow speeds when loaded with heavier riders or when travelling uphill. We will soon post a more in-depth blog article on motor wattage, covering why we think regulators shouldn’t obsess too much about power.
  • 3. Braking: Many electric scooters and other PLEVs rely solely on electric brakes, but we believe that it’s dangerous for e-scooters not to have an additional mechanical braking system in case of electric failure. Mechanical braking mechanisms should be a minimum requirement for all electric scooters.
  • 4. Wheels: We urge the Government to set tyre quality standards, and require wheels to be at least 10 inches in diameter to cope with irregular road surfaces.
  • 5. Visibility: Riders must be able to easily see and be seen. Thus, effective rear and front lighting as well as a horn or sounder should be requirements for all e-scooters.
Braking test during the registration process of the Xiaomi M365 electric scooter converted by Taur.
Photography by Taur Technologies

User requirements

  • 1. Insurance and vehicle registration: Although it’s not what Taur’s business is about, a few months ago we managed to get a Xiaomi M365 e-scooter through the rigorous tests comprising the DfT registration process (see previous and following pictures), making it the first one ever to be legally approved for use on UK roads. The exercise required several major upgrades to the vehicle, which, like most available models, wasn’t sufficiently roadworthy nor safe to pass the MoT. So we understand first-hand how burdensome this process would be for both users of popular e-scooter models and for those overseeing the regulations. E-bikes are not subject to these requirements, so we think e-scooters shouldn't be either.
  • 2. Helmets: As with bikes, and as we mentioned in our previous post Do I need to wear a helmet when riding an electric scooter?, the most sensible thing for people to do is to always wear helmets. Yet we don’t believe it should be compulsory to do so – especially if the e-scooter's speed is restricted to 15.5mph. Making helmet use compulsory would dissuade occasional users and may also prove difficult for rental operators to enforce.
  • 3. Age requirements: E-bike users must be over 14 years old to ride legally. E-scooters are also powered vehicles operating on the road, so we support the same age threshold being applied to electric scooter users.
  • 4. Road use: Operating on pavements puts both e-scooter riders and pedestrians at risk. As with bikes, we support the use of electric scooters only in cycle lanes and on other suitable public highways.
A Xiaomi M365 electric scooter converted by Taur during the vehicle registration process.
Photography by Taur Technologies

Shared and dockless rentals

Rental e-scooters allow tourists and locals alike to enjoy all the benefits electric scooters have to offer. Though we are not a rental company, rental regulation is still important to us, as it will likely shape attitudes towards electric scooters in general. The unrestricted proliferation of rental-scooters has caused all sorts of problems in the US and elsewhere, due to street littering, vandalism, and inexperienced first-time users. To avoid running into similar issues when implanted in the UK, rental schemes should be regulated at a local level with restrictions to the following:

  • • Area of operation
  • • Number of operators in an area
  • • Number of vehicles in an area
  • • Hours of operation
  • • Vehicle location at the end of journeys

Conclusion

In the ‘Future of Transport Regulatory Review’ document, the DfT claims that the UK government has always embraced change and declares its intention to stimulate innovation and enable it to thrive. However, unless legislators are able to quickly grasp this opportunity and jump aboard the micromobility revolution, the UK will continue to lag behind.

But the first step to moving forward is getting the conversation started and we are glad that this initiative has finally taken place. Electric scooters and other PLEVs can lead the transition to zero emissions, potentially playing a key role in the UK achieving its 2050 new zero target – but only if the Government takes action sooner rather than later by introducing sensible legislation.

We have submitted evidence to the DfT’s call to make a case for the benefits to society, the environment and the economy that introducing electric scooters to UK streets can bring. If you want to have your say in this historical moment and join the conversation too, you can do so here.

References

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