The UK's Department for Transport has finally set out a framework for electric scooter trials in the UK, laying out the rules for riders and hire companies alike. The new rules will come into force from 4 July, and the first trial hire schemes are expected to launch next week.
Scooter hire schemes were initially due to begin in 2021, but the date was brought forward to summer 2020 as part of the government's mission to encourage more people to take up 'active transport' such as cycling and walking as the UK emerges from coronavirus lockdown.
Perhaps the most important (and for many, the most disappointing) of the new rules is that you can't ride just any scooter around town. Local authorities want to monitor the effect of scooters, how they're being ridden and where, so only two-wheelers from approved rental companies will be street-legal.
These hire schemes will only be available in towns and cities that have put themselves forward. If you have your own scooter, you'll need to keep it locked up in the garage or stick to riding on private land with the landowner's permission. Anyone caught riding illegally will be faced with a £300 fine and six points on their driving licence.
- We've rounded up the best electric scooters today
- Also check out our guide to the best electric bikes
- What you need to know before riding an electric scooter
Speaking of which, you'll need at least a provisional driving licence in order to hire a scooter, which means riders will have to be at least 16 years old.
During the consultation period, it was suggested that electric scooters should be capped at a top speed of 12.5mph, but that limit has now been raised to 15.5mph, which is in line with the top speed of most commercially available scooters.
In most other respects, the rules for electric scooters will be pretty similar to those for bikes: no riding on the pavement (cycle lanes and roads only), don't try to carry another person on the back of a scooter, show consideration for other road users and follow the Highway Code. Wearing a helmet is recommended, but not mandatory.
"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," said transport minister Rachel Maclean.
"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. The trials will allow us to test whether they do these things."
On the right track?
There's fierce competition among scooter rental companies eager to get first dibs on the UK market, including Tier, Lime and Spin (the 'micromobility' arm of Ford).
"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," said Felix Petersen, head of Europe at Spin. "In the US, we have seen our own ridership bounce back faster than public transit, competing with both walking and driving."
However, not everyone has been enthusiastic about scooters on city streets. The Parliamentary Advisory Committee for Transport Safety (PACTS) – a cross-party group dedicated to examining transport safety – has said that people are likely to see the launch of hire schemes as a sign that they're free to ride anything, anywhere.
In a statement, PACTS also questions the government's claim that electric scooters are an 'active' form of transport, since the only activity involved is pushing off with one foot, then standing still. Electric bikes, by contrast, must be pedal-assisted to avoid being classed as mopeds.
On the other hand, there's also excitement that the UK is finally catching up with other European countries where electric scooters have been legal for years.
“I think anybody that anybody that rides a scooter knows that there's something magical about it,” Roger Hassan, COO of Tier, told TechRadar in a recent interview. “I'll never forget the first time I rode a scooter because [I thought] ‘Wow, this is this is the future! It feels so special and different."