ESC0036

Written evidence submitted by the Department for Transport

 

Summary

UK legal position
 

  1. In the UK, e-scooters are by default are classed as motor vehicles under the Road Traffic Act 1988[3]. This means they are subject to laws requiring them to be built and used safely, including requirements for users to have insurance, driving licences, number plates, and helmets. Offences relating to driving standards and speeding also apply. The design of e-scooters makes it difficult for them to meet the regulations on vehicle construction so, in practice, their use is illegal on the road. Currently they can only be used on private land, with permission from the landowner.
  2. In many other countries e-scooters have fallen outside of existing vehicle categories and so are not prohibited from being used on the road. For this reason, e-scooter and e-scooter rental schemes outside the UK have been able to begin to operate without any direct regulation from government or local authorities.
  3. Where regulations have been set in other countries it has been in response to the increasing use of e-scooters, and in many cases regulations have been amended or superseded as regulatory bodies attempt to find the correct approach to these types of vehicles.
  4. The trials of e-scooters will provide an opportunity to get the legislation right so that if e-scooters are legalised in the UK they are safe, green and reliable.

The benefits and risks of e-scooters
 

  1. E-scooters have many potential transport benefits. During the ongoing COVID pandemic they could provide a fast and clean way to travel that could ease the burden on the transport network and allow for social distancing. Several European countries have included e-scooters in their restart plans.
  2. In the longer term they could help the Government to achieve wider transport aims and priorities around sustainable transport, accessibility and decarbonisation, previously set out in: the Cycling and Walking Strategy[4] published in 2017 setting out the Government’s ambition for cycling and walking; the Inclusive Transport Strategy[5], a plan published in 2019 to make transport more inclusive for disabled people; and Decarbonising Transport[6], published in 2020, outlining the steps to creating a transport decarbonisation plan.
  3. But before we can decide whether to fully legalise e-scooters and determine the rules that should apply to them, we need to understand their impacts. E-scooters are a new vehicle type; evidence around whether benefits can be realised, or whether the risks are great enough to outweigh those benefits, is limited and inconclusive.
  4. In other countries where e-scooters are allowed on the road, problems have arisen including: a rapid increase in e-scooter numbers; injuries to e-scooter users; discarded e-scooters; and e-scooters being used in unsafe ways on roads, cycle lanes and pavements. Trials will allow the Department to gather evidence on the safety of e-scooters and the impacts on road users, including on pedestrians, to inform the decision on possible legalisation. 

Proposed trials

  1. Plans to trial rental e-scooters from early 2021 in four Future Transport Zones (FTZs) to assess safety and benefits in a contractually managed deployment were announced on 16 March 2020. These trials would have taken place over 12 months, with findings available from 2022.
  2. To ease the burden on the transport network as people return to work, the Department has now announced plans to trial rental e-scooters in any local area that wants to take part from June 2020. The trials will be used to assess the safety of e-scooters and their wider impacts. Administrative orders issued by the Secretary of State will authorise vehicles for use in the trials, and regulations will be made to amend rules for users. Regulations will apply across the UK, but only have practical effect in areas where we authorise vehicles.

Consultation

  1. The Department consulted on the legal changes to enable trials to start by the end of June[7], via a short consultation and engaging with user groups and enforcement bodies during this process. In addition, the Department’s Future of Transport Regulatory Review Call for Evidence[8], launched on 16 March 2020 has already received responses on the issue of whether e-scooters should be legalised and these responses are also being processed to inform thinking. The responses received so far generally support legalising e-scooters, similarly to Electrically Assisted Pedal Cycles (EAPCs), with appropriate speed limits and controls for vehicle safety and enforcement.

Design and implementation

  1. To ensure trials are ready from June, the Department and local areas have begun designing schemes and evaluation plans, working with e-scooter rental operators. Proposals have yet to be finalised, but participation has been offered to all local areas. Trials will be informed by the principles set out in the Future of Mobility Urban Strategy (see paragraphs 14 and 15 below). Deployment of specified rental e-scooters, including the possibility of longer-term rentals, will be contracted by the local authority. The law requires that any driver of a motor vehicle must hold a relevant driving licence for that class of vehicle. Legal changes that have been consulted on include allowing provisional licence holders to use an e-scooter. Insurance would be required but would be provided by rental companies. 
  2. Trials will be limited to rental e-scooters. This allows trials to take place in a controlled manner while we gather evidence of their safety and impacts. Limiting trials to rental scooters ensures that only approved scooters are used, and that they can meet legal requirements. It will also ensure the evidence we gather is robust enough to make decisions on whether e-scooters should be fully legalised. The rules for privately owned scooters will not change; they will remain illegal to use on roads, cycle lanes or pavements and can only be used on private land with the permission of the land owner.

Issues that are relevant to the trials and will inform their design

Our approach to transport innovation

  1. In March 2019 the Department published the Future of Mobility Urban Strategy[9], committing to implementing a flexible regulatory framework and setting out the nine principles that would underpin Government’s approach to transport innovation.
  2. The most relevant principles to guiding the approach to rental e-scooter trials are: safety must be a priority; e-scooters must contribute to reducing emissions/congestion; and cycling and walking should remain optimal for short journeys. Public transport should also remain fundamental, but in the current context e-scooters can offer an additional socially-distanced transport option to reduce the burden on public transport.

Safety

  1. Safety is always a priority for the Department. In 2019 it published a refreshed Road Safety Statement alongside a two-year action plan to address road safety issues throughout the lifetime of road users. As noted above, the first principle of the Future of Mobility Urban Strategy is that vehicles must be safe and secure by design. This means that in deciding to permit any vehicle on the road, including e-scooters, the Department will consider the safety of the vehicle itself, the safety risks to the vehicle user and the risks for other road users.
  2. A recent report by the OECD[10] published in 2020 found that, “A trip by a typical shared standing e-scooter is no more likely than a bicycle trip to result in a road traffic death”. But there are some initial reports for other countries about the rate of injuries of e-scooter users which suggests injury rates may be higher than for other vehicle types.
    The Department wants to understand how safe e-scooters are for their users and for other road users and pedestrians before deciding whether or how they should be more widely and permanently legalised and this will be done through the planned trials.

Accessibility

  1. The Department is aware that micromobility, including the use of e-scooters could present an opportunity for some disabled people to explore a new way to travel. However, e-scooters could also represent challenges, e.g. discarded e-scooters, or those ridden on the pavement could pose a danger to visually impaired people. The Department will include disability groups, particularly partially sighted or deaf people in the consultation on regulations to allow the trials. The trials, and any proposals for the subsequent legalisation of e-scooters, will take the needs of disabled people into account.

Mode shift

  1. The Secretary of State for Transport, Grant Shapps, said in his statement on 9 May 2020: “...with public transport’s capacity severely restricted at this time, our trains and buses could become overcrowded and our roads gridlocked – holding up emergency services, critical workers and vital supplies. We know cars will continue to remain vital for many, but as we look to the future we must build a better country with greener travel habits, cleaner air and healthier communities”.
  2. In the short-term trials of e-scooters could provide additional transport capacity, easing the pressure on public transport. In the longer term the trials will be used to determine not only the safety of e-scooters, but also the potential demand for their use. There are likely to be environmental and congestion benefits from car drivers switching to using e-scooter, but we don’t want to encourage cyclists or walkers to switch from active travel. Running rental e-scooter trials will enable the Department to gather evidence to help understand: who is using the e-scooters; how are they being used; where they are being used; whether any modal shift is taking place; and, if so, what the benefits are of this shift.
     

Congestion and the impact on the environment

  1. Legalising e-scooters may encourage some drivers to switch from using a car to using an e-scooter, at least for some journeys. This would have the benefit of reducing emissions and improving air quality, having a positive impact on public health. However, it may also encourage those who currently walk or cycle to take an e-scooter instead, reducing the health benefits of active travel and potentially adding congestion to the roads. The interactions between each of these factors is unclear and complex, and needs to be better understood to make good policy decisions; this is an ambition behind the rental e-scooter trials.

International context

  1. The global e-scooters market size has recently been valued at US$17.43 billion (around £13 billion) and is expected to have a compound annual growth rate of 8.5% over the next 10 years.
  2. E-scooters have become a widely used vehicle in many countries, where there is a mix of privately-owned/used scooters, and rental scooters. Many e-scooter hire companies offer rental scooters on the street, in a similar system to the dockless bicycles seen in the UK. Their mode of operation varies by company and by city, but in general scooters are: available on the street; can be unlocked through the providers’ app; are paid for by the mile or by the minute; and can be left at a final destination or a designated parking space.
  3. There is no single categorisation of e-scooters in international standards or regulations, and the existing body of regulations and standards has not been designed to cater for these kinds of vehicle. Some of this international law may apply by default; as an example, EU regulations on motor insurance automatically apply to vehicles that can travel above 25 km/h, including e-scooters. Many international bodies are considering whether and how to regulate e-scooters (as evidenced in the OECD Safe Micromobility Report[11] ), but in general it has been for individual countries to determine how to regulate these vehicles.
  4. Internationally, there has not been a consistent approach to regulating e-scooters, with the regulations in each country dependent on individual circumstances and preferences.
  5. In deciding whether to legalise e-scooters in the UK, the Department will look at the evidence from e-scooter use in other countries to assess what risk they present.

Progressing the Future of Transport Regulatory Review

  1. We are gathering evidence from a range of sources to inform the Regulatory Review. Alongside responses to the Call for Evidence and the e-scooter trials consultation, we will use evidence gathered during trials, evidence from e-scooter use internationally and additional research to inform whether e-scooters and other micromobility vehicles should be legalised and, if so, the rules that should apply to their use. 

May 2020

 


[1] https://www.gov.uk/government/consultations/legalising-rental-e-scooter-trials-defining-e-scooters-and-rules-for-their-use

[2] https://www.gov.uk/government/news/2-billion-package-to-create-new-era-for-cycling-and-walking

[3] A motor vehicle is defined in s.185(1) Road Traffic Act 1988 as being a mechanically propelled vehicle 

[4]https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/cycling-and-walking-investment-strategy

[5] https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/inclusive-transport-strategy

[6] https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/creating-the-transport-decarbonisation-plan

[7] https://www.gov.uk/government/consultations/legalising-rental-e-scooter-trials-defining-e-scooters-and-rules-for-their-use

[8] https://www.gov.uk/government/consultations/future-of-transport-regulatory-review-call-for-evidence-on-micromobility-vehicles-flexible-bus-services-and-mobility-as-a-service

[9] https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/future-of-mobility-urban-strategy

[10] Safer Micromobility https://www.itf-oecd.org/sites/default/files/docs/safe-micromobility_1.pdf

[11] Safe Micromobility 2020 https://www.itf-oecd.org/safe-micromobility