They can be found all over the US, more and more cities in Europe, with sights set on the UK next. Yes, we’re talking about electric scooters.
The micro-mobility vehicles are heralded as the next stage in transport, closing the gap of the “last mile” and a convenient way to get around cities including LA, San Francisco and Paris. But they have their own series of problems.
In the UK, scooters aren’t technically legal to ride, yet people do and the ramifications can be fatal. Last week a YouTuber and TV presenter was killed in a scooter crash with a lorry, and a 14-year-old boy is currently fighting for his life after colliding with a bus stop at the weekend.
So what’s the deal with electric scooters and what’s going to happen in the future?
Why are electric scooters so popular at the moment?
The rise in electric scooters can be attributed to a wave of start-ups from the US. The likes of Bird and Lime exploded in popularity as dockless, ride-sharing vehicles that can be hired using an app and parked when their use is no longer required.
The aim of the scooters is to solve the issue of the last mile – the final part of a journey which isn’t covered by public transport. They’re also an opportunity to get people out of cars and onto the roads using a more sustainable form of transport.
In 2017 and 2018, electric scooter companies raised nearly $1 billion collectively, according to data by Pitchbook, over a total of 48 deals.
Which companies are making electric scooters?
There are a few scooter companies on the rise including Bird, Lime, Voi and Dott. Amsterdam-based Dott recently raised $34 million and plans to launch in the UK by the end of the year.
Bird is the only company with scooters on the roads, so to speak, in the UK. You can hire the scooters in Stratford in a set space in the Olympic Park, encompassing the Aquatics Centre to the tech campus Here East.
Using the Bird app, it costs £1 to unlock the scooter and a subsequent 20p per mile.
Electric scooters are also available to buy from the likes of Halford and Amazon.
Are electric scooters legal in London?
Technically, no. The only way Bird is allowed to have scooters in Stratford is because they are available to hire only on private land. Thanks to GPS tracking on the scooters, they will stop working once they cross the park boundary.
In general, the scooters are illegal to ride on the road, cycle lanes or on the pavement in the UK because they fall within the definition of “motor vehicle” under UK law. This means certain requirements are necessary, such as riders having insurance, licenses, number plates and helmets, and they are also subject to laws regarding their build.
However, the design of electric scooters means it is almost impossible to comply with the UK laws regarding MOT, tax and licensing. Therefore, they are illegal.
Is this going to change in the future?
The UK government is conducting a Future of Mobility review which looks into how new types of vehicles, such as electric scooters, will change the way people move around cities. The review will also explore how current laws can be updated in order to remove the barriers to innovation.
The Future of Mobility minister Michael Ellis is meeting with scooter start-ups and retailers, including Halfords, today to reiterate that it is illegal to ride electric scooters publicly in the UK.
Ellis is expected to say: “Micromobility products are appearing in countries across the globe and are an exciting innovation for which we know there is demand. However, safety must always be our top priority when considering their use on public highways in this country.
“The government is considering this as part of its regulatory review, as announced in March in the Future of Mobility: Urban Strategy. We are examining whether they can be used safely on the road – and if so, how that should be regulated to ensure the public’s safety. However, companies must understand that reviewing laws does not necessarily mean laws will change.
“People who use e-scooters need to be aware it is currently illegal to ride them on the pavement and the road.”
The government has also written to Amazon and Argos, as well as other major retailers, to underline the importance of responsible advertising, particularly when it comes to making it clear at the point of purchase of an electric scooter.
Are electric scooters unsafe?
Whilst the UK is dealing with two major scooter accidents from in the last few days, this picture is also replicated around the world. A Consumers Reports investigation in the US earlier this year unveiled 1,500 electric scooter injuries, with many hospitals reporting that they don’t even track the incidents so there could be much more.
Part of this is down to the issue of helmets. Companies request that you wear a helmet when using one of their scooters but unless you’re carrying one around with you in your bag, you’re probably not going to have one to hand when you decide to ride.
A new Californian law eliminated the state’s helmet requirement for people riding electric scooters over the age of 18. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the law was supported by Bird.
The scooters themselves do go quite fast, with Lime and Bird capping speeds at 15mph which is “no faster than the average speed on a bike”.
15mph doesn’t sound like a lot but when you’re riding a solid 20kg frame at that speed, it doesn’t feel the safest way to get around.