Why legalising e-scooters could dramatically improve urban life and help fight climate change – Richard Dilks

E-scooters have the potential to become an incredibly popular part of the transport and ‘micromobility’ landscape in the UK that delivers on the pressing need to decarbonise transport.

Legalising e-scooters would create a new form of low-carbon transport in the city (Picture: Tobias Schwarz/AFP via Getty Images)
Legalising e-scooters would create a new form of low-carbon transport in the city (Picture: Tobias Schwarz/AFP via Getty Images)

This is already the case in many countries around the world, including Spain, France and Germany, particularly in urban areas.

Since 2020, the UK Government has been working with local authorities and operators to run trials around the rental of e-scooters in cities and towns across England.

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These have been hugely popular, with well over 15 million rides taking place so far.

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We believe these trials, which have been running for two years, provide vital lessons that should now pave the way for e-scooters to become legal in the UK on a permanent basis, whether rented in shared-use schemes or privately owned.

This presents a real opportunity for Scotland as it seeks to reach net-zero emissions by 2045 and to cut the distance travelled by private cars by 20 per cent by the end of this decade.

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This would include defining e-scooters to a high standard of safety as well as building in future capacity for the UK to avail itself of innovative new micromobility options on two and more wheels.

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Currently, e-scooters that are not included in trials can only be legally used on private land.

However, this has created a dangerous and unsafe situation, leaving many hundreds of thousands of unregulated vehicles being used illegally on the public highway.

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Last week, charity Collaborative Mobility UK (CoMoUK) joined forces with voices from across the transport, retail, manufacturing, legal, research and university sectors to call for legislation to create a new powered light vehicle class.

This law change would dramatically improve safety as it would make e-scooters subject to proper regulations in areas like braking, lighting, centre of gravity, top speed and wheel size, as well as rider training and behaviour.

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The increased use of e-scooters would also be a tool to help reduce car use in urban areas and would therefore play a wider role in making streets safer from car accidents.

And it would help to lower greenhouse gas emissions from transport, while cutting congestion, improving air quality and repurposing our streets away from cars.

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It would be environmentally beneficial, and help governments meet their legally enshrined climate change targets.

Transport is the largest single source of greenhouse gas emissions in the UK; its emissions in Scotland have barely fallen in over a generation.

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Until now, the UK has been the only developed nation without legislation on e-scooters or a plan for it.

But that looks set to change, as last week the UK Transport Secretary Grant Shapps told Westminster’s Transport Select Committee that legislation will be announced at next week’s Queen’s Speech in the Commons.

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This is very welcome, and we look forward to seeing the details of what is proposed.

The Department for Transport has also indicated it will publish a report summarising the findings of an evaluation of recent trials later this year, and that it plans to launch a consultation on legalising e-scooters.

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As has been seen through trials and in other countries, shared e-scooters are an asset to the transport mix.

They are a popular, efficient way to cover short distances and can complement other modes, particularly where they become part of wider mobility hubs – highly visible, safe and accessible spaces where public, shared and active travel modes are located together alongside improvements to the public realm.

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They are about the removal of the private car from journey planning, and, where relevant, include enhanced community facilities. They also help to create 20-minute neighbourhoods, which focus on giving people connected and walkable places to live.

No transport mode is accident-free and e-scooter riders, like cyclists and pedestrians, are at the more vulnerable end of the spectrum.

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However, an International Transport Forum study previously found that accidents on e-scooters are no more likely than those on a bicycle, and a recent report by the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents revealed e-scooters had a lower casualty rate than bikes.

CoMoUK has been working with local authority and operator stakeholders to garner the best available evidence from UK trials, and to learn from other countries’ experiences to ensure any improvements are adopted across the sector.

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We believe there should be speed limits which can be varied using geo-fencing for pedestrian-heavy areas, and capped acceleration rates.

Users’ weight should be distributed as low as possible on the scooter, and the vehicles should incorporate the best features for safety.

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Shared schemes should also be priced fairly, and opportunities should be sought to integrate e-scooters with other public, active and shared travel modes.

They would work in a similar way to bike-share initiatives, which has resulted in notable improvements to physical and mental health among users, as well as a reduced dependence on cars.

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Operators of shared e-scooter schemes should ensure there is a user-friendly process for reporting faults which takes vehicles off hire. They should also have proactive and reactive maintenance plans and provide a range of safety training such as online tutorials and on-scooter user information.

New legislation is an opportunity for Scotland and the UK to meet this imperative to improve safety, and we eagerly await next week’s announcement from the UK Government.

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It is important that Scotland and the UK do not miss this opportunity to remove the danger of unregulated vehicles, and to lower transport emissions and support cleaner and more sustainable cities.

Richard Dilks is chief executive of Collaborative Mobility UK (CoMoUK), a charity in Scotland, England and Wales for the public benefit of shared transport. It conducts research among car club and bike-share users and accredits operators.

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