The UK Government has fast tracked trials of e-scooters to increase green transport options, but Scotland on Sunday has learned that the more lengthy approval process north of the Border means it is uncertain when Scotland will be able to take part.
Riders can now hire e-scooters in towns and cities such as Middlesborough, Milton Keynes and Northampton. Birmingham and the West Midlands follow next week.
Still illegal elsewhere
During the trials they can be used on roads, including cycle lanes, and also on off-road cycle paths, but not on pavements.
Elsewhere, they remain only legal on private land.
Glasgow, which revealed in May it was the first Scottish city considering a scheme, was unable to say when any pilot might start.
Nine firms, which include TIER, Europe’s largest e-scooter hire company, Voi and LINK, are interested in running the city centre project.
TIER UK general manager Fred Jones, claimed the council was “well advanced in its thinking of what they might want the trial to look like”.
Glasgow ‘well advanced’
He demonstrated the company’s scooters in this video for one of The Scotsman’s sister papers, The News in Portsmouth, where TIER is also interested in operating.
E-scooters are limited to 15.5mph – like electric bikes – but this could be lower in busy areas.
Riders must have a driving licence as e-scooters are treated as motor vehicles, although they may be re-classed as similar to electric bikes in the future.
UK Transport Secretary Grant Shapps announced in May the trials would be brought forward from next year “in a bid to get e-scooter rental schemes up-and-running in our cities as fast as possible, helping reduce car use on shorter journeys and taking some pressure off buses, at this vital time.”
But Transport Scotland said Scottish councils were unlikely to be able to take part in the trials, which are due to start by next month.
The Scottish Government agency said this was because of the more lengthy approval process for the necessary changes north of the Border.
Its spokesperson said: “The sudden decision on the imminent introduction of e-scooters was taken by the UK Government alone and without informing the Scottish Government in advance.
“Whilst the use of powered transporters and decisions around their introduction and associated legislative changes are primarily a matter for the UK Government, it is now clear additional legislation and associated guidance would be required in Scotland to allow trials to take place.
“This was not factored in to the timescale set by the Department for Transport (DfT), and as a result Scottish local authorities are unlikely to be able to participate in the initial trials.
"Transport Scotland and officials from interested Scottish local authorities continue to engage with the DfT over options for participation in the longer term.“
However, a spokesperson for the DfT said: “We accelerated trials of e-scooters as an immediate response to Covid-19 to encourage a green restart of local transport, while helping tackle reduced capacity on public transport.
“Officials in the Scottish government were made aware of the legal changes before they became law as transport is largely devolved, so trials hosted by Scottish local authorities need the agreement of the Scottish Government.
‘Explore the viability’
"The Department will continue to work with the devolved administrations on e-scooter policy.”
A Glasgow City Council spokesman said: “We continue to explore the viability of a trial of e-scooters.
"Developing a better understanding of the e-scooter market is part of our feasibility study, but no final decision has been taken on the viability of a trial.
“If a trial of e-scooters is approved, all potential providers would have to submit a formal tender response at the appropriate time.
"We have spoken informally with nine separate providers on this issue.”
TIER, which operates in more than 70 European cities and is bidding for contracts in England, said it had sought to counter negative publicity over e-scooters with measures such as 12-inch wheels which are one third larger than standard for improved safety.
In response to criticism of parked e-scooters causing a dangerous obstruction on pavements, its machines have sensors which trigger an alert if they fall over.
Pedestrian and cycling groups said e-scooters should only be permitted on cycle lanes and paths when such provision was improved.
The National Federation of the Blind of the UK said: “E-scooters will be a dangerous distraction, taking away people from active modes of transport and create hazardous, hostile and intimidating place for pedestrians, especially those who are blind, partially sighted, disabled, elderly or vulnerable.”
Edinburgh and Aberdeen said they had no plans for trials.
An Edinburgh City Council spokeswoman said: “we’re not planning any trials at present, though it’s something we could look into in future.”
A spokesperson for Aberdeen City Council said: “Although we are not taking part in these trials, we recognise e-scooters may have a role to play to encourage greater use of active and sustainable travel.
"We will monitor the UK-wide trials with interest and also any permanent changes that may be made to the current legislation as a result of these trials.”