Every day in London, hundreds of commuters zoom down the streets on electric scooters. They are fast, require less effort than a bike and help to avoid the crush on the trains and buses. There’s only one catch: they’re not legal – yet.
But that might be about to change. After a year of stalling, the UK government is about to open a consultation into how to regulate e-scooters, which may lead to them being legalised as early as this summer, according to a report from The Times. This would pave the way for at least a dozen companies to come to the capital.
The global e-scooter market is expected to be worth $51.3 million by 2026 and London is still one the biggest untapped opportunities in Europe.
At present, Bird is the only e-scooter sharing company operating on British soil, thanks to what amounts to a small technicality: the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park in Stratford, where it has 50 scooters, is only operational thanks to it being classed as private land. Plans to turn Milton Keynes into a second testbed to work out the safety measures needed for the new laws have so far come to nothing.
Still, having a Stratford foothold hardly gives Bird a strategic advantage – after all, it is the second biggest scooter company in the world after Lime, and startups like Voi, Wind, Circ and Dott are all major rivals in Europe. It’s likely that London could be one of the biggest markets in Europe for e-scooters – and become the biggest logistical nightmare yet.
There have been dozens of accidents in Munich, scooters left strewn on the streets in Stockholm and users riding drunk in Copenhagen. At least 11 deaths have been recorded, including a 92-year-old woman in Barcelona and 27-year-old man in Sweden.
If e-scooters are launched in London, the number of accidents could grow exponentially, warns Ben Pepper, a personal injury solicitor at law firm Bolt Burdon Kemp. “I’ve represented people who’ve been injured by cyclists before who’ve had a really difficult time accessing compensation because the cyclist isn’t insured. The same would apply with the scooter riders.”
Paris was one of the cities forced to implement new measures to curtail e-scooter companies, the combined 20,000 scooters were making a mess as users left them wherever they liked as part of a dockless system.
Anne Hidalgo, the mayor of Paris called the situation “anarchy” and introduced new laws to calm the problem, including banning scooters from pavements and allowing only one rider per device. The number of companies operating in Paris has been reduced to three – the UK government could follow suit and grant licenses to only a select few to limit disruption.
Some ride-hailing giants claim that the clogging of the streets can be alleviated by a TfL-style license system, similar to that of ride-hailing companies. They argue that fewer, responsible companies will help to avoid clutter.
But even if licences are restricted, major e-scooter companies have not yet come up with a concrete plan on how to avoid a disastrous debut without first testing out schemes on UK roads. A spokesperson for Lime said that it was waiting for the government to confirm the next steps so that it can begin planning.
In the meantime, demand for e-scooters is going online. E-scooters with top speeds of up to 30mph are available for as little as £199.99 – with the caveat that you are supposed to use them on private land. But without enforced safety standards they are creating a danger the government cannot control.
The answer? Regulation. Cars that travel at the same speeds are equipped with airbags and other safety features to prevent injury in a crash, but e-scooters don’t even have a seat to prevent you from flying across the road at full force.
“They are illegal, but there is very little enforcement,” says Richard Dilks, chief executive of CoMoUK, a charity that promotes sustainable shared transport. “There’s no law that defines what they are and so this isn’t necessarily top of police forces’ agendas.”
There has already been one e-scooter related death in the UK. Emily Hartridge, a television presenter who was using an e-scooter on the road in Battersea, south-west London, died in July last year when she was hit by a lorry.
Silent vehicles like e-scooters can also be particularly dangerous for people with disabilities, such as blind and partially sighted people as they are hard to hear and capable of reaching high speeds.
“If there is to be a change in the law relating to powered transporters these safety concerns must first be fully addressed,” says Zoe Courtney, policy and campaigns officer at the Royal National Institute of the Blind. “We can only support the legalisation of powered transporters on public roads if the safety of blind and partially sighted people can be guaranteed.” The government has not yet said whether it will be addressing these concerns.
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