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Electric scooters legalised (for shared use)

8 July 2020

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It’s a landmark week for UK micromobility as the law is changed to usher in electric scooters for DfT trials. Elsewhere, Manchester’s first-of-its-kind junction opens and plans for an electric scooter racing series are announced.

1: Independence Day for Britain’s e-scooters

What: Riding shared electric scooters on public roads is now legal in the UK, thanks to a change of legislation that came into force on 4 July 2020.

The change has been made to fast-track the introduction of 12-month trials of rental e-scooter systems across the country. These assessment programmes will help the government explore whether or not to introduce this form of micromobility permanently, alongside other similar options such as rental bike schemes. Using privately-owned scooters in public places remains strictly off-limits.

There are some caveats. E-scooter riders will need at least a full provisional licence for car, motorbike or moped and must therefore be aged 16 or over. The scooters will be banned from travelling on pavements and will have an upper speed limit of 15.5mph, although this may be lowered by each local authority that chooses to run a trial scheme. Helmets are recommended but not mandatory.

“As we emerge from lockdown, we have a unique opportunity in transport to build back in a greener, more sustainable way that could lead to cleaner air and healthier communities across Great Britain. E-scooters may offer the potential for convenient, clean and cost-effective travel that may also help ease the burden on the transport network, provide another green alternative to get around and allow for social distancing. The trials will allow us to test whether they do these things.

Rachel Maclean MP

Why it matters: It’s no exaggeration to say these trials may permanently change how we move around our urban spaces.

Like many inventions from America’s West Coast technology titans, shared e-scooter schemes arrived amidst Messiah-like messaging but soon found themselves crawling through controversy. Still, many of the early problems (such as scooters being abandoned in the middle of walkways, being stolen or simply falling apart) have been addressed, through cleverer technology, improved processes and better build quality.

In rolling up later to the e-scooter party than many other countries, the UK has had time to gauge the likely problems – and the operators have had time to devise robust solutions.

The real test of e-scooters will be, not whether people choose to ride them or ride them safely, but whether drivers of motor vehicles will choose to leave behind their cars instead. As proponents of active transport and other micromobility modes well know, infrastructure decisions will likely be key to widespread adaption.

The Silicon Valley cool that e-scooters bring may well renew focus from media and policy-makers on the type of segregated infrastructure that pedestrians and cyclists have been battling to introduce in the UK for decades – and that can only be a good thing for our cities, our air quality and our public health. RR

2: UK-first prototype inclusive junction opens

What: A first-of-its-kind road junction which fully separates cyclists and pedestrians from motor vehicles has been opened in Manchester.

Transport for Greater Manchester’s cycle-optimised protected signals (CYCLOPS) junction is similar in concept to inclusive junctions found in London but swaps pedestrian and cycling placement. This means pedestrians have shorter distances to walk across the carriageway, while cyclists can navigate the junction without ever interacting with motor vehicles and without risk of “left hook” collisions.

What’s more, because pedestrians have a shorter route across the road itself, the pedestrian signals stage does not need to be lengthened, to the benefit of motor vehicle traffic.

Why it matters: Think this is a one-trick pony? Think again. The CYCLOPS layout might look like it’s focused on one thing – cyclists – but it does so much more. It brings wins for all road users – including pedestrians and car drivers, more so than its forebears in London.

It is also supremely flexible, able to be adapted to different shapes and types of junction. In fact, TfGM has 30 of these in-house designed CYCLOPS junctions in various stages of development, so expect to see many more iterations based on this prototype built out in the near future.

And, of course, if it can work in Manchester, this versatile design could see service everywhere else in the UK. Mega move, Manchester. RR

3: Dott e-scooters approved for UK use

What: Dott has won official model approval from the Department for Transport. This means the company will be allowed to deploy its electric scooters on British roads under the government’s trials.

“Receiving the green light for our scooters from the DfT is a massive milestone and is a key step to enabling our UK launches. The DfT has set a high bar for scooter quality… Having robust, safe and reliable scooters is absolutely essential for providing a premium service to UK cities.”

Duncan Robertson, Dott

Why it matters: Dott is one of the giants of this micromobility segment, with some 20,000 e-scooters in action in 13 cities. As the UK gets underway with its trials, having operators with deep expertise and experience will be the key to avoiding silly – or dangerous – early mistakes. RR

4: E-scooter racing series announced

What: Electric scooter racing will be A Thing in 2021, if a group of racing drivers get their Electric Scooter Championship running. The scooters will be good for 60mph and compete on temporary street circuits. Think Formula E-meets-Isle of Man TT mash-up.

Riders (the press release does not say) will have to be slightly loopy.

While there is little information yet about venues, teams or riders, the UK could well be a target for a summer 2021 event if the new sport pairs up with Formula E.

Why it matters: Wait til electric scooters are available to rent for a couple of quid in every town centre across the country, pubs have reopened and people have been watching electric scooter racing. Friday night closing time is going to be a two-wheeled version of the Fast and the Furious, albeit at 15mph. On the other hand, the “cool factor” of sport may persuade more car drivers to swap to e-scooters for their urban journeys. RR

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