With the sales and use of e-scooters (or electric-scooters) increasing in the UK, and a trial of rental schemes recently launched, we welcome the Department for Transport’s ongoing work to review their legal status. Currently, many users are unaware that it is illegal to use privately owned e-scooters on the highway, and we recommend steps are taken quickly to ensure users are made aware of this at the time of purchase.
This Sustrans policy position is comprised of two parts:
- Part 1: Sustrans e-scooters policy position
- Part 2: Sustrans policy position for e-scooters on the National Cycle Network.
Sustrans e-scooters policy position
- Sales of e-scooters (or electric-scooters), which are similar to conventional kick scooters but powered by an electric motor and battery, are increasing in the UK. Currently, it is only legal to ride an e-scooter in the UK as part of an approved rental scheme, with a review on legalisation of privately owned e-scooters ongoing.
- When considering any change in the law relating to e-scooters, the needs and safety of all road users, especially people walking, cycling and riding e-scooters must be fully considered. We recommend improving cycling infrastructure that would also help to protect users of e-scooters from motor vehicles, setting limitations on speed and power, and banning their use on the footway, except where cycling is legally permitted. In regards to safety we need to continue to learn and review evidence from the ongoing trial schemes and countries where e-scooters are legal and more popular.
- E-scooters offer comparatively little physical activity benefit and current evidence suggests they are replacing trips that would otherwise be walked, cycled or taken by public transport. However, with the right governance between the public and private sectors e-scooters have the potential to provide a useful addition to traveller choice, which could help reduce congestion and improve air quality in urban areas if they replace journeys by car.
E-scooters (or electric-scooters) are similar to conventional kick scooters, but powered by an electric motor and battery.
They are classified under DfT guidance as “powered transporters” and fall within the same legal definition and laws as motor vehicles.
In July 2020, the UK Government launched an e-scooter rental trial, which legalised shared e-scooter schemes.
As part of the conditions, e-scooters must meet certain technical requirements and users must have at least a provisional UK driving license to rent an e-scooter.
Accordingly, it is legal for rental e-scooter users to use an approved rented e-scooter on a public road and anywhere else that cycles are permitted to use.
Conversely, it is currently illegal to use a privately owned e-scooter on a public road or in a space set aside for use by pedestrians, cyclists, and horse-riders, including the pavement and cycle lanes.
There are no statutory restrictions on the use of powered transporters on private land.
As the public sale of e-scooters or other powered transporters is not illegal, sales have been increasing in the UK and they are becoming more common on roads, pavements and cycling infrastructure, especially in cities.
At the same time, shared e-scooter schemes have rapidly expanded throughout the USA and Europe, prompting the UK to implement their rental e-scooter trial.
The UK Government are also consulting on legalisation more widely, as part of the new DfT Future of Mobility: Urban Strategy, including privately owned e-scooters to be used in the same way as approved rental e-scooters.
What we think
With the sales and use of e-scooters (or electric-scooters) increasing in the UK, we welcome the Department for Transport’s decision to launch a rental trial and continue to review their legal status.
Currently, many users are unaware that they are illegal to use on the Highway, and we recommend steps are taken quickly to ensure users are made aware of this at the time of purchase.
Modal shift and active travel
E-scooters have the potential to provide a useful addition to traveller choice and could help reduce congestion and improve air quality in urban areas if they replace journeys by car.
However, e-scooters offer no physical activity benefits and we are concerned they could replace trips that would otherwise be walked, cycled, taken by kick scooters or by public transport.
Physical inactivity costs the NHS in the UK around £1 billion per year, and wider society £7.4 billion.
Increasing the number of active trips has the potential to prevent and manage over 20 chronic health conditions by building physical activity into daily activity.
Researchers in France asked 4,000 users of public e-scooters how they would have travelled if scooters weren’t available.
Of all the riders interviewed, 44% said they would have gone on foot, 30% would have used public transport and 12% would have cycled.
Only 3% of respondents would have used a private car if no e-scooters had been available.
Accordingly, while we recognise the potential benefits of e-scooters, we need to do everything we possibly can to enable more people to walk, cycle or scoot short journeys, and should prioritise them over motorised transport modes including e-scooters.
Sustrans thinks more needs to be done if e-scooters are legalised in the UK to ensure that, as a mode of transport, they replace driving as opposed to walking and cycling.
Safety and use on pavements and the carriageway
Sustrans position is that e-scooters should not be permitted on pavements.
It is Sustrans’ view that e-scooters present an impediment to pedestrians and disabled people sharing the pavement.
Unlike cycling it is very difficult to signal on a moving scooter if you are turning left or right or look over your shoulder behind you.
We are also concerned that e-scooters’ smaller wheels are more susceptible to becoming caught out on poor road surfaces or in potholes.
Given their weight distribution and braking systems, it is also relatively difficult to perform an emergency stop on an e-scooter, especially if travelling at or near the maximum speed.
Just like cycling, there are dangers in sharing road space with other motor vehicles.
Sustrans believes if cycling and scootering are to become normal, everyday forms of transport for people we must improve infrastructure and separate motor vehicles from people travelling by other modes wherever necessary.
Initial data shows no significant adverse impacts on safety for other road users due to e-scooters.
However, when considering the legalisation of e-scooters, the needs and safety of other vulnerable road users must also be considered, including setting limitations on speed and power and banning their use on the footway, except where you are legally permitted to cycle.
If legalised for use on cycle lanes, e-scooters should be limited to 20kph as has been mandated in Paris and in Sweden.
These factors make e-scooters more dangerous than cycling, especially for users, when on roads shared with other motor vehicles.
The DfT should take these factors into account when reviewing the legal status of e-scooters both on the carriageway and on cycling infrastructure.
Shared e-scooter schemes target urban or city centre journeys and can cost as much as 20p per minute in addition to a charge to unlock the scooter. They are potentially prohibitively expensive for many users.
As schemes run for profit without public subsidies they are unlikely to reduce transport inequality in cities. Research in France found that shared e-scooter users were significantly better off than the general population.
The UK’s rental pilot specifies that riders must have at least a provisional driving license in order to use e-scooters, but full legislation must remove this stipulation.
E-scooters could most benefit people without a driving license by providing an additional transport option.
Additionally, should those able to afford to use e-scooters shift away from public transport en masse, operators may be forced to raise fares, prompting a disproportionately negative impact on people of lower socioeconomic status who still rely on public transport.
Similar to dockless bike schemes, public concerns are likely to arise over street clutter from e-scooter sharing schemes.
This can be annoying for pedestrians and make streets difficult to navigate for many people including disabled people and people with pushchairs.
Sustrans recommends better governance of shared e-scooter schemes between the public and private sector to ensure schemes are more inclusive and do not affect other pedestrians.
Finally, e-scooters need to be charged on a regular basis, they are usually collected by individuals competing with one another on a freelance basis, often using vehicles.
Regular charging of e-scooters has an environmental impact until all our energy is from renewable sources. There is also an environmental and social impact of the manufacture and need to replace batteries.
Off-road National Cycle Network that is owned or managed by Sustrans
Sustrans’ position is that no e-scooters are currently permitted on the off-road National Cycle Network that Sustrans owns or manages. This applies to privately-owned and hired e-scooters.
As this is a fast-moving policy agenda we will keep this position under review and respond to any consultation by local or national governments, as appropriate.
Off-road National Cycle Network that is not owned or managed by Sustrans
The use of e-scooters on off-road National Cycle Network that is not owned or managed by Sustrans is at the discretion of individual landowners.
An example is where the Network crosses a local authority park or a landed estate.
As custodian of the National Cycle Network, Sustrans notes that some of the Network’s off-road surfaces are not suitable for the very small wheels typical of e-scooters, which have been identified as a significant risk factor for injury.
Users of e-scooters may also present a risk to other paths users, especially on busy sections
It is not viable for Sustrans to sign the whole off-road network to clarify this for users who may be at risk for these reasons.
We will consider working with individual landowners to install hazard signage on a case by case basis, only where it is considered necessary and proportionate.
On-road National Cycle Network
The majority of the National Cycle Network is on the public highway.
E-scooters are currently classed as motor vehicles in the UK.
This means that their use is effectively illegal on-road, except where e-scooter hire trials are taking place.
The Government in partnership with highway authorities and rental companies is currently trialling e-scooter hire schemes in cities and towns across England.
On-road National Cycle Network
Each Highways Authority conducting trials will need to clarify whether rented e-scooters are permitted on cycle lanes, bridleways and other infrastructure, not including pavements, that are part of the local adopted Highway.
Off-road National Cycle Network
If trials are to use off-road land away from the highway, the local Highways Authority will need to obtain the agreement of any relevant landowner or occupier, as use will be at their discretion including land which is part of the National Cycle Network.
Sustrans’ position is that rental e-scooters as part of trials are not currently permitted on off-road National Cycle Network that Sustrans owns or manages due to safety concerns and permitted use restrictions.