Published: 13th JULY 2020

Our position on e-scooters

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 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.

women on scooters

This policy position was updated by Sustrans in July 2020.

Summary

  • 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 riding e-scooters, pedestrians and other vulnerable road users must be fully considered. We recommend improving cycling infrastructure that would also 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 other countries where e-scooters are legal and more popular.
  • E-scooters offer 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. They could help reduce congestion and improve air quality in urban areas if they replace journeys by car.

Context

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.

Conversely, 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.

Accordingly, it is currently illegal to use an 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 London.

At the same time, shared e-scooter schemes are rapidly expanding to more and more cities in 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.

This suggests using public e-scooter schemes have little impact on modal shift away from cars.

Similar results have been reflected in the United States, in Rosslyn (James, Swiderski et al, 2019) and Portland (Portland Bureau of Transportation, 2018).  

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

Data from the city of Portland suggests that e-scooter riders are most likely to be injured in a lone fall and statistics from Europe suggest concerns over the safety of riders.

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 cars from people 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.

Inclusivity

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 subsidises 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 socio-economic 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.

Environmental impact

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.

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