Rental e-scooters will become legal on U.K. roads from July 4 after the government published the rules companies must follow to deploy the electric vehicles.
Large-scale trials can start at the weekend and last for a year, the Department for Transport said in a statement late Tuesday. It will closely monitor activity and public feedback with a view to fully legalizing scooters in future. Privately-owned models will remain illegal during this period, it said.
The U.K. has lagged the world in allowing e-scooters to operate legally on its roads, with some restrictive laws dating back to 1835. That’s not stopped them becoming a familiar sight in London and other big cities, raising the pressure on the government to establish a regulatory framework for their safe use.
“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,” said Transport Minister Rachel Maclean.
Many of the world’s biggest e-scooter rental companies now plan to roll out fleets across the U.K., including Sweden’s Voi, Germany’s Tier, and Bird and Lime of the U.S.
It’s particularly good news for Bird and Lime, which have run into trouble this year as their unprofitable business models were strained by the pandemic that kept customers stuck at home. Both had to drastically reduce their fleets, cut hundreds of jobs and seek emergency funding, in a blow to venture capitalists who invested more than $1 billion in the companies.
Alan Clarke, Lime’s U.K. director of policy, said Tuesday’s announcement “presents a real opportunity for change.”
Roger Hassan, chief operating officer of Tier, said “we already have more than 1,000 of our industry leading scooters in our U.K. warehouse ready to be deployed.” The head of Voi in the U.K., Richard Corbett, previously ran Bird’s business in the country. He said on Tuesday that Voi hopes to have its first pilot up and running in weeks.
The government said last year it was contemplating a loosening of legislation on e-scooters as it had become a barrier to innovation.
Coronavirus has helped to accelerate the process. In May, the government said it wanted to enable trials on U.K. roads as a way to help public transit networks adhere to social distancing guidelines as the country’s lockdown is eased.
However, not everyone is comfortable with the way the consultation has been unfolding. Adam Norris, a former director at financial firm Hargreaves Lansdown Plc and founder of e-scooter retailer Pure Electric, said last month he was concerned the government’s consultation may be unduly influenced by the firms with “the biggest lobbying checkbooks, and that tends to be the American scooter rental companies.”
Norris said at the time his company was planning to open about a dozen new high street stores this year to sell e-scooters, taking over several sites used by retailer Cycle Republic prior to its closing by parent Halfords Group Plc.
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