London’s long-awaited electric scooter trials will begin next month on June 7, the city’s transport authority and local councils announced today. Three scooter companies have been selected to offer rentals up to 12 months as part of the pilot program: Dott, Lime and Tier. Private electric scooters will continue to be illegal on the streets.
The selected companies will initially offer scooters for rent in six London boroughs and local authorities: Ealing, Hammersmith and Fulham, Kensington and Chelsea, Richmond upon Thames, City of London and Canary Wharf. Although rental is not available at Tower Hamlets, Londoners will be able to drive their rented scooters around the Borough. The boroughs of Lambeth and Southwark are also seeking to participate in the trial.
It may sound like a long list of areas, but it is only a fraction of the 32 boroughs that make up the UK capital. London’s transport authority, Transport for London (TfL), said more areas are expected to join the trial as it progresses.
While rented electric scooters have become a common sight in many cities around the world, the UK has been much slower to embrace the new mode of transport. Until recently, electric scooters were completely illegal on UK streets. It was not until July of last year that the situation began to change, with the government allowing trial rental of electric scooters. But outside of the pilot programs, private electric scooters are still illegal on public roads.
TfL’s announcement specifically cites the pandemic as one of the main reasons for the importance of the new mode of transportation. Rather than flocking people to cars to avoid crowded buses and trains, authorities want electric scooters to provide an environmentally friendly and socially remote way to get around. “We are doing all we can to support London’s safe and sustainable recovery from the coronavirus pandemic and it is clear that e-scooters could act as an innovative and greener alternative to car travel,” said Helen Sharp, responsible for testing TfL electric scooters.
There are a host of safety requirements that every electric scooter rental company will have to comply with in order to offer rentals in the city. Speeds will be capped at 12.5 miles per hour (reduction to eight miles per hour in specified “slowdown” zones), and scooters will need to have front and rear lights always on. They are also required to have “audible warning systems” that cyclists can use without taking their hands off the handlebars. The scooters will also be fitted with geographic fences to ensure they are properly parked in designated locations, and operators will need to retrieve them if they are not.
Scooters can be driven on roads and cycle paths, but not on sidewalks. When the government announced the start of testing last year, it said riders should be over the age of 16 and have at least a provisional car, motorcycle or moped license to drive. We have contacted TfL to clarify if these requirements will apply to the London trials. Riders will also need to complete an “online safety course” before renting their first scooter in the capital.
London will be far from being the first city in the UK to launch its electric scooter trials. Zag has compiled a list of over 50 trials that have been launched across the country in the past year.
Although technically illegal on public streets, private electric scooters have become an increasingly common sight in London. National retailers like Halfords sell a range of models, although the Halfords website displays a warning that they are only legal on private properties with the permission of the owner.
The three scooter operators chosen for the London trials are already offering rentals in other cities around the world. Dott offers rentals in 16 cities in Europe, while Tier serves 100 cities in 12 countries. In addition to offering electric scooter rentals in other cities, Lime previously offered electric bicycle rental in London. Bird is notably absent from the list, which has offered the rental of electric scooters on private property in London’s Olympic Park. London has joined Paris in deciding not to allow the company to operate on its streets, even after announcing a massive $ 150 million European expansion.
In addition to setting their own prices, individual scooter operators offer unique features. Tier, for example, is installing charging modules at local businesses in the city and will offer users free rides if they swap their scooter’s dead battery for a fully charged battery at a charging station.