The highly anticipated electric scooter tests in London begin next month on June 7, the city’s transportation authority and city councils announced today. Three scooter companies have been selected to offer up to 12 months rental as part of the pilot program: Dott, Lime and Tier. Private electric scooters will still be illegal to drive on the street.
The selected companies will initially offer scooters for rent in six boroughs and local authorities in London: Ealing, Hammersmith and Fulham, Kensington and Chelsea, Richmond upon Thames, the City of London and Canary Wharf. While there are no rentals available in Tower Hamlets, Londoners can drive their rented scooters around the town. The boroughs of Lambeth and Southwark also want to participate in the process.
This may sound like a long list of areas, but it is only a fraction of the 32 boroughs that make up the UK’s capital. London’s transport authority Transport for London (TfL) says more areas are expected to participate in 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 form of transportation. Until recently, electric scooters were completely illegal to drive on UK streets. It wasn’t until July last year that the situation started to change, when the government allowed trials of electric scooter rental. But outside of the pilot programs, it is still illegal to drive privately owned electric scooters on public roads.
TfL’s announcement specifically cites the pandemic as a major reason for the importance of the new transportation method. Rather than people flocking to cars to avoid overcrowded buses and trains, authorities want electric scooters to provide an environmentally friendly and socially distant way to get around. “We are committed to supporting London’s safe and sustainable recovery from the coronavirus pandemic and it is clear that e-scooters can serve as an innovative, greener alternative to car travel,” said Helen Sharp, TfL’s test lead.
Any electric scooter rental company will have to meet a variety of safety requirements in order to offer rental in the city. Speeds will be limited to 12.5 miles per hour (falling to 13 miles per hour in specified “slow moving” areas), and scooters must always have front and rear lights. They must also have “audible warning systems” that riders can operate without taking their hands off the handlebars. The scooters will also be geofenced to ensure they are properly parked in the designated locations, and operators will have to pick them up if they are not.
Scooters can be ridden on roads and bike paths, but not on sidewalks. When the government announced the start of the trials last year, it said riders should be over 16 years old and have at least a provisional car, motorcycle or moped license to drive. We contacted TfL to clarify whether these requirements apply to the London trials. Riders will also need to complete an “e-learning safety course” before renting their first scooter in the capital.
London will be far from the first city in the UK to launch its electric scooter trials. Saw has compiled a list of more than 50 trials started across the country in the past year.
Despite being technically illegal to use on public streets, privately owned electric scooters have become an increasingly common sight in London. National retailers such as Halfords sell a range of models, although Halfords’ website has a warning that they are only legal on private land with the owner’s permission.
The three mobility scooter companies chosen for the London trials already offer rentals in other cities around the world. Dott offers rentals in 16 cities in Europe, while Tier 100 serves cities in 12 countries. In addition to renting electric scooters in other cities, Lime has previously rented electric bicycles in London. Notably absent from the list is Bird, which has offered electric scooter rentals on private grounds in London’s Olympic Park. London, along with Paris, has decided not to let the company operate on the streets, even after it announced a massive $ 150 million European expansion.
In addition to setting their own prices, individual scooter operators offer some unique features. For example, Tier installs charging pods in local businesses in the city and gives users free rides if they trade in their scooters’ dead battery for a fully charged battery at a charging station.