In recent years, scooters have emerged as a popular choice for commuters worldwide. They offer a solution for people seeking a flexible, cost-effective, and environmentally friendly mode of transportation but who may not be confident in their abilities to ride a bike or whose commute is a bit too long.
Cities across the UK have been no exception to the global scooter wave. We have witnessed a surge in scooter usage, challenging local authorities, government workers, urban planners, and businesses to adapt quickly to the changing mobility landscape. With this influx of scooters, there have been some changes in our cities, and more are probably to come if the government legalises the use of privately owned e-scooters. We will explore this topic and how scooters will likely continue to alter the urban landscape.
Are E-Scooters Legal in the UK?
Firstly, we thought it best to start the topic by answering a crucial legal question – are electric scooters even legal in the UK? The answer is yes and no. They are legal to own but illegal to drive.
Scooters are considered powered transporters, so they fall into the same category as cars. They are perfectly legal to buy and own, but they are illegal to use "on a public road" and "in spaces set aside for use by pedestrians, cyclists, and horse-riders; this includes on the pavement and in cycle lanes". Doing otherwise is a criminal offence and can land you with a fine, penalty points can be taken off you, and you can even be disqualified from driving, depending on the situation.
This effectively means you can buy one, but there may be consequences if you try to ride it to work. The big issue here is that, unlike with cars, you can not get insurance for a privately owned scooter, and you require insurance to drive any motorised vehicle on the roads. This also means that if you were involved in an accident – one, you'd already be breaking the law by having scooted in the first place, and two, you would be on your own without any insurance to cover your or the other person's injuries or damaged vehicle.
However, this has not stopped people from buying and riding e-scooters. It is estimated that there are over 750 000 privately owned e-scooters, and it is a growing market. This has put pressure on the government to legislate properly for their use, which is expected to happen in 2024.
The government and local authorities are working to strike a balance between promoting sustainable transportation and ensuring the safety of pedestrians and riders. This has led to the establishing of several local e-scooter trial zones, which are still ongoing in several regions in the UK.
These trial zones are served by third party providers of rental e-scooters which take on the insurance, therefore eliminating that issue. And they still have certain restrictions if you want to hire them, like a minimum age limit, having the correct driver's license and an imposed speed limit for the vehicles.
These trials have been set up to assess how safe e-scooters are to use, their impact on traffic, and whether they are a viable alternative mode of transport.
The Impact on Travel Choices
E-scooters and e-bikes have been a big part of micro-mobility, using usually electric small vehicles for short 'last mile' type journeys in urban areas. Scooters have altered the way that people travel and the transport choices they make every day. Many commuters and travellers doing everyday chores across cities choose to leave their cars behind, especially for short trips.
E-scooters have been particularly helpful here as they are quick, cheap to ride when hired, you don't need to wear any particular type of clothing to be comfortable, and, unlike bikes, you don't really need to learn how to ride one. These are all often barriers to riding a bicycle for some people.
E-Scooters Impact on Traffic
One key way that scooters impact our cities lies in their potential to alleviate traffic congestion. With their compact size and agility, scooters offer a solution to the perennial issue of crowded streets. However, the increase in scooter traffic will mean that more designated parking spaces equipped with efficient racks need to be provided across cities to encourage the use of scooters. This would lead to reduced traffic congestion, shorter commute times, and a more streamlined flow of urban transportation.
Promoting Sustainable Transportation
The push for greener and more sustainable transportation options is a central theme in contemporary urban planning and is on the agenda of a lot of governments. Sustainability is at the heart of the scooter revolution, and scooters can be a part of the big societal shift we need to reach net zero targets.
Electric scooters, particularly, have gained popularity for their minimal environmental impact. They have zero emissions and lower energy consumption than traditional vehicles, aligning well with the global push for greener transportation alternatives.
The adoption of scooters represents a positive step towards more sustainable urban living as cities worldwide grapple with air quality concerns and the need to reduce carbon footprints.
The Impact on Urban Planning
As scooters weave into the fabric of city life, they will have an even more significant impact on how our cities, public spaces, and roads are planned. To integrate e-scooters and other micro-mobility options effectively into urban transportation, cities will need to develop the appropriate infrastructure, like lanes or paths, ensuring rider safety and encouraging the use of these sustainable modes. Establishing dedicated scooter parking spaces, scooter racks and docks, and charging infrastructure will be another essential change to prevent clutter and maintain reliable power sources.
Building this infrastructure may be challenging and will need time, but it is possible with some adaptable and forward-thinking approaches to transportation infrastructure. Cities, offices, schools and employers that proactively address the challenges and opportunities presented by scooters are better positioned to create a more sustainable and efficient urban environment.
The rise of scooters, particularly e-scooters, is undeniable, and despite their current legal limbo, the number of privately owned e-scooters is rising. This is already transforming the way we navigate and experience our cities, and with ongoing government trials and expected legislation in 2024, their role in urban transportation is poised to evolve. Scooters are already impacting our travel choices and traffic congestion and contributing to the adoption of more sustainable transport. Scooters are reshaping urban planning considerations, and cities need to adapt swiftly.