One of the 20 RBKC e-scooter rental bays is outside Kensington Town Hall, next to the Santander bicycle rental station. When the picture was taken, it held five Tier scooters, one Dott scooter and three Lime scooters. Any e-scooters on our roads not looking like these are illegal – and all e-scooters are illegal to ride on pavements.
12 month e-scooter trial has begun in Kensington & Chelsea
On 7 June 2021, a 12-month trial with rented e-scooters (electric kick scooters) began in RBKC. This TfL trial, done together with three international rental companies, initially covers five boroughs: Ealing, Hammersmith & Fulham, Kensington & Chelsea, Richmond upon Thames and Canary Wharf, and has a passthrough ability for Tower Hamlets (i.e. an e-scooter can ride through Tower Hamlets, but can’t be rented or returned there). Other London boroughs are expected to be added to the trial during the summer and autumn. A GPS sensor on the e-scooter prevents it from venturing into boroughs that aren’t part of the trial, as well as specified no-go areas within the participating boroughs.
The London trial follows similar trials that began last year in more than 40 towns and cities across the country, as the government considers whether to legalise e-scooters on UK roads. The main obstacle to successful trials will be riders who don’t respect the rules (such as never driving on the pavement or motorways and never be two persons on a scooter) or get involved in accidents.
All across Europe and the USA, rental e-scooters have become commonplace, while privately owned e-scooters continue to be illegal in most countries, including the UK.
Three e-scooter rental companies within the new micromobility industry have been selected for the London trial: Tier (German), Dott (Dutch-French) and Lime (American), while a few more are involved in the trials in other parts of the country.
These rented e-scooters are very different from all privately owned e-scooters, which are illegal to use on public roads, cycle lanes and pavements, i.e. illegal everywhere except on private land:
- The London rental e-scooters are limited to a maximum speed of 12.5mph (20kmh), while most privately owned e-scooters have maximum speeds well above that. In UK trials elsewhere the maximum speed is slightly higher.
- The rental e-scooters have front and rear lights that are always switched on, while many private e-scooters have no lights at all.
- The rental e-scooters have a warning bell like bicycles, while most many private e-scooters doesn’t, and the rental companies are also in the process of equipping them with a constant sound, which will help to blind and partially sighted pedestrians to hear them coming.
- Rental e-scooters have larger wheels than the privately owned, in order to cope better with uneven road surfaces.
- Rental e-scooters are also insured and registered, and have a visible registration plate, while the private ones have nothing of this.
- Rental e-scooters are equipped with a GPS unit which controls parking as well as no-go areas and go-slow areas that have been designated by the boroughs. When an e-scooter enters a no-go area it will slow down and stop, and when it goes into a go-slow area, the maximum speed will be reduced to 8mph (13kmh). The GPS unit also sends out every scooter’s unique identification number, so the rental companies (and the authorities, we suspect) can see where each one is at any given moment.
- Rentals can only be used by persons 18 years old and above, who have a full or provisional UK driving licence, while there are, of course, no age or qualifications controls for those using a private e-scooter.
20 e-scooter bays in the borough
RBKC has set up 16 e-scooter bays initially, shared by all three companies, and four more are coming soon. Of these 20 bays, two are in W8, five in W11, six in W10, two in SW7, one in SW3, two in SW1Wand one in SW10. The bays can accommodate 6 to 20 e-scooters. Exact positions can be found on the council’s web page about the trial. As booking and payment can only be done through mobile phone apps, e-scooter bays do not require a special payment station, like the much older Santander bike rental scheme (often called Boris bikes, although that scheme was initiated by Boris Johnson’s predecessor, Ken Livingstone), so these bays only consist of painted markers on the pavement. E-scooter rentals can only start and finish in an e-scooter bay within the London trial area, but not necessarily in the same bay where the rental began.The GPS unit knows where each bay is, and won’t accept that the rental is finished until the user has parked the e-scooter within such an area.
Beside the specific e-scooter mobile apps provided by the rental companies, booking (and payment) can also be done through participating apps, such as the London black cab app Free Now (formerly MyTaxi), which can be used for Tier e-scooters, and the Uber app, which soon can be used for Lime e-scooters.
Requirements to rent
E-scooter rental in the UK is only available for persons who are at least 18 years old and have a full or provisional UK driving licence, and before the first ride the app’s online training session must be completed.
Users are urged to wear helmets, but this is not a legal requirement. Tier has just launched e-scooters equipped with a foldable helmet (stored in a box on the steering column) in Paris and Berlin, which makes it easier for renters to wear a helmet. The helmet boxes can be expected to soon be introduced in London as well.
Riding on the pavement is always forbidden, but using bicycle lanes is permitted and even encouraged. E-scooters may never be used by more than one person at a time.
The apps have a map showing where available e-scooters of that make are parked and how much battery life each one still has. Booking and unlocking the scooter is done with the app, by scanning the QR code that is displayed on the scooter, and the rental time starts ticking immediately. Payment is done automatically after the rental, via the credit or debit card details that are stored in the app.
So what does it cost to rent an e-scooter in London? All three companies charge a start fee of £1 for each rental, plus 15-16p per minute (Dott and Tier charge 15p and Lime charges 16p). This means that a 15 minute rental will cost £3.25 – £3.40 and a 30 minute rental £5.50 – £5.80. However, Tier has just introduced something called “Safety Pricing”, which means that the timer stops ticking whenever the e-scooter stops and doesn’t start again until the e-scooter begins to move. The idea is that this will deter reckless riding, such as mounting a pavement to bypass traffic lights.
All three companies monitor their e-scooters and have service staff in a fleet of electric vehicles (what else?) who replace run-down batteries and take broken e-scooters away for repairs. Tier has just introduced a system where riders can swap batteries themselves at participating corner shops and get free ride minutes in return. It is, however, unclear if this “self-swapping” has yet been introduced in the UK.
Why only rental e-scooters are legal
Legally, e-scooters are classified as “powered transporters” in the UK, a class of “novel and emerging personal transport devices which are powered by a motor”, as explained by the Department for Transport’s guidance regarding the legal requirements for such devices. Beside e-scooters, the class includes Segways, hoverboards (aka segboards, u-wheels, swegways and self-balancing scooters), petrol-powered kick-scooters (“go-peds”), electric unicycles, electric skateboards and several similar devices. But e-bikes (“electrically assisted pedal cycles”) are not included in the group, as the motor on those only assists the cyclist, who at any time can chose to pedal instead.
The guidance clarifies that powered transporters “fall within the legal definition of a “motor vehicle”. Therefore the laws that apply to motor vehicles apply to powered transporters.” This means that in order to legally used on public roads, powered transporters must be licensed, pay road tax, display a license number and meet all the technical requirements for motor vehicles. Also, the users must have a driving license for motor vehicles. Although most of this theoretically could be achieved, the government thinks that most types of powered transporters will never be legal or even wanted on public roads. However, the government thinks that e-scooters could be made legal, which is why the trials have begun.
In order to facilitate the trials, the government has set up specifications that the rental e-scooters must meet, such as registration (shown on a license plate at the rear), motor vehicle insurance, a motor with a maximum power of 500W, a maximum speed of no more than 15.5mph (25kmh), a maximum weight of 55kg, and permanently lit front and rear lights. In addition, the users must be 18 years old and have a driving license.
If the trials are successful, the plan is to amend the law, so e-scooters meeting these requirements can be treated more like e-bikes and regular bicycles.
During the trial, TfL has a webpage for comments about rental e-scooters in general as well as in specific areas. Commenting is open for both users and non-users.
An early renter tries out a Dott e-scooter down Kensington Church Street.
First published 22/06/2021