The Department for Transport has reacted positively to the Committee’s recommendations about the future regulation of e-scooters. In a short response paper published on Monday this week, the DfT reconfirmed that it will adopt an evidence-based approach to future policy development, drawing heavily from data and experiences across what we believe are now as many as thirty currently-authorised trials of hire fleets of e-scooters.
The DfT’s response comes around 10 weeks after the TSC’s report (see our blog from early October), which could be taken as a sign of the Department’s engagement here and its enthusiasm for new mobility technology more broadly. Whether it will have any bearing on the legal awareness of those giving and receiving e-scooters this Christmas is another matter entirely. But this recent news report from South Wales is a timely reminder that it remains illegal to use privately-owned scooters on the road.
Underpinning the data-driven approach, the DfT’s response confirms that it has already awarded the contract for monitoring and evaluation of the current scooter trials, with the fine detail of the research specification and data capture to be made available in due course. We expect that accident recording and other safety measures will be critical elements of that.
Scooters and pedestrian safety is already a real concern in ‘first adopter’ cities across Europe where e-scooter use is already permitted. The DfT unequivocally supports the TSC’s call for a ban on riding scooters on pavements – “a genuine cause of anxiety for pedestrians” – and in addition accepts the need to minimise the risks that the ‘street clutter’ of parked scooters can present to vulnerable and partially-sighted pedestrians. This is to be tackled by making appropriate arrangements when designing – either physically and/or by geo-fencing – after-hire parking areas.
On the regulatory side, the DfT is more hesitant than the TSC as regards driving licences: the Committee recommended waiving the requirement (which is a feature of the current trials) that riders need a full or provisional licence, whereas the Department would prefer to await the results of the trials before making its final decision. Its view on insurance for scooter use on roads looks less clear – it is simply not mentioned in the response. [RTA-compliant motor insurance is a requirement of the trials and, as we understand it, is generally placed by the organising local authority and its scooter fleet hire partner as part of the governance of a particular trial.]
A final clear thread of the response is the environmental perspective. This has two strands: (i) recognising the importance of sustainability in scooter design, manufacture and recharging methods and (ii) acknowledging that “modal shift” ie changing short journey patterns, especially away from cars, will be a key measure of success and noting that experience overseas “suggests that e-scooters can and do achieve very good levels of mode shift away from private car and taxi journeys”.