As you will be aware, the Department for Transport (DfT) has been running a series of electric scooter trials in select areas across the country, allowing the Government to investigate the true benefits and costs of electric scooters. E-scooters could ease the burden on the transport network, although the Government needs to scrutinise the full impact of electric scooters before any decision is made on whether they should be legalised on public roads beyond these trials.
The use of e-scooters outside of these controlled trials is illegal unless it is on private land with the landowner's permission, and there are penalties for improper use.
Some councils have raised concerns about the trials after reports of misuse of scooters, such as use in pedestrianised areas. This is against the clear government guidance first published in 2020, which lists the rules for members of the general public using e-scooters as part of trials. The full list of guidelines can be found here: https://www.gov.uk/guidance/e-scooter-trials-guidance-for-users.
The trials will provide evidence on the true impact of electric scooters, for example: how safe they are; how they are used; whether potential benefits can be realised; and on how to manage potential downsides. It is important to note that, in the 32 e-scooter trials ongoing across the country, only selected rental electric scooters are being allowed to participate so that robust and meaningful data can be gathered and a full set of findings can be included in a final report due later in 2022.
I understand the Government has put in place a national monitoring and evaluation programme, with data being collected on a continuous basis.
However, I appreciate that people with disabilities, especially those who are blind and visually impaired, can be more greatly affected by some of the negative impacts of electric scooter use. It is important that our streets are as accessible as possible, and I welcome that the Department for Transport has carried out a preliminary assessment of the impacts of e-scooters on blind people. While there is currently limited evidence available, the current trials have been designed to enable the Government to gather robust and comprehensive evidence of the impact of e-scooters on all road users.
Local authorities must engage with local groups that represent the interests of disabled people before submitting a proposal to hold a trial, to allow concerns to be raised and, where possible, mitigated before trials commence. I understand that the Department has rejected proposals where this engagement has not taken place. Officials have also engaged with a range of key stakeholders, including representatives from Guide Dogs, the RNIB, and the National Federation of the Blind of the UK.
As the trials continue to run, the Department has taken into account the possible implications for visually impaired people, and have attempted to minimise these through measures such as: not allowing e-scooter on pavements, and asking local authorities to consider in their trial plans ways to avoid e-scooters creating an obstruction when not in use. Following consultation last year, the Department now requires all e-scooters used in trials to have a horn or bell so that users can make others aware of their presence, and have also asked operators to develop more robust geo-fencing to tackle pavement riding and other anti-social behaviour.
Any future rules for e-scooters may not be exactly the same as the rules in trials, but they will be based on the evidence gathered.