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From Trials to Regulation: Our View on the UK E-scooter Trials and Future Industry Regulation

It’s been 18 months since the UK electric scooter trials were fast-tracked by the Department for Transport.

Marcus Miller
Oct 27, 2023

It’s been 18 months since the UK electric scooter trials were fast-tracked by the Department for Transport. Since then, over 50 shared e-scooter schemes started to pop up in towns and cities across the country. At the time the country was emerging from its first lockdown and the trials were hailed by Transport Minister Rachel Maclean as “another green alternative to get around” and a means to “help the economy build back in a greener, more sustainable way”.

The trials are now set to end on the 31st of March 2022. With national regulation not set to come into place until mid-2023, the industry is fast approaching a period of uncertainty, unless an additional extension is granted (which several authorities and operators are applying for). As the trials period comes to a close, councils, regional governments, and the DfT will soon begin the process of evaluating the trials, before making a final decision on whether e-scooter sharing schemes are to be legalised, and if so, what this legislation will entail. Let’s explore some of the learnings from the trial period.

E-scooter Trials — Approached With Caution

When assessing the outcome of the trials the Department for Transport evaluations are likely to focus on three areas; safety, sustainability (i.e. whether car trips have been replaced) and the impact of e-scooters on public space.

But, with most towns and cities only permitting small fleet sizes, many trials have not been representative of how e-scooter schemes are typically rolled out outside of trial periods. Fleet sizes of less than 100 have been commonplace. For example, Cheltenham had a maximum fleet size of 60, Taunton just 20, even Liverpool, a city with half a million inhabitants, launched their trial with a fleet of just 50 e-scooters.

These small feet sizes won’t have been large enough to have significantly impacted public space, making meaningful assessments difficult. Perhaps more importantly, they mean that the operators have not been able to provide a reliable enough service to function as an alternative to private car use. Simply, the fleet sizes deployed have likely not been large for people to integrate them into their daily routines, meaning it would have been difficult for many residents to view them as anything more than a novelty and not as an alternative to car use. Additionally, people tend to be stuck in their ways when it comes to transport habits, so the relatively short trial periods won’t give most residents the time to change their habits or give up their cars.

Ambition has also been limited regarding the number of operators that have been allowed in each city. Only four of the trials have involved more than one operator (London, Newcastle-under-Lime, Milton Keynes and Stafford), with the other 50 or so trials having only a single operator. This means that most trials are unlikely to have replicated the way e-scooter sharing typically functions outside of trials periods, with multiple operators providing e-scooters in one city and competing with one another to offer the best consumer experience at the best price. While there can be value to an approach of licensing a single operator similar to the cycle hire schemes in several cities, a limited trial does not necessarily provide the permanence and sense of stability that these one-to-one partnerships require.

An Opportunity for Experimentation

Despite some challenges in the setup, the trials have certainly created the conditions for experimentation. Councils across England have implemented a complete suite of different parking models, including free-floating and docked schemes and hybrids of the two. The most successful have been able to strike the balance between vehicle provision and limiting public space disruption.

Voi’s Bristol trial seems to have been successful regarding provision; they have become a common feature of the Bristol street scene. However, over the course of the trial, there have been numerous issues of parking and public space management. There have been numerous reports regarding the way they have blocked curbs and pathways. Responding quickly, Voi began issuing fines to people who poorly park their scooters.

Northamptonshire is perhaps the best example of an authority that has achieved both goals. Initially, the trial was set back by complaints from residents regarding poorly parking scooters. The council and Voi have sought to tackle this problem collaboratively, through using Vianova’s Cityscope tool to implement and monitor over 300 spatial management policies. The council deployed a mix of policies including no parking zones, slow zones, no-go areas and incentivised parking zones. Since implementing these policies the number of complaints the council received reduced by 70%, in turn, Voi was allowed to increase to nearly 3,000 devices. This increased fleet size provided the necessary coverage for residents to incorporate e-scooter usage into their daily routines, with clear spikes in use being recorded during commuting periods.

Lessons from Across the Channel and Beyond

Many European cities are much further along their e-scooter journey than the UK. Many of them are already experiencing and overcoming similar problems to the towns and cities in the UK, whilst also being able to strike a balance between adequate provision and safe, orderly use. There are several case studies that the UK can look towards for inspiration.

Helsinki is a good example of a city that has struck this balance. With a peak 2021 summer fleet of approximately 8500 scooters spread between three operators, e-scooter use here now forms part of many people’s daily commute. Data shows a high level of use of shared mobility around major transport nodes, and particularly at peak commute hours. This fact reinforces the City’s confidence that micromobility is contributing to sustainable transport, and they have responded by beginning to consider additional dedicated infrastructure. Additionally, the city has struck a good balance between implementing safety regulations that are also not too restrictive. They introduced a reduced speed limit of 15km (approx 10 miles) per hour in city centre areas and have banned Friday and Saturday night rides between midnight and 5 am, to discourage intoxicated rides.

“On the cusp of a transport revolution”

The e-scooters trials were brought forward as part of wider policy and funding plans designed to accelerate the uptake of emerging green transport technologies. At the time Transport Secretary Grant Shapps proclaimed that the country was “on the cusp of a transport revolution”, with new technologies set to “rip-up the rule book” and change the way people and goods moved.

The e-scooter trials have, at least in part, put this vision in motion. Not only have the trials given many councils the opportunity to introduce shared transport for the first time, the practice of which we have previously argued will also be critical if other forms of shared transport are going to be adopted over the next decade. The trials, and wider encouragement for electric mobility, have also given rise to several exciting homegrown companies, including micro-mobility operators (Beryl, Zwings, & Ginger), smart infrastructure providers (Honeycomb Network, Lockem & Spokesafe) and manufacturers (Pure Electric & Taur). Global players have also made their mark- German micro-mobility heavyweight Tier made London their co-headquarters and several European and American shared mobility companies have set up offices in the country, following taking part in the trials.

In addition to giving people a new means to move about our towns and cities, which provides significant economic benefits in its own right according to a recent study, the e-scooters trials have directly created much-needed jobs. With e-scooter operators employing close to 1000 people in the county alone, the number of people directly employed in the industry, including consultants, journalists, contractors and city councils, is likely to number several thousand. The uncertainty caused by the 16-month gap between trials ending and possible legislation threatens to undo the progress made and will be a concern for people now employed in the industry. Following the trials, authorities need to act as fast as possible to ensure this progress is not undone.

Trial Assessment and Towards Regulation

As the trial deadline rapidly approaches, the next question to ask is how will the success of the trials be evaluated. Clearly, the Department for Transport is going to play an important role, by determining whether the program was a success. To ensure the review is effective, a starting point should be to introduce guidance regarding a standardised approach towards data collection and evaluation. Standardising data collection is important as the trials end and also if e-scooters are eventually regulated.***

Before regulation comes into place, there are a few things that need to be sorted out. Firstly, councils need to be properly resourced with dedicated staff, to ensure that these scooter-sharing schemes are implemented in a safe manner, which encourages modal shift. Learnings can also be taken from trials in the UK, but greater weight should be placed on trials that have been on a large enough scale for problems to have been identified and then resolved, such as the aforementioned trial in Northamptonshire. Additionally, with many European cities further ahead on their micro-mobility journey than those in the UK, a lot can be learned from their approaches when overcoming some of the challenges associated with electric scooter schemes and shared micromobility more generally.

Overall, if it is decided that shared e-scooters are here to stay future regulation needs to strike a balance between ensuring that they are introduced in a safe and undisruptive manner, whilst not being too restrictive that e-scooters are unable to find their ‘place’ within a sustainable transport future.

***For any authorities or other stakeholders involved in the UK e-scooter trials, want to enhance their trial evaluation process, Vianova has just launched a free E-scooter Trial Evaluation Programme which includes access to our state-of-the-art mobility management platform. Please get in touch if you are interested in taking part.


The following documents provide policy guidance and trial evaluation best practices:

Centre for London Report on Micromobility in London

European Institute of Technology, Urban Mobility — Moby ‘helping cities assess micro mobility

Chicago 2020 E-Scooter Pilot Evaluation

Santa Monica Shared Mobility Pilot Program Summary Report 2019

About Vianova

Vianova is a data platform that helps cities better integrate and manage shared, connected, electric and autonomous transport solutions in the urban space, enabling better use of city infrastructure, and promoting safer and more sustainable mobility. Vianova has offices in Paris, Zürich and London.

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