Why Silicon Valley electric scooter craze won't reach UK
A new mode of transport has taken the world by storm but could be prevented from reaching our shores by the law.
With all the functionality of a bike but at half the size, rentable powered scooters are big in the United States. In San Francisco, electric scooter start-ups such as Spin and Bird are battling for supremacy in the new commuter market.
Scooters have been so popular in the Californian city that they littered the pavements and were largely banned, with the exception of a few companies who can still file for permits.
But it’s not just commuters who see the potential of the vehicles.
Lime, a company offering these powered rental scooters, recently raised $335 million investment from companies including Uber and Alphabet, and is taking the trend global.
Already available in Berlin, Bremen, Frankfurt and Zurich, last month the company added Paris to its European offering. However despite this growing trend, and the interest from global tech giants, it’s unlikely you will see them on UK streets any time soon.
Unlike rental-bikes, which the likes of Beijing-based Mobike have introduced to UK streets, this new breed of e-scooters are the same as mopeds in the eyes of UK law. To ride a powered-scooter here would first mean gaining and submitting the same documents that you must to ride a moped – otherwise they can only be used on private land.
The Department for Transport, in charge of defining which vehicles are road-legal, applies the same catch-all rule to the powered ‘hoverboards’ which caught on a few years ago.
It has said it has no plans to change these definitions.
Some electric scooter companies have had brief success by relying on the city to 'look the other way'. In New York, where the scooters are also illegal, small fleets began to crop up on its pavements and were still available to rent.
This was until October of last year when the city's Mayor, under pressure from residents concerned about their safety, announced a crackdown with the New York Police Department.
Uber's existing penetration in the UK, and its investment in Lime, makes it the most obvious candidate for a UK offering, but after its run-ins with Transport for London, is unlikely to take the risk before laws change.