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E-scooters should be legalised in the UK as a low-cost and environmentally friendly alternative to driving a car, according to MPs.

The Transport Select Committee urged the government to throw its weight behind electric scooters as part of a wider drive to wean the public off cars, particularly for short journeys.

The UK is one of the last countries in Europe where the use of e-scooters on roads is illegal, and they are banned anywhere except on private land.

MPs said if the government took “swift action” on the issue e-scooters could become legal forms of transport on roads and cycle lanes by spring 2022.

Huw Merriman, chair of the influential group of MPs, said e-scooters had the “potential to become an exciting and ingenious way to navigate our streets”.

He said: “If this gets people out of the car, reducing congestion and exercising in the open air, then even better.”

But he also warned about their use on pavements, and the impact a wider roll-out could have on disabled people.

“We need to ensure that their arrival on our streets doesn’t make life more difficult for pedestrians, and especially disabled people.” he said. 

“Before proceeding with plans to legalise the use of e-scooters, local authorities and government must use the trials to monitor this closely, put enforcement measures in place and ensure they are effective in eliminating this behaviour.”

The government is currently running trials of e-scooters in around a dozen local authorities, including the four early adopter areas of Tees Valley, Milton Keynes, Northamptonshire, and the West Midlands. Yesterday, Salford became the latest area to launch a year-long trial and a similar scheme will be unveiled in Liverpool next week.  

E-scooters used in the trials are currently limited to a maximum speed of 15.5mph, which can be lowered in some areas, and users must hold a full or provisional driving licence – although this is likely to be dropped if they are legalised.  

Rental operators must hold motor insurance but the e-scooters do not need to be registered or display a registration plate and helmets are not a legal requirement.  

Trial e-scooters can be used on the road and in cycle lanes but are banned on pavements.

The transport committee has published a list of recommendations, including removing the requirement for a driving licence. They also cautioned against policies that would lead to the public switching from bicycles to e-scooters, saying the focus should be directed at drivers.

The report said: “Privately owned e-scooters are already a familiar sight in many British towns and cities, despite remaining illegal to use on roads and pavements.  

“They have the potential to offer a low cost, accessible and environmentally friendly alternative to the private car.

“Promoting active travel must remain a key policy aim for the Department for Transport. The Department’s focus should be on encouraging the use of e-scooters to replace short car journeys rather than walking and cycling.

The report added: “Should the government legalise e-scooters following the trials, users should not be required to have a driving licence either for rental schemes or private use. This would be consistent with practice in most other places around the world.”

Responding to the report. disability campaigners raised concerns around the impact of e-scooters on “street clutter”, which can pose a hazard, especially for people who are visually impaired. The MPs urged the government to consider implementing stricter rules on where e-scooters could be parked, such as “geofencing”, which creates virtual parking areas that a user can view on a smartphone app.  

Sarah Lambert, head of social change at the Royal National Institute of Blind People, said e-scooters were often difficult for blind or partially sighted people to detect, and warned that it was not always obvious to someone riding an e-scooter that they were approaching a pedestrian with sight loss.

She said: “They are not allowed on pavements, but this needs proper enforcement. We have seen in a number of trials so far that this is not always happening, which is a specific concern for blind and partially sighted pedestrians who won’t know the vehicles are coming.”

Last month a rental trial in Coventry was “paused” after only five days of operation after users were seen illegally mounting the pavement and riding in shopping areas.

Daniel Gillett, policy officer at Sustrans, said the walking and cycling charity broadly supported the legalisation of e-scooters but said their speed should be limited to 12mph.  

He said: “While e-scooters offer limited physical activity benefits, they have the potential to help reduce congestion and improve air quality in urban areas, if they replace car journeys.

“However, any change in the law relating to e-scooters needs to prioritise the safety of all road users, including those riding e-scooters. The needs of vulnerable road users, such as disabled people, the elderly and children, must also be fully considered.”

Roger Geffen, Cycling UK’s policy director, echoed concerns around speed limits. “I fear that, at present, the maximum speed, weight and power limits are too high, making them more like motor vehicles in their safety and licencing requirements,” he said.

“We urge the government to reduce these limits if e-scooters are to be legalised on a similar basis to cycling.”

In March, the Department for Transport launched a consultation to explore whether e-scooters and other micro-mobility vehicles should be legalised. Then in May, Grant Shapps, the transport secretary, announced the government would be fast-tracking and expanding a series of rental trials in response to the coronavirus pandemic.  

Paris, Berlin and New York already have popular rental schemes. But in the UK, e-scooters are classed as motor vehicles and their design makes it difficult for manufacturers to comply with vehicle construction guidelines, effectively banning them from the roads.

Edmund King, AA president, said the motoring group was supportive of e-scooters being legalised but suggested users should first undergo training.

“We also believe that safety features such as larger front wheels, directional indicators, brakes and lights must be required to ensure a safer riding experience,” he said.  

“E-scooters, as a new form of micro-mobility, can really help to transform the urban landscape – improving flexibility of personal travel, especially in the shadow of the Covid pandemic making public transport problematic in many instances. We support the legalisation of e-scooters for use on the public highway, as long as certain safety criteria are met.”

A Department for Transport spokesperson said: “We welcome the outcome of the TSC’s report today and believe that e-scooters can offer an affordable, reliable and sustainable way to travel.

“Safety will always be our top priority and our current trials are allowing us to better understand the benefits of e-scooters and their impact on public space, helping us to design future regulations.”

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