UK Must Review 184-Year-Old Law to Officially Legalize E-Scooters

The government wants to pave the way for large-scale public trials of scooter-sharing services.

AP Photo/Matt Dunham

The United Kingdom is looking to legalize e-scooters, which have been popularized by sharing services such as Bird and Lime in other countries. But first, lawmakers will undertake a massive review of regulations, reports Bloomberg. It will include a law that dates back to 1835.

Scooter-sharing services exploded in popularity in 2018, but e-scooters face serious regulatory hurdles in the U.K. They are officially classified as motor vehicles, meaning they are subject to taxes, insurance requirements, and driver licensing rules. The U.K. Highways Act of 1835 also stipulates that footpaths are for the sole use of pedestrians, effectively blocking e-scooters from being used on sidewalks. U.S.-based Bird got around this by launching a small pilot program on private property, but existing laws have put the brakes on larger-scale development.

U.K. lawmakers claim to be interested in reevaluating the rules, however. The government said it is undertaking "the biggest regulatory review in a generation" to address e-scooters. It has also pledged 90 million pounds ($119 million) in funding for pilot programs, according to Bloomberg.

But pilot programs are all the government is interested in, for now. A government spokeswoman told Bloomberg that there are "no current plans to bring forward legislation to legalize e-scooters." The review process is intended only to create enough regulator wiggle room to launch public trials. The U.K. government views walking and cycling as the best options for short urban trips, although it does view scooter-sharing services as a potential way to help reduce emissions.

Data sharing will be a component of any future scooter-sharing pilot programs. This is similar to a policy already in place in Paris, noted Bloomberg, where anonymized e-scooter usage data is given to public officials to help determine where public transit coverage might be insufficient.

Scooter-sharing services have quickly grown to rival other mobility services in popularity, even attracting the attention of Uber and Lyft as both companies look to diversify beyond ride-hailing. But dealing with large fleets of scooters has become a headache for cities, and the high rate of replacement for scooters, which often take a beating, may eat into operators' profits.