On 29 September 2020, the House of Lords is due to debate a ‘take note motion’ on the Electric Scooter Trials and Traffic Signs (Coronavirus) Regulations and General Directions 2020. The regulations allow trials of rental electric scooters (e-scooters) on roads. The motion has been tabled by Lord Rosser (Labour) and allows a general debate on the regulations.

The regulations were laid on 30 June 2020 and came into force on 4 July 2020. They were laid under the made negative procedure and therefore did not require parliamentary approval before becoming law. However, if either House had passed an ‘annulment motion’ within the objection period, the regulations would cease to have effect. The objection period ended on 10 September 2020.

The Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee (SLSC) has drawn the regulations to the special attention of the House on the grounds that the explanatory material laid in support of the instrument “provides insufficient information to gain a clear understanding about the instrument’s policy objective and intended implementation”.

This In Focus article gives an overview of the regulations and outlines some of the concerns raised by the SLSC.

What do the regulations do?

The Electric Scooter Trials and Traffic Signs (Coronavirus) Regulations and General Directions 2020 amend traffic regulations about the use of electric scooters (e-scooters) on public roads. The Explanatory Memorandum accompanying the regulations states that this this would allow “representative, on-road trials of e-scooters to begin. These trials are to gather evidence on the use and impact of e-scooters to inform possible future legalisation”.

At present, e-scooters are defined as a “motor vehicle” in section 185 (1) of the Road Traffic Act 1988 and the use of e-scooters is not allowed on public roads or on pavements.

The instrument would enable trials of e-scooters on public roads, by defining the characteristics of e-scooters taking part in the trials and exempting them from certain requirements. For example:

  • removing the requirement to hold a vehicle licence and registration for an e-scooter being used in the trial;
  • removing the requirement for a driver to wear a motorcycle helmet when riding an e-scooter being used in a trial;
  • removing requirements for driving licence holders (and provisional licence holders) to have completed basic moped training prior to riding an e-scooter taking part in the trial; and
  • permitting an e-scooter being used in the trial to use cycle lanes.

The regulations came into force less than a week after they were made. Explaining the urgency, the Department for Transport stated that “urgent action is required to provide immediate additional transport capacity”, which it argued had been severely restricted by the impacts of Covid-19.

In addition, the Government has pointed to the limited robust data available on the impact of micromobility vehicles (such as e-scooters, electric skateboards and devices designed for disabled people). The purpose of the trial would therefore be “to gather evidence of the safety risks presented by e-scooters, the mode shift resulting from their use, the effectiveness of regulations applied to e-scooters, and public perceptions around their use to help inform policy about the potential future legalisation of e-scooters and other micro-mobility vehicles”.

The Government has stated that the amendments made by the instrument “are not intended to legalise e-scooters beyond those used in trials; nor do they prescribe what the rules for e-scooters may be if they are legalised in the future”. Instead, the Department explains that evidence collected during the trials will “inform policy decisions in future, concerning the long-term use of e-scooters, and other types of micromobility”.

The Department for Transport (DfT) has produced guidance for local authorities wishing to host a trial in their area. Trials are intended to run for 12 months from the date they commence in each area. However, there is an option for trials to continue beyond this 12-month period if there is local or national government agreement.

In the Explanatory Memorandum, the department explained it will be running a “monitoring and evaluation programme” for the trials, looking at issues such as usage, safety risks and public perceptions. The instrument does not include a statutory review clause.

What parliamentary scrutiny has there been?

The Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee (SLSC) reported on the regulations in its report published on 16 July 2020 drawing them to the special attention of the House.

Examining the background to the regulations, the SLSC noted “similar schemes have been running in cities abroad for some time and we would have expected more use of evidence from those schemes to shape DfT’s proposal”. The SLSC argued that the policy objective of the measure was unclear, and there was no clarity about how its outcome would be measured:

Is it a pilot scheme to test the viability of a controversial vehicle on British roads? Is it a means to rapidly expand transport capacity in cities all over the country during the Coronavirus pandemic? And are those two objectives compatible?

The House may wish to ask the Minister for further evidence to support DfT’s case for scaling up the number of trial schemes, whether there is sufficient data on safety, nuisance, and likely costs to local authorities, to justify this expansion, and also to clarify what the targets and objectives of these trials actually are.

Noting the “potentially very wide” expansion of the trial from four locations to a limitless number, the SLSC stated that “a small data gathering exercise has turned into a major implementation programme”. It also said that similar schemes in other countries had been “very divisive”.

In addition, the committee highlighted the “insubstantial” information in the Explanatory Memorandum, stating that “this is a major development in transport policy, yet it was put into effect in a matter of days without any opportunity for Parliamentary scrutiny”.

The SLSC called for clearer identification of trial areas and highlighted potential issues with safety, notably the decision not to require a helmet for riders of e-scooters and whether there would be sufficient availability of cycle areas for the trials. The committee also questioned how and when the trials would be evaluated and their duration.

The instrument has not been debated in the House of Commons.  

In answer to a parliamentary question, the Government has confirmed that, as at 21 September, there were e-scooter trials underway in Tees Valley, Milton Keynes, Northamptonshire, the West Midlands and Staffordshire. In addition, trials have been approved in Norfolk, York, Buckinghamshire, Gloucestershire, Cambridge and Peterborough, Liverpool, Nottingham and Derby, Redditch, Kent and Slough. The Government is also assessing proposals from some other local areas.

The Department for Transport reiterated that the evaluation will include:

  • examination of the safety risks presented by e-scooters;
  • the mode shift to e-scooters from other forms of transport; and
  • public perception around their use.

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Image by Christian Bueltermann on Pixabay.