Scooter startups are very happy bunnies today.

The UK’s Department for Transport (DfT) will allow cities and local authorities across the country to start running e-scooter trials from this Saturday. 

This is a big deal; until recently, it looked like the UK wouldn’t legalise — or even consider legalising — scooters for years, unlike just about every other country in Europe. In May, the government made a huge U-turn, and fast-tracked plans for scooter trials, which it had originally intended to start in 2021.

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For weeks now, dozens of scooter startup operators have been charging up their electric batteries, trying to cosy up to local government decision-makers and hiring top brass, ready to take on the market.

From this weekend onwards, they can finally hit the streets.

Here’s what you need to know about the state of play.

Which scooter operators are in the running?

CoMoUK, a shared transport advocacy group, lists 18 companies which hope to win local government tenders. They include UK-based shared bike operator Beryl (which has recently launched a range of e-scooters too), Swedish scooter startup Voi, Berlin-based scooter company Tier, Amsterdam-based scooter provider Dott and US-based micromobility companies Lime, Bird and Spin.

Tier says it already has 1,000 scooters at the ready in a UK warehouse — and will be shipping over more soon. Lime also says it has “thousands of scooters ready to be rolled out across the UK”.

Voi, meanwhile, says it’s hoping to hit 100,000 rides per day in the UK by the end of the year.

Which cities and local authorities are interested in trials?

Around 45 cities and local authorities are keen to give scooters a go, including Bath, Birmingham, Bristol, Cambridge, Cardiff, Glasgow, Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester, Milton Keynes, Newcastle and Nottingham. Various London boroughs are also interested.

They’re hoping that e-scooters, along with other micromobility solutions, can provide an alternative to both congested public transport and private cars as the country eases out of lockdown.

They have until the end of August to start trials.

What has the government said?

“As we emerge from lockdown, we have a unique opportunity in transport to build back in a greener, more sustainable way that could lead to cleaner air and healthier communities across Great Britain,” said transport minister Rachel Maclean.

“E-scooters may offer the potential for convenient, clean and cost-effective travel that may also help ease the burden on the transport network, provide another green alternative to get around and allow for social distancing. The trials will allow us to test whether they do these things.”

When might trials start?

Early July. They can run for 12 months.

What are the rules?

Riders:

  • Need a driving licence (full or provisional, UK or international)
  • Do not need to wear a helmet — but are encouraged to do so

Scooters:

  • Must be driven on bike lanes or roads
  • Must not be driven on the pavement or pedestrianised areas
  • Can’t go faster than 15.5mph
  • Must be rented, not privately owned
  • Must have insurance (to be provided by the operator)

Full guidance has been published on the government’s website.

Who have the startups hired to run their UK operations?

Scooter operators are excited about just how big the UK market could be — and so have been hiring experienced mobility hands to run their operations here.

In May, Voi hired Richard Corbett, formerly head of Bird in the UK, to head up its push into the UK. Meanwhile Dott hired Duncan Robertson, a bike-sharing expert, to lead its UK efforts.

Yesterday, Tier announced that the former head of Uber in the UK, Fred Jones, would be joining its team. Benjamin Bell, another ex-Uberite, joined too as head of public policy for northern Europe.

Lime’s UK scooter operations will be run by Florence Milner, who also oversees its e-bike service in London and Milton Keynes — and is, unfortunately, one of very few women in leadership positions in micromobility.

Further reading:

This piece was updated on 30 June after DfT published its full guidance.

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