2 July 2020
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The UK Government has announced that trials of rental e-scooters will be allowed to take place from Saturday 4 July 2020, and trials are now underway in the Tees Valley, Milton Keynes Borough, Northamptonshire, and the West Midlands.

In the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, the UK Government advises that all other forms of transport should be considered before using public transport and, where public transport is taken, a face covering should be worn.

These measures mean that people are understandably wary about taking public transport. As it is expected that coronavirus will continue to pose a threat to public health for a significant time, it seems likely that this wariness will continue even after lockdown has been completely relaxed. People for whom working from home is not an option will understandably be looking into how else they can continue their commute.

The e-scooter trials have been brought forward to try and provide an alternative method of transport which allows for social distancing. This should help deal with the reduced capacity and use of conventional transport. In addition, the UK Government see e-scooters as a way of ‘greening’ local public transport, reducing congestion and air pollution.

Although the UK is late to the game (see below), this may mean that schemes running in the UK may use the latest technology. For example, some companies are starting to switch to scooters with swappable batteries, which means that scooters can be on the road and available for hire more of the time without being taken off the streets for charging. It may even be that suppliers will see these trials as an audition for new battery technologies, which we have covered previously.

Is this the right time?

This announcement means that the UK is catching up with a micromobility revolution which has taken off in recent years around the world. For example, despite being founded only in January 2017, e-scooter rentals from by Lime are now available in over 100 cities worldwide. Similarly, rival rental company Bird expanded to 120 cities in just 14 months. By 2025 it is predicted that the global market for e-scooters may be more than 20 billion USD.

However, it is not all good news. Since the outbreak of coronavirus in the US, the use of scooter sharing schemes has plummeted. This may simply be due to working from home bringing a halt to commuting for many people, but it could also indicate that people are less willing to use a scooter if they cannot be sure it has been cleaned before and after every use. If this is the case, then it is not hard to imagine that this attitude will persist for as long as Covid-19.

That is not to say that this trial is without benefit. Although the scheme is currently limited to testing rental e-scooters, it is hoped that these trials will lead to individually owned e-scooters becoming fully legalised in the UK. Indeed, because of the rapid rise in the popularity of e-scooters and the potential environmental benefits, the UK Parliament’s Transport Committee believe that private use should also be legalised. They have recently suggested that the Government move to legalise the use of privately owned e-scooters on roads and cycle lanes by Summer 2022. The Committee also considers that the rental trials will be crucial in providing data to inform any future legislation which is implemented, for example in relation to e-scooter speed limits. If these proposals do come to fruition, then the future may yet be bright for e-scooter manufacturers, and they could enjoy a boom in sales like that enjoyed by bicycle companies since the start of lockdown.

Ashley has experience in all stages of the patent application process, from drafting and prosecuting applications to grant for a wide range of clients in the engineering and electronics industries both in the UK and Europe. He also carries out Freedom to Operate (FTO) analysis and liaises with attorneys across other jurisdictions.

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