Parisians have voted overwhelmingly to ban rental e-scooters from the capital. The action has brought into sharp focus the approach the UK Government has taken and may now take.
Almost 90% of votes cast supported a ban. Whilst rental e-scooters will continue to be available in a number of other locations across France, the development in Paris provides a timely case study for those tasked with evaluating this new disruptive form of transport in the UK. Subject to the outcome of that evaluation, it also poses the question as to whether it will influence the shape of any potential legal and regulatory framework.
The vote on ‘free-floating’ e-scooters in Paris
The referendum – held on 2 April 2023 - was limited to the use of free-floating e-scooters in Paris, i.e. those available via rental operators rather than privately-owned scooters. Rental e-scooters have been the target of the opposition since they were introduced to Paris in 2018. Safety of riders and other road users, particularly pedestrians, are among the principal concerns raised due to accidents, and instances of inappropriate use. There has also been criticism as a result of a number of e-scooters being discarded on streets, rather than being returned/left in designated parking areas.
Following the vote, Paris City Council confirmed that public domain occupation agreements with rental providers Lime, Dott and Tier would not be renewed when they end on 31 August.
To this end, from 1 September 2023, there will be no more free-floating e-scooters allowed in Paris. Each of the operators had insurance policies in place to cover users. As such, the operators’ agreements will require amendment to take into account the withdrawal of e-scooters from Paris.
Rental schemes will remain in operation in other parts of France.
The use of privately owned e-scooters will continue to be allowed in Paris, and will remain subject to existing legislation for the use of motorised personal transport (‘engins de déplacements personnels motorisés’).
The legislative framework enables city authorities to adapt the traffic rules for these vehicles to local issues, including restricting authorisation of their use to certain categories of public roads. It also requires the user to have civil liability insurance in place, with a failure punishable by a fine of €3,750.
Ongoing rental trials in the UK: evaluation and next steps
In July 2022, local authorities participating in the rental e-scooter trials were given the option of bringing their local trial to an end on 30 November 2022 or extending until 31 May 2024 as part of the ongoing review. With a number of trials continuing, the data and insight gathering looks set to continue for a further year.
Following the commissioning of an evaluation of the trials, the Department for Transport published a findings report titled ‘National evaluation of e-scooter trials’ on December 15, 2022.
The report provides that “informing future policy”, including legislation, is among the objectives of the trials. However, it remains unclear at this stage whether the trials will lead to a legal and regulatory framework. Further, whether the approach to rental and privately owned e-scooters will differ.
What is clear is that flexibility and local context (including characteristics such as road design) – factors highlighted within the report - will need to feature in any potential future regulatory framework.
Primary legislation paused - what next?
It was anticipated that the previously-announced Transport Bill would create a new vehicle category for low speed, zero emission transportation such as e-scooters. However, the Bill was ‘paused’ in October last year. Alongside this, with trials ongoing, the questions now are if, when and how the Transport Bill or alternative legislation will take matters forwards.
If the direction of travel is towards regulating rather than banning, a public consultation on any proposals to shape a framework that is robust, flexible, and addresses concerns, would seem not only likely, but essential.