Is e-scooting the new sustainable way to commute?

Is e-scooting the new sustainable way to commute? Femail writer test-rides a rental e-scooter to see just how practical (and safe) they really are – with VERY surprising results

  • Privately owned e-scooters are illegal on roads, cycle lanes and pavements but UK has launched hire scheme
  • Trials in England were brought forward to support ‘green’ restart of socially-distanced travel and to help  mitigate reduced public transport capacity during the pandemic
  • Despite e-scooters offering a more eco-friendly way to get around, there have been concerns over safety
  • FEMAIL writer Hayley Richardson took one for a spin in Kensington to see how practical they are for commute

Love them or loathe them, e-scooters are becoming an increasingly common sight on UK highways.  

While privately owned ones remain illegal to use on public roads, cycle lanes and pavements due to an ancient law dating back to the 1800s, trials of rental e-scooters are taking place in more than 30 areas across England.

They were brought forward to support a ‘green’ restart of socially-distanced travel and help mitigate reduced public transport capacity amid the pandemic.

While a little late to the party compared to other cities, London launched its hire scheme in June, offering up 1,200 through operators Lime, Dott and Tier. According to Lime, its e-scooters have already been ridden 7,500 times across the capital.

But despite e-scooters offering a more environmentally-friendly way to get around, there have been concerns over how safe they are as a means of transport. Six people are believed to have died in the UK to date – the first being YouTuber Emily Hartridge in July 2019 – with others suffering serious injuries in road accidents. 

Figures show the number of riders harmed in collisions in London alone leapt from 27 in 2019 to 181 between January and November 2020. The number of pedestrians hurt by e-scooters doubled over the same period, from 13 to 26, according to data released under Freedom of Information legislation.

Some campaigners are even calling on the government to stop the e-scooter hire trials and ban retailers from selling them until further safety reviews have taken place, claiming they’ve made towns and cities ‘no go zones’ for blind people. There are also concerns about people riding them illegally on pavements and while intoxicated.

It paints a pretty bleak picture, but the use of motorised scooters has been permitted in many European cities including Germany, Denmark, France and Sweden for years, and their popularity has skyrocketed.

With speeds limited to 15.5mph in the UK (12.5mph in London), helmets encouraged (but not mandatory – the same rule that applies to London’s cycle hire scheme) and mandatory ‘in-app training’ before your first ride, there are some safety precautions in place – so just how practical are they as a means of commuting? Here FEMAIL writer Hayley Richardson took one for a spin in Kensington.

While privately owned ones remain illegal to use on public roads, cycle lanes and pavements, due to an ancient law dating back to the 1800s, trials of rental e-scooters are taking place in more than 30 areas across England. Pictured: FEMAIL writer Hayley Richardson took a Lime e-scooter for a ride around Kensington

The UK trials of e-scooters were brought forward to support a ‘green’ restart of socially-distanced travel and help mitigate reduced public transport capacity amid the pandemic. In-keeping with the sustainable theme, Hayley wore a ROKA backpack made of recycled plastic bottles and LOCI vegan trainers made from recycled ocean plastic

Having seen various headlines about people getting hurt – and worse – while riding e-scooters I was somewhat anxious about the prospect of riding one around central London.

For a start, balance isn’t my strong point, and my only previous encounter with a motorised vehicle that wasn’t a car saw me hurtle my school pal’s scooter into the back of a parked car because I couldn’t locate the brake. 

I’ve only ever cycled through the capital once – on a weekend – and a relatively close-encounter with a double decker bus was enough to send me running for the Tube.

Therefore I thought it’d be a wise idea to practice on an e-scooter off-road first. As I live outside of the trial zones, I whizzed around my cul-de-sac onboard a Micro Explorer from Micro Scooters, which boasts an 18-mile range and a 15mph top speed. It also weighs just 13.5kg (considerably less than the rental e-scooters), comes with a free helmet and folds up, making it a good option should privately-owned ones become legal on UK roads.

Feeling distinctly more confident, I headed to the nearest e-scooter rank to our office, where I was met by a colourful collection of at least 20 vehicles. Having downloaded all three hire apps to my phone – Lime, Tier and Dott – I was spoilt for choice. 

All rental e-scooters require you to be over 18 and hold a provisional driving licence. Hayley initially opted for a Tier scooter but became impatient with how long it took to verify her drivers licence and switched to a Lime


‘Much to my relief, the e-scooter felt very sturdy; it was much heavier than the Micro scooter and glided smoothly around corners,’ Hayley said. ‘Within a few minutes I felt quite comfortable and ready to take on the busy high street’

All rental e-scooters require you to be over 18 and hold a provisional driving licence. I initially opted for a Tier scooter – lured by its handy phone holders which would help me use Google maps to navigate my way around. 

The first step once I opened the app – after swiping through instructions for what to do to ride safely once I got started – was to verify my licence, however this took so long that I lost patience and moved onto a Lime scooter.

While the Lime ones didn’t have a phone holder or indicator lights and were fractionally more expensive (£1 to start, then 16p per minute as opposed to 15p) I was thrilled when it offered me my first 10 minutes for free and a 10 per cent discount if I could verify via my phone camera that I was wearing a helmet (which of course, I was).

I then had to undertake the Rider Safety Quiz, which made sure I knew to stop at red lights, wasn’t six sheets to the wind, giving a friend a backy or about to abandon my scooter haphazardly across the street when I was finished. 

Despite registering beforehand I did spend a good 10 minutes faffing around on the apps – thankfully it wasn’t raining for a change – which wouldn’t have been ideal if I was in a rush on my way into work, but like anything, once you’ve done it once it’s a pretty quick and easy process.


While the Lime ones didn’t have a phone holder and were fractionally more expensive (£1 to start, then 16p per minute as opposed to 15p) Hayley was thrilled when it offered her the first 10 minutes for free and a 10 per cent discount if she could verify via her phone camera that she was wearing a helmet (left). Right: riders scan a QR code to ride the e-scooters

After scanning the e-scooter’s QR code I was ready to roll and cautiously made my way to the road. It was a quiet street, ideal for getting to grips with the accelerator lever and testing out the hand brakes, which were reassuringly responsive.

Much to my relief, the e-scooter felt very sturdy; it was much heavier than the Micro scooter and glided smoothly around corners. Within a few minutes I felt quite comfortable and ready to take on the busy high street.

One of the (very few) perks of the pandemic for cyclists was the introduction of more designated bike lanes and improvements to the cycling infrastructure in the city. 

These have also benefitted e-scooter riders – though I did feel my presence wasn’t particularly welcome at times. Several cyclists whizzed past me even as I hit top speed, which I couldn’t help but think put them more at risk of having an accident than me. 

Equally while the majority of car drivers gave me a wide berth like they would a cyclist, others accelerated past me a little too close for comfort.

Hayley told how several cyclists whizzed past her even as she hit top speed, which she couldn’t help but think put them more at risk of having an accident

Equally while the majority of car drivers gave Hayley a wide berth like they would a cyclist, others accelerated past a little too close for comfort

I can definitely see the advantages of e-scooting as a means of getting to work. Having driven into my office that morning and got stuck in multiple traffic jams, it was immensely satisfying to glide past rows of static disgruntled drivers. 

And unlike cycling, it didn’t require me to sport questionable lycra and arrive at my office dripping with sweat (though obviously I wasn’t burning off as many calories).

It was also much more enjoyable to be out in the open air, not sitting or standing uncomfortably close to fellow commuters on the Tube. At times it made me feel like an excited child, and on the straight road from Kensington High Street to Hammersmith I was able to open up and hit the top speed without feeling like I was out of control (and it took me a damn sight less time than it did driving along that morning).

To drop off my e-scooter at the end of my ride (which cost me £4.35 for 29 minutes), I looped back to where I picked it up – though a quick check of the app showed a decent number of alternative designated parking spots.

This time I noticed some of the vehicles in the rank were sporting a few bumps and scratches – an inevitable drawback of hired vehicles.

I couldn’t help but think people would be more inclined to take better care of them – and behave more responsibly, not abandoning them willy-nilly across pavements – if they owned one. Electric scooters aren’t cheap and tend to range from £200 to £1,000.  

Hayley said she can see the benefits of scooting to work, having got stuck in traffic jams in her car that morning – and at times it made her feel like an excitable child


Hayley practised using a Micro Explorer from Micro Scooters, pictured, which boasts an 18-mile range and a 15mph top speed. It also weighs just 13.5kg (considerably less than the rental e-scooters), comes with a free helmet and folds up, making it a good option should privately-owned ones become legal on UK roads

HOW TO BE A SAFE E-SCOOTER RIDER 

Stay in your lane

Pavement riding is illegal, and scooting is only permitted on the road or in cycle lanes. Lime scooters have a max speed of 12.5mph and high-visibility reflectors. 

Park your ride

Once you’ve finished your ride, always be sure to park it in an upright position in a designated parking bay. The rental apps will help you find a free spot.

Under 18? You’ll have to wait

Riders need to be 18 or over, and are required to verify their account by scanning their a or provisional driving licence when they first log into the app.

Don’t double up!

E-scooters are designed for one person, so no tag teaming. The same goes for your luggage – hooking your bag onto the handlebars or on one shoulder, could affect your balance, so make sure to pack light. 

Don’t drink and ride! 

Just like driving, it’s not only illegal, but dangerous too. To help new riders further get to grips with the capital’s latest transport option, Lime has launched a series of ‘First Ride Academies’ in participating boroughs. They have also worked with the AA to provide more safe riding resources via an online Driving School, Learn to Lime UK.

It does seem a little nonsensical to me that privately-owned scooters remain illegal. When ridden in a responsible manner, they don’t seem any more dangerous than bicycles – in fact, they’re slower and easy to dismount from. You’re always going to get people who are careless and don’t follow the rules, but why punish the majority for the sake of a few idiots?

Ben Gibson, managing director of Micro Scooters UK, told me he believes the law needs to change in line with the rest of the world ‘who have updated their legal restrictions to welcome and regulate the use of e-scooters as a modern mode of transport’.

‘We have been convinced for over 20 years that a scooter is the ideal means of transport in cities and towns,’ he said. ‘Whether or not scooters are electric or push, they are lightweight, portable, and environmentally friendly and a great way of getting a daily dose of exercise. 

The e-scooter rental scheme is popular in cities in Europe and California. Whilst it is a good business model, it has some drawbacks that need to be considered. 

‘Most notably the quality and safety of the scooters being used in the schemes and the proficiency of riders who use them. Any legislation to make e-scooters legal on roads needs to take these considerations into account.

‘Whilst rental schemes are popular, at Micro Scooters UK we believe e-scooter ownership is preferable and the best way forward. That way the rider can practice before they head out on the roads, test how the scooter behaves, how to give a turn signal, how the brake works and how the scooter reacts to kerbs.

‘The behaviour of road users has changed; people are using a greater variety of transport methods to get to their destinations. 

‘An e-scooter makes sense when it is used to replace the car or the motorcycle, or facilitates the switch to public transport.

‘We want to future proof e-scooters as a sustainable method of transport by encouraging infrastructure, legalisation and responsible ownership. Part of this framework is for owners to insure their scooters. The insurance industry should address the need for cover in this growth sector.  

‘We understand the concerns of the Royal National Institute of Blind People, which is why we are advocating for riders to install a bell. 

‘More importantly we are clearly stating electric scooters should be ridden on the road not the pavements, in the same way as electric bikes. 

‘These two measures should minimise any risk to pedestrians on the pavement whether they are fully sighted or not.’  

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