By any standards, e-scooters are something of a contradiction. They are – by some measures – essentially a child’s rollabout, yet they can be powered up to be capable of startling speed. Vulnerable yet dangerous; silent but deadly; beloved by some but derided by many.
They now also sport another dichotomy, in the UK: illegal yet hirable. You can’t take your privately-owned scooter out in public, but under government trials – expedited by the Covid-created need for socially-distanced transport modes, preferably with lashings of fresh air – you can now rent them from local authorities in around 30 areas, from Barnstaple and Basildon to York and Yeovil, and a steadily increasing number of London boroughs.
Transport for London gave the nod to three hire companies: Lime, Tier and Dott. Of the three, Lime is the biggest hitter; the San Francisco company, which started in human-powered cycle rental and moved into e-bikes, is now established in 130 cities worldwide including London, New York and Paris.
Berlin-based Tier also operates in Paris and 100 other cities, but took the opposite journey to Lime: having started in e-scooters, it’s now eyeing expansion into e-bikes. Dott, founded in Amsterdam by two alumni from e-bike hireco Ofo, is the smallest of the three, with a scooter-only 20-city wheelprint.
As of June, only five London boroughs were part of the trial: Ealing, Hammersmith & Fulham, Kensington & Chelsea, Richmond and Canary Wharf, with the City of London, Lambeth, Southwark and Westminster joining in July.
How to hire an e-scooter
You’ll need to be over 18, have a smartphone and, because e-scooters are classed in the UK as motor vehicles, at least a provisional driving licence.
Set aside a few minutes to upload your licence, bank details and verification selfie. Once verified you have to complete a multiple-choice dolly of an online safety test, the sort which stops just short of asking whether it’s safest to stay in your lane or to engage a flamethrower.