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.
It’s wisest to download the app for each operator; you can stick to one if you like, but you’re leaving yourself open to howl-at-the-sky moments if their scooters aren’t on the rank or their app doesn’t work when you need it.
Indeed, on our suck-it-and-see test day, app unreliability affected both your intrepid reporter and his faithful cameraman Steve. I’d downloaded all three apps but neither Tier nor Lime would work for me on the day; that could have been put down to personal incompetence were it not that Steve couldn’t get a tune out of them either, so Dott got the nod by default.