New law opens the Irish e-scooter market

E-scooters are finally being legislated for in Ireland. Although a lack of legislation has not stopped people using privately-owned e-scooters on roads across Ireland, it has so far prevented rental companies, such as Lime and Bird, from entering the market. So, what will change when the new laws come in? And what does the bill cover so far?

Latecomer

Ireland is one of the last European countries left to legislate for these vehicles, and their current attempt to do so is a move to catch-up with growing consumer demand. Indeed, the pandemic seems to have increased interest in socially-distanced forms of transport to replace public transport. Just last year, Halfords announced a seven-fold increase in sales of e-scooters.

But being a latecomer does give Irish lawmakers the chance to learn from the mistakes made in other cities across Europe. These scooters have become a nuisance in many cities, mainly due to scooters being abandoned on footpaths, clashes with pedestrians, and accidents due to irresponsible riding.

Are e-scooters illegal in Ireland? 

Not exactly… E-scooters are currently operating in a legal grey area. Their use is governed by the Road Traffic Act 1961, which defines a Mechanically Propelled Vehicle (MPV) as “a vehicle the means of propulsion of which is electrical”. Therefore, they require registration, a driving license, insurance, and motor tax when used on a public road. However, the scooters fail to meet the criteria for registration.

Furthermore, there is an anomaly for e-scooters caused by the need for manual propulsion before the motor is operated. This distinction is the basis upon which these vehicles will be classified separately to other MPVs.

New law opens the Irish e-scooter market

The Bill

In response, the government has published the Road Traffic (Amendment) (Personal Light Electric Vehicles) Bill 2021. The proposed bill is targeted at electric scooters and e-bikes, as-well-as other personal electric vehicles. It will create a new vehicle category, known as Personal Light Electric Vehicles (PLEVs). The bill is contained in the Dáil’s summer schedule and is expected to pass into law in the upcoming months.

Notably, under the draft legislation, there will be no need for taxation, insurance, or a license, making e-scooters an accessible and cheap alternative form of transport for commuters and recreational users.

The scooters will be allowed on roads and cycle lanes. However, the bill does suggest that Ireland should adopt a speed limit of 25km/h, and a minimum age of 16 when used in public spaces. Furthermore, the use of mobile phones will be prohibited and violations are subject to fines.

So far, the Bill does not include any information on safety precautions, such as the use of helmets or reflective vests. Moreover, it does not seem to have taken the experiences of other cities into account, especially  with regard to the abandonment of PLEVs or the potential environmental impact of their deployment.

Shared Schemes:

With the introduction of the Bill, many companies both international and based in Ireland have shown great interest in entering the Irish market as a “first and last mile” form of transport. Some of the big names include Bird, Tier, Lime, and Voi, which currently successfully operate across many EU cities.

As most of these rental schemes operate using a dockless system, they all rely on a mobile app, which, similarly to Bleeper bikes, allows users to locate nearby scooters. They are then charged a fixed rate for unlocking it (generally around €1) and subsequently a few cents per minute of usage. Once the user has completed their journey, the scooter is locked again and becomes available to others on the app.

New law opens the Irish e-scooter market

Are they actually environmentally friendly?

Often the electric scooters are promoted as an environmentally friendly mode of transport on top of being convenient and fun to use. Due to their electric powered battery, they do not release any emissions directly into the air. But recent studies done in the US and Europe indicate that they may not in fact be as environmentally friendly as some companies make them out to be.

Importantly, it does seem that privately owned scooters lower air pollution, as these are often owned by commuters who have replaced car journeys, or other more polluting forms of transport. However, the rental schemes are showing very different results. Surveys of users indicate that they are used for journeys that would otherwise have been done by walking, cycling, or on public transport – all three of which are found to be less polluting than e-scooters, when all the different phases of a scooter’s life-cycle are taken into account.

When calculating the carbon footprint of these vehicles, it is important to look at everything from their manufacturing all the way through to their disposal. What has been revealed in recent years is that apart from the use of polluting materials for the production of these vehicles, the ways in which rental schemes operate are major contributing factors to the pollution caused by e-scooter usage.

Most of these companies rely on people who are paid to pick-up scooters with private vehicles (usually running on fuel) at the end of the day for charging and redistribution purposes. Furthermore, the life-span of these scooters is found to be significantly lower due to irresponsible usage, and as mentioned above, they rarely displace more polluting forms of transport. 

Overall, there seems to be potential for these scooters to be implemented as a green micro-mobility option in cities. However, local governments need to actively implement strict rules for how these rental schemes are allowed to operate.

Should you invest in an e-scooter?

Once these scooters become legal in Ireland, it is certain that their popularity will increase exponentially. With the introduction of shared schemes as well as privately owned scooters, they will be everywhere. But should you invest in an e-scooter or rely on rental scooters? The answer is: it depends…

There are costs and benefits to both. On average, privately owned scooters cost around €300. Given an estimated cost of rental scooters of €1 for unlocking and 20 cents per minute of riding, a 10 min commute would cost €3 each way. In other words, The cost of an e-scooter would be equivalent to 50 days of commuting on a shared e-scooter. So for the regular commute, it seems more reasonable to rely on a privately owned model.

However, if you are looking to use e-scooters recreationally, then the rental schemes are the perfect choice for you. Just ride responsibly for your own safety, as well as for the longevity of the scooters, which is proving to be a determining factor for the environmental impact of scooters.

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Nicole Hennessy
I'm a 2nd year student at Trinity College Dublin studying Politics and Sociology, who loves traveling, good food, and reading.

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