LONDON (The Verge): Electric scooter hire company Bird is dipping a first toe into the murky waters of London as part of an ongoing expansion into Europe. The company is launching its hire vehicles on a single route in the city’s Olympic Park — the only way to get around a longstanding legal ban of electric scooters on London’s roads.
Since the scooter boom first took off, Londoners have been wondering when the vehicles would arrive in the UK’s capital. But as became clear this summer, the answer may be never. Under the Highway Act of 1835, the UK government defines electric scooters as “powered transporters,” a class of vehicle that can only legally be used on private property. (The same ban also covers two-wheeled hoverboards.)
This is the loophole Bird has exploited with its ‘launch’ today. Olympic Park, in the east of the city, was developed for the 2012 Summer Olympics and Paralympics and is owned by the London Legacy Development Corporation, a private development corporation. Bird’s scooters can be used in the park, but GPS trackers will monitor their location, and if they stray off the approved path they’ll automatically power down.
According to a report from Bloomberg, executives from Bird have been negotiating with the UK’s Department for Transport and London’s city authorities on this matter since last year. This pilot doesn’t necessarily mean the legislative ice is breaking, but it’s certainly a chance for Bird to show its vehicles can be safe and useful.
In a press statement, Bird’s head of UK and Nordic countries, Richard Corbett, said the scooters were the perfect way to combat the “increasing congestion and decreasing air quality” of big cities. Corbett told The Guardian: “This is the first step on the journey to change UK regulation. And this is why today is actually quite a key milestone in British transport history: this is the first time we have seen a UK e-scooter trial, and we’re really proud to be the first to do that, to help push the boundaries.”
Meanwhile, Bird has been taking more confident steps into other territories. In August, it announced its scooters would be hitting the streets of Paris and Tel Aviv, following close on the heels of rival Lime, which launched in the French capital and other European nations last December. Back home in the US, more established transport companies like Uber and Lyft are making their first moves, and the mantra of “growth at all costs” continues to steer business decisions. With this sort of pressure, how long will London remain scooter free?