Electric scooters taking US cities by storm are illegal on British roads, symptomatic of English legislation that dates back to the year of Mark Twain’s birth — and still in force today.
But in the business world it’s more than just an irritation. U.S. e-scooter startup Bird is struggling to get a pilot program underway in London, after trying for months to win over the city’s transit regulator and adhere to highway legislation.
Executives at the company, based in Los Angeles and most recently valued at $2 billion, have been in discussions with the UK’s Department for Transport and city authority since last year. Messages obtained following a Freedom of Information request filed on July 4 illustrate their growing frustrations.
The problem encapsulates what happens when the seemingly unstoppable expansion of a West Coast startup meets the immovable force of a foreign regulator.
But in the UK, scooters like those used by Bird are classed as motor vehicles, or “powered transporters” — subject to tax, driver licenses and insurance. The Department for Transport — which manages regulation across the UK — says it’s not possible to get a permit because electric scooters would not comply “with the normal vehicle construction rules.”