As the UK takes its first steps out of lockdown, there has been considerable focus on mobility and transport issues and how people can travel in a manner compatible with social distancing, as well as how to capitalise on the opportunity to fast track the green transport revolution.
The Transport Secretary is heavily engaged in these discussions and on 9 May 2020 declared that the Department for Transport ("DfT") would be bringing forward trials of e-scooters to help assess their safety and benefits. It was also announced that apps were being explored to allow people to find out which parts of the transport network were overcrowded and so be able to avoid them, with the Transport Secretary chairing a roundtable with industry players such as Google, Microsoft and Citymapper for this very purpose.
While these announcements have caught recent attention, the UK has in fact been considering the future regulatory framework for these new technologies for some time. A consultation covering both micromobility vehicles (including e-scooters) and mobility as a service (MaaS) launched in March and is still open, providing industry players with an excellent opportunity to have their say on the future of mobility and transport.
The DfT's "Future of transport regulatory review" consultation calls for evidence on micromobility vehicles, flexible bus services and MaaS. In relation to each, the key focus of the consultation is as follows:
- Whether certain micromobility vehicles (such as e-scooters) should be permitted on the road, and if so what vehicle and user requirements would be appropriate.
- How effective existing rules are around flexible bus services.
- What the opportunities and risks of MaaS platforms might be, and what role central and local Governments should play in their development.
With regards to micromobility, the consultation also looks at service provider requirements, such as what rules should apply to businesses operating micromobility vehicle hire schemes and the powers local authorities should have to manage such schemes and their impacts. While the recent focus on micromobility has predominantly been on e-scooters, the consultation covers all types of micromobility vehicles.
Specifically in relation to trials, the consultation asks which specific areas of road traffic law might benefit from having a statutory exemption to help support safe trials of transport technologies.
As for MaaS platforms, which the DfT defines as platforms that provide a layer between mobility providers and consumers by integrating and analysing data from multiple modes of transport to offer a choice of journeys to consumers, the focus of the consultation is on interoperability and potential competition concerns.
The DfT has asked for evidence for further measures that are required for the standardisation and interoperability of data. The DfT has also raised concerns that this market could develop features that are harmful to competition, such as incumbent mobility providers with market power refusing to deal with MaaS platform providers and the potential for ‘network effects’. The consultation stresses that a MaaS platform provider will need to operate in compliance with competition law rules, and has even gone so far as to ask whether there are any competition concerns that may be difficult to address through existing regulation.
The deadline to respond to the consultation is 3 July 2020.
The Parliamentary Transport Committee is running a parallel inquiry, which ends on 2 June, which is intended to complement the DfT consultation and covers many of the same areas.
Separately, the Law Commission is continuing to progress its review of driving laws for autonomous vehicles and is now working towards publishing a third and final consultation in the last quarter of 2020.
COVID-19 has accelerated the call for a revolution in the mobility and transport sector. The regulation of emerging mobility and transport technologies is therefore at the forefront of lawmakers' minds.
The opportunity to influence policy is a meaningful one where, as now, the Government is keen to act quickly and so now is the time for industry players to have their say on what this framework should look like.