DUBLIN — Ireland is moving to catch up with the rest of Europe on e-scooters with a new bill that would legalize the vehicles.
Alan Farrell, a member of parliament from coalition party Fine Gael, introduced the bill on Monday to create a legal standing for e-scooters on Irish roads.
E-scooters have existed in a legal gray in Ireland for years as existing road traffic laws do not allow for them. That hasn't stopped privately-owned e-scooters from taking to the streets.
But a lack of legal certainty has prevented e-scooter sharing companies like Lime and Tier from entering the market.
Farrell's bill, if enacted, would allow for private and shared scooters to use roads and cycleways, capped at a speed of 25km/hr and for people over the age of 16. Unlike the U.K. trials this year, the bill doesn't require a user to have a provisional driver's license.
"Our law in Ireland currently explicitly excludes a bicycle from licensing and registration and what I'm trying to achieve for simplicity is that a personal light electric vehicle or an electric scooter is treated as a bicycle," Farrell told CNBC.
During the summer, the U.K. fast tracked the introduction of e-scooter trials in the country, which left Ireland as one of the last major European markets left to legislate for the vehicles. At the same time, the Irish government announced new investment in cycle infrastructure amid the pandemic but no advancements were made on e-scooters.
Farrell's bill is not the first attempt to amend the law. In September 2019, another lawmaker presented a bill to legalize e-scooters, but it withered after the Dáil (the lower house) was dissolved ahead of the general election in February.
Farrell said he expects his bill to be successful as the program for government included a commitment to legislating on micro-mobility vehicles and the Road Safety Authority has recommended their legalization.
The bill will be examined by the Department of Transport, which may request amendments, and will enter various stages through the two houses of parliament. A best-case scenario, Farrell said, would see the bill passed by late January.
"I'm pretty confident that the bill is sufficiently robust legally to pass muster within the department."
Several major e-scooter sharing companies have lobbied the previous and current Irish governments and Dublin City Council to follow their European counterparts.
Lime, whose EMEA headquarters are in Dublin despite having no services there, co-signed a letter to Prime Minister Micheál Martin in June as he was taking office pleading its case. Daimler and BMW joint venture Free Now and Irish start-ups Moby, Bleeper and Zipp Mobility also signed the letter.
"Other countries have made the deployment of micro-mobility a key step in supporting their re-opening, it is time for Ireland to do the same," the letter said.
Sweden's Voi wrote to Green Party leader and Transport Minister Eamon Ryan in July urging the government to "follow suit" after the U.K. trials started.
A spokesperson for Voi said it welcomes efforts to move regulation along.
Charlie Gleeson, the chief executive of Zipp Mobility, a Dublin-based start-up that has launched in a handful of U.K. cities this year, told CNBC that he is supportive of Farrell's bill.
"We've got a huge amount of learnings from the U.K. We're up and running, we're scaling our business across the U.K. at the moment," Gleeson said.
"We want to talk about the pros and cons, what's been done right in the U.K. and what's been done slightly badly and see if we can assist both the government and the councils in amending any legislation and making it the best it can be."
Gleeson said practices from the U.K. such as the Department for Transport's process of evaluating scooters for their road worthiness should be replicated in Ireland.
He added that there needs to be clear rules on where e-scooters can be used and parked.
"I don't think they should be permitted on footpaths at all. That's where we've seen issues in other countries and particularly in the U.K. as well. There were a couple of schemes that had a lot of people riding on pavements," he said.
"It is very important to grow the awareness that scooters are made for the road not the footpath and I think that's the way it's going to be legislated for in Ireland."