Drones carrying medical supplies and phone apps to book buses could soon become a reality in the UK, thanks to £90m of government funding announced today to create a series of “future transport zones” up and down the country.

The funding, which comes off the back of the government’s Future of Mobility strategy last year, is to be shared across three innovative green transport projects in Portsmouth and Southampton, the West of England Combined Authority region, and Derby and Nottingham, the Department for Transport (DfT) said.

Successful projects include trials of last mile delivery innovations, new public transport ticket booking platforms, and ‘mobility hubs’ to support and encourage take-up of public transport, bike hire services, car clubs, and electric vehicles.

In addition, the DfT today launched a call for evidence on how to integrate burgeoning green transport technologies – such as electric scooters and mobility-as-a-service (MaaS) projects – onto UK roads, promising the “biggest shake up of transport laws in a generation”.

The review covers ‘micromobility’ vehicles, MaaS, and flexible bus services, and seeks views on whether certain low emission vehicles such as e-scooters should be permitted on UK roads, and whether existing rules need changing to take account of emerging clean transport services and technologies.

The government said it was also exploring how to test emerging bus, taxi, and private hire vehicle services, which it said could make journey planning and payment simpler and more seamless.

For example, legislation could introduce a minimum age, vehicle standards, and insurance requirements for e-scooters and their users, while regulations could be altered to make it easier for bus services to operate in a similar way to on-demand taxis or private hire vehicles, DfT explained.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said the UK was “on the cusp of a transport revolution”, and that the review could “pave the way for exciting new transport technology to be tested, cementing the UK’s position as a word-leading innovator”.

“Emerging technologies are ripping up the rulebook and changing the way people and goods move forever,” he said. “This review will ensure we understand the potential impacts of a wide range of new transport modes such as e-scooters, helping to properly inform any decisions on legalisation. Funding these new zones across the country will also help us safely test innovative ways to get around, creating a greener future transport system for us all.”

The proposals were welcomed by leading e-scooter hire firm Lime, which hailed the plans as “great news for UK towns and cities”.

“Shared electric scooters are a safe, emission-free, affordable and convenient way of getting around,” said Alan Clarke, director of UK policy and government affairs at Lime. “They help take cars off the road with around a quarter of e-scooter trips replacing a car journey – cutting congestion and reducing air pollution. Lime operates shared dockless e-scooter schemes in over 100 locations globally and in 50 cities across Europe. We look forward to contributing to the government’s call for evidence to develop clear rules and minimum safety standards to allow this environmentally friendly option to be made available and hope to participate in upcoming trials on UK streets.”

E-scooters are proving increasingly popular around the world, but the proposals could yet face some opposition with a number of commentators having questioned how safe the vehicles will prove on urban roads.

The £90m funding announced today is earmarked for three projects across England, which join and another existing transport trial project in the Midlands, which had already secured support through the funding scheme.

Among the funding winners today, the West of England Combined Authority plans to test the introduction of booking software to allow people to book one journey across multiple modes of transport at the click of a button, as well as a trial of self-driving cars to transport people between Bristol airport, central Bath and the city’s Northern Arc area.

Portsmouth and Southampton, meanwhile, have secured support to pilot smartphone app journey planning technology to find out how it could improve travel in car-dominated areas outside major cities, according to DfT. In addition, e-cargo bikes in cities are to be tested for last-mile deliveries, as are drones for deliveries of medical supplies, including between the Isle of Wight and hospitals on the mainland.

And Derby and Nottingham have secured £15m to jointly invest in ‘mobility hubs’ to integrate and encourage more widespread uptake of public transport, bike hire, car clubs, and electric vehicles, the government said.

The latest developments came as a new study released today by consultancy giant EY found that e-scooter company Voi Technologies has reduced emissions from its rentable e-scooters on average by 71 percent since launching the newest models in Paris in January last year.

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