“I think people can be really critical of them because they’re new”: Northamptonshire County Council on e-scooter safety concerns

A conference discussing the progress of electric scooter trials internationally took place last night. Here is what a representative from Northamptonshire County Council had to say.

Wednesday, 4th November 2020, 4:43 pm
Updated Wednesday, 4th November 2020, 6:04 pm
A conference was held last night (November 3) on the progress of the ongoing electric scooter trial.

Electric scooters became legal on roads in England, Wales and Scotland on July 4 2020 if obtained through a share scheme. The UK government is trialling these schemes for 12-months and released guidance, which includes restricting the speed limit for electric scooters to 15 and a half miles per hour, banning them on pavements and requiring riders to be aged 16 or over with a provisional driving licence.

Northamptonshire County Council was one of many around the UK to express interest in hosting this scheme. As a result, the 12-month trial through private company, VOI, kickstarted on September 3.

Senior project officer for public health at Northamptonshire County Council, Sam Simmonds, was one of six panelists in a conference held on electric scooters at 8pm last night (November 3).

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

Senior Project Officer for Public Health at Northamptonshire County Council, Sam Simmonds addresses safety concerns raised about the VOI electric scooters in Northamptonshire.

Other panelists included the director of policy, strategy and innovation at transport for west midlands - Mike Waters - head of transport innovation for Milton Keynes - Brian Matthews and visiting fellow from Harvard Kennedy School - David Zipper.

Ms Simmonds was asked about how she feels the first two months of the electric scooter trial in Northamptonshire has gone in terms of operation as well as public and media feedback.

She stated that feedback is “not as positive as I hoped".

She added: “I think the trials are really positive because, even just locally, there has been so much learning in two months of things that you might not have actually thought about otherwise that are really improved. We started off with a fleet of 200 and we’re now up to 400 as our area expands. As we do that, we are able to engage people through that process.

“For example, we meet with the police each week to talk about issues and troubleshoot things and I think that has really helped us to improve the scheme. Earlier, I was in a meeting with one of the business parks that we are looking to expand to make sure we are doing so in partnership with them - it was the council, VOI, the police and the business park working through that.”

A lot of safety concerns were raised about the electric scooters such as them being parked or dumped in inappropriate places and, more recently, visibility at night ensuing from the clocks going back one hour.

Ms Simmonds said: “We know, from working with the police and other people that it’s a problem with pedestrians and cyclists. It’s not just distinct to e-scooter users. I think where we have got to see safety issues such as visibility, you have those in other kinds of transport.”

Northamptonshire County Council believes that the most appropriate approach to tackling these safety issues is, predominantly, user education.

Ms Simmonds added: “As well as education, we’ve got the ability to work with VOI really quickly to be able to issue warnings to block accounts. If we feel that actually, it’s not an educational issue, we have 24 hours staffing to go around and VOI will do that rebalancing and, if e-scooters have not been parked in a way that we would like, remove them.”

The main safety concerns raised in the conference were pavement riding, parents using their accounts to allow their children to use the electric scooters and people using them whilst drunk. Ms Simmonds argued that this is not just an issue that is unique to electric scooters but other modes of transportation as well.

Ms Simmonds stated: “I think there is the ability to be quite critical of that and I’ve seen some interesting conversations around - ‘oh, you could hire one and give it to your child’ or ‘you could use one when you are drunk’ and, actually, you could get a car when you’re drunk, you can cycle when you’re drunk, you could hire a car and put a child in it… wouldn’t advise any of those things but I think people can be really critical of them because they’re new.”

Northamptonshire County Council said that VOI has more than 10,000 unique users and the majority of them are using the electric scooters sensibly.

The electric scooters in Northampton are currently dockless. There are incentivised parking zones so that users can get discounts for parking in places that the council has deemed a sensible place to park.

“That’s not to say we won’t be bringing in docks,” Ms Simmonds said, “Part of the intelligence gathering of the trial is we wanted to get an understanding of where people actually want to go to and from because we are conscious that there’s no point in putting in this infrastructure if it doesn’t get used.”

Although docks may be the answer to the safety concern surrounding parking and abandoned electric scooters causing obstructions on pavements, Ms Simmonds expressed that bringing in docks may not be the answer.

She said: “I’ve worked with local authorities who have had docked bike systems and I’ve seen docked areas with two, three times more bikes that should have been parked there because everyone was parking there and then they overspill and take up a lot of space.

“I think that the way you rebalance and the way that you work with users and look where they’re actually going to and from would be a big important factor. It’s not just about docked and dockless.”

To find out more about the scheme, visit the VOI website or download the VOI app to locate your nearest scooter.