Norwich e-scooter trial: How might it work?
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Head to European cities such as Berlin, Stockholm, Copenhagen or Paris and chances are you’ll see people using a form of transport largely absent from the UK’s roads.
E-scooters are a staple form of transport for many major cities, but until now, the law has not allowed their use on public places in this country.
However, amid need for social distancing during coronavirus, the government has fast tracked trials of rental e-scooters and Norfolk County Council has applied for one in Norwich.
If agreed, it would see the council join forces with Beryl, which already provides cycle and e-bike rentals in Norwich via a mobile phone app, to offer an initial 100 scooters to hire.
While it would still be illegal to ride non-rental e-scooters in public places, the rented ones could be ridden on roads and cycle paths, although not on pavements.
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What has happened elsewhere?
Brightly-coloured scooters are already a fixture in many European cities, with companies such as Lime, Bird, Voi, Tier providing the machines.
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When Paris tendered for official scooter rental providers in the French capital, sixteen companies bid for the contracts to make 15,000 scooters available for rental.
The UK has been slow to embrace the machines, but trials have now started. One of the first was in Middlesbrough, where an initial 50 scooters were made available to hire in July.
That scheme is due to be extended to 500 within 12 months, despite some controversy around their use. Two teenagers used them on the busy A19, even though users are meant to be aged 18 or over and hold driving or motorcycle licences.
Trials in Cambridge and Milton Keynes are due to start soon.
What could happen in Norwich?
Norfolk County Council already has a relationship with Beryl, which rents out bicycles and e-bikes in Norwich via its mobile phone app, so is keen to work with them for the trial.
Riders would need to have driving licences, speed limits would be set at 12mph and could be restricted further where lower speeds are deemed appropriate.
The scooters, which would make sounds to warn people they are approaching, would have to be left in designated drop-off/pick-up areas and failure to do so would result in a penalty payment.
Helmets would be recommended, but not mandatory.
Martin Wilby, Norfolk County Council cabinet member for highways, infrastructure and transport, said: “I am really pleased that we are bidding for these e-scooter trials in the city. The city is an ideal place for people to use them.
“We have a really good relationship already with Beryl, following the successful roll out of their rental cycles and e-bikes.”
Are they safe?
Getting an answer to that question is the reason the government is trialling them.
A University of California study found scooter-related injuries and hospital admissions grew by 222 per cent between 2014 and 2018 - but given the numbers of scooters on the roads increased in that time, that’s not a major surprise.
A study by the International Transport Forum found riders did not face a significantly higher risk of road traffic death or injury than cyclists - but did suggest a string of recommendations to make them safer.
And Gina Dormer, chief executive of Vision Norfolk - the charity for people living with sight loss and visual impairment - said the organisation had concerns, which it has raised with the county council.
She said: “We want to support the council and we want Norwich to be a buzzing city, but we do hold these concerns. It’s things like the importance over the level of noise the scooters will make and, for people who may be partially-sighted, what colour and what size they are.
“If the scooters are left in parking bays, is there a way to rope them off, so people will not collide with them? And we would be concerned if they were to be left on pavements while people went in shops, as that could be hazardous.”
Could anywhere else in Norfolk get the scooters?
The council has told the government it may make further applications for trials in Great Yarmouth and King’s Lynn.
However, unlike in Norwich, those towns do not have companies ready to provide the equipment, so further talks with scooter providers are needed.
What an e-scooter owner thinks
Norwich e-scooter user Simon Crawford wants to be able to legally use his on the road.
He admits to looking over his shoulder for police when he makes his short trips on it.
While keen to see a trial, Mr Crawford thinks private scooters should also have been included, rather than just rental scooters.
He said: “I am very passionate about them. Quite a few people in Norwich have got them and use them responsibly.
“I always wear a helmet and check the scooter.
“And, in the current climate, I’m being careful to clean it after I’ve used it.”
While the government says rental trials will help decide whether to fully legalise them, Mr Crawford said the test should have included private owners.
He said: “If anything I think private owners are more likely to be responsible than the people who hire them, so I don’t understand why the government doesn’t just let us ride them legally.”