Portsmouth e-scooters: Calls made for city council to scrap Voi scheme

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CALLS to scrap the e-scooter rental scheme in Portsmouth are growing, with the issue due to be debated by city councillors next week.

A motion urging the council to ‘terminate’ the trial ‘at the earliest opportunity’ will be put forward by Councillor George Madgwick who said focus should instead be put on expanding the provision of Beryl bikes.

'The fundamental issue is that the scheme is opposed by the majority of the public because e-scooters are unsafe,' he said ahead of Tuesday's (November 8) meeting.

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A Voi scooter being ridden on the pavement on Ordnance Road, Portsea in May 2022A Voi scooter being ridden on the pavement on Ordnance Road, Portsea in May 2022
A Voi scooter being ridden on the pavement on Ordnance Road, Portsea in May 2022

Cllr Madgwick cited surveys carried out on behalf of the council which showed more than 60 per cent of people were against the Voi rental scheme, although three-quarters of respondents were not users of the machines.

'This city is not built for e-scooters,' he added. 'We don't have the infrastructure and they are not safe. We have already seen one death in Paulsgrove and we don't want any more.'

He said he supported the 'principle of e-scooters' but said far more needed to be done to improve their safety before they should be used in Portsmouth.

'It could also be argued that the environmental aspect isn't at all what it is being promoted as being,' his motion will say, based on the survey's findings that they were replacing 'better' transport options such as buses, walking and cycling.

An extension to the trial until 2024 was approved by the council's cabinet member for transport Lynne Stagg last month who said she expected perceptions to improve once laws around their use is introduced.

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‘When there’s legislation controlling e-scooters – not just Voi but also private ones – we’ll have a change,’ she said. ‘There will be some people who are dead against e-scooters whatever but they’re going to be here forever, or until the next phase of technology comes along.’

Concerns were raised by Conservative spokesman for transport Scott Payter-Harris at Cllr Stagg's decision-making meeting who said 'the jury is still out' on its effectiveness.

'There's a mostly negative attitude to e-scooters in this survey and that's not ideal,' he said. 'Something needs to change.'

But Gareth James, the council's Future Transport Zone project manager said weighting the results of the survey based on the demographics of the city 'made it more positive'.

Views on the scheme were mostly positive among 16 to 24-year-olds although less than 10 per cent of respondents were in this age group, seven times fewer than over-65s, of whom more than three-quarters said they were against the scheme.

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Overall views were slightly more favourable towards the scheme in the most recent survey than those carried out previously.

'The survey was purely respondent-driven,' Labour spokesman for transport Graham Heaney said at last month's meeting. 'It was not determined scientifically and it's quite often the case that people who are against something are more likely to respond.'

He said he had concerns about the use of private e-scooters and said police enforcement of users needed to be stepped up and better publicised.

Portsmouth Green Party coordinator Ian McCulloch said more evidence was needed on the effectiveness of e-scooters' use.

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'They can be a good alternative mode of transport but not so good when they're replacing walking or cycling,' he said. 'Anything replacing the internal combustion engine is a positive but I'd like to see more evidence.'

Since the launch of the Voi trial in Portsmouth last year, 60,000 different people have used e-scooters with more than 400,000 total rides completed.

Trials are being run across the country while the government considers legalising their use.

In a letter to local authorities sent earlier this year, the Department for Transport said trials ‘have significant value’ and that it is looking at legalising their use by creating a new ‘low-speed zero-emission’ vehicle category.

Should it be approved, Cllr Madgwick's motion will see the council 'request' that Cllr Stagg 'terminates the e-scooter trial at the earliest opportunity and instead...should focus more on the safer, more eco-friendly Beryl Bike scheme and expand that as soon as possible'.

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