Portsmouth e-scooters divide opinion: Are they a fun and greener way of travel? Or a menace that will result in tragedy?

THEY have been heralded as a fun, greener mode of transport that will reduce traffic congestion in a city fighting to be more environmentally friendly amid spiralling pollution fears.

Thursday, 1st April 2021, 7:00 am
Updated Thursday, 1st April 2021, 9:05 am

But e-scooters have also been dubbed a menace with fears ‘someone will die’ or be seriously injured after two accidents on the opening day of the Portsmouth City Council and Solent Transport-led rental scheme on March 16.

Concerns have also been raised over e-scooters mounting and riding on pavements, while residents have pointed out that some riders are well below 18 years of age - the minimum age to ride an e-scooter in the scheme.

Privately-owned e-scooters remain illegal on public roads. They are only legal in trial rental schemes, such as in Portsmouth.

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A Voi scooter rider crashes on Clarence Esplanade. Picture: Trevor Goodman

Proof of a provisional licence is also needed to ride one of the distinctive pink coloured devices in the trial but it has been claimed some riders are also finding a way around this.

But as the city acclimatises to the six-month trial, Voi Scooters, which has supplied 100 e-scooters that can be rented at docking stations across Portsmouth, insisted the Department of Transport funded scheme had been ‘well received in the city’.

The city has already passed over 8,500 rides and around 41,500km travelled from the 3,600 people who have rented one, with Voi saying e-scooters are a ‘flexible, affordable and carbon-neutral way of travel’.

Voi and the council said they were unable to disclose profits from the scheme at this stage but figures will be available at the public Traffic and Transportation decision meeting once the trial concludes in November.

Update on E-scooter trial on 29 March 2021. Pictured: Harry Holt and Leila-Rose Lynch in Albert Road, Southsea with the new E-scooters. Picture: Habibur Rahman

Voi believes e-scooters are ideal for journeys of one to three miles, which make up 60 per cent of all road trips in the UK.

‘As more people start to use them to replace short car journeys, they offer huge potential to improve air quality, reducing congestion and pollution, supporting the cities to achieve their transport and carbon emission reduction goals,’ a spokeswoman said.

‘Voi works closely with the Portsmouth City Council to ensure the safety and success of the trial.

‘As with any other service, there are always adjustments that need to be made to ensure users and the overall community have the best possible experience during the trial of this new transport.’

Jack Martin (17) from Portchester, was involved in a road traffic collision with an e-scooter along Portsdown Hill on March 16. Picture: Sarah Standing (260321-5502)

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For the first 30 days of the trial the e-scooters will be limited to 10mph and then 15mph afterwards, with some locations listed as no-go and go-slow areas.

Voi was keen to stress this is one of the important differences between its e-scooters and privately owned e-scooters which are ‘illegal on public roads and can reach high speeds’. Such privately owned e-scooters have already been around for some time while also outnumbering Voi scooters.

Voi also uses geofencing - a technology that allows the firm to create ‘no ride, slow ride and mandatory parking areas’.

Update on E-scooter trial on 29 March 2021. Pictured: People riding e-scooters in Southsea, Portsmouth. Picture: Habibur Rahman

‘This means the e-scooter will automatically adapt its speed as it enters a different zone, and users can see their locations and operating zone on the map provided in the Voi app,’ the spokeswoman said.

Accidents

But despite this, it seems some e-scooter riders are getting lost and driving recklessly - with potentially disastrous consequences.

Portchester teenager Jack Martin was involved in one of two crashes involving e-scooters rented from Voi on the first day of the trial.

Jack, 17, was riding his motorcycle in convoy with a friend on Portsdown Hill at around 4pm when he collided with a helmet-less e-scooter rider who according to Jack, without warning, suddenly turned off to his right.

‘(The e-scooter rider) looked over his shoulder as I came up behind him,’ he said.

Update on E-scooter trial on 29 March 2021. Pictured: Neil Crossley, John Dunn and Kevin piotrowicz on the e-scooters on Albert Road, Southsea. Picture: Habibur Rahman

‘I was about to swerve around him when he suddenly turned right without a hand signal. I tried to put my brakes on and swerve to go round him but went into his side.

‘I was thrown onto the other side of the road and hurt my shoulder and I crushed his foot. Luckily no one was travelling in the opposite direction at the time otherwise I probably wouldn’t be here.’

Both went to hospital to get checked over, while Jack claimed his £4,000 motorbike was written off after the frame was deemed irreparable.

He also said there was also damage to his front headlight, front and rear indicators, number plate and right mirror. His helmet and leathers were also scratched up.

To make matters worse Jack said he had lost his no claims bonus and was told he would have to pay the excess on his insurance. He said Voi snubbed him after claiming they ‘didn’t understand’ what happened.

After contact from The News, Voi has now insisted it has notified its insurance company and ‘will be working with them to provide information that may be relevant to their investigation and handling of these claims’.

Jack added: ‘I spoke to the scooter rider and he said he didn’t know the area he was in.

‘I couldn’t believe he was on such a busy road. They should stay in the city but they can travel a 45 minute radius. It’s stupid.’

Jack’s dad, Martin, fears the use of e-scooters will end in tragedy after his son’s crash.

‘It was like two rag dolls being thrown up in the air. Jack ended up going on to the other side of the road. If there had been a car coming it would have hit him,’ he said.

‘Someone will get killed. The scooter rider was very lucky. They are a serious accident waiting to happen. At least get them on the pavement. Just wait until the summer when things will be much worse.

‘It is absolutely disgusting that Jack should be penalised for the accident. His crash helmet is wrecked and his boots and bike leathers is another £400 he will have to find so he is going to be out of pocket.

‘He saved all his own money to buy the bike. He is gutted.’

Andy also found it strange that Voi told police to leave the scooter at the side of the road and they would pick it up.

The dad believed his son would lose his no claims bonus and have to pay the excess on his insurance as the crash did not involve another motor vehicle.

But police and Voi have confirmed that e-scooters are ‘classified as motor vehicles’ which are subject to the Highway Code and can result in points and fines on licences.

Andy, who has urged for the trial to be abandoned, also pointed out other misgivings he has with e-scooters.

The dad said drivers are not required to wear a helmet and have no indicator. He also questioned why scooters can go ‘so far out’ and, in this case, whether it would have been able to return it to its docking station.

Also on the e-scooter launch date a woman fell off a Voi e-scooter in Clarence Esplanade, Southsea.

An investigation by Voi revealed the accident was not due to the e-scooter and the woman has since recovered and ‘continues to be a fan’ of e-scooters, the firm said.

E-scooters on the roads has certainly caused alarm in some quarters. Southsea resident John Ransom said he was concerned after seeing dangerous driving.

He said: ‘(There have been) a number of very young people riding, who like all scooter riders, seem to only know one control...”full throttle” – and no helmets are de rigueur.

‘It is soon going to mean no brains because they are going to be splattered across the road. Fact, it will unfortunately happen.

‘The favourite trick seems to be at speed on the pavement or seafront cycle lane and then flash onto pedestrian crossing, don't look, just whoosh, and they are gone. Canoe Lake and Coffee Cup are great places to see this.

‘The seafront stroller, city pedestrians and all other road users are at risk of serious injury or damage. Who is picking up the bill?’

The council has urged riders not to use the promenade.

Concerned members of the public are able to report dangerous driving, resulting in three strikes before disqualification. E-scooters have individual number plates to facilitate this.

Questions have also been raised about those who are under 18 and without a provisional licence using e-scooters – with the use of the app facilitating this by allowing others to hire the scooter before handing them over to ineligible individuals.

Voi e-scooter riders give their views

People who have rented the Voi scooters, though, spoke positively of the experience whilst admitting they have seen some breaking the rules.

Southsea couple Harry Holt and Leila-Rose Lynch decided to rent a Voi scooter for half an hour after paying £1 to unlock them before paying 20p a minute.

Harry, 25, said the scooters, which also have 24-hour and 30-day subscriptions available, were enjoyable to ride. ‘It was pretty good. It’s a nice leisure thing to do especially when the weather is nice,’ he said.

‘They are fairly slow and basically you stop or go when using them. They slow down automatically in certain zones.’

Leila-Rose, 28, added: ‘We were given rude hand signals by some drivers but you are always going to get idiots. We’ve seen riders going on the pavement but if used correctly it is a good scheme.’

Users have to join the Voi app when they first register before taking a selfie picture and uploading their driving licence and then taking a photo at the end of their journey.

Kevin Piotrowicz, 42, of Southsea, said he ‘didn’t expect to have to’ go through the process again before rental having already signed up on the app.

Speaking of his reason for renting an e-scooter, he said: ‘I just thought I’d give it a go with my mates on a nice day. Hopefully I won’t fall off.’

Southsea friends Neil Crossley and John Dunn enjoyed the experience and believe it could be bad news for taxis. ‘We’ve had a great time. I think they could lead to a change in how you get about for short journeys,’ Neil, 39, said.

‘I think people will be more keen to use this than a taxi or an Uber.’

He added: ‘I’ve seen loads of kids clearly with no driving licence riding them on pavements but I don’t see a problem if they are used correctly. And they are better than the illegal ones which go a lot faster.’

John, 51, said: ‘It took a few seconds to get my balance but it was fine after that. You have to push it off before the engine kicks in. They are surprisingly powerful off the mark. I wasn’t intimidated using one on the road.’

Council and police view

Councillor Lynne Stagg, the council’s transport boss, said: 'There have been absolutely no problems with Voi or the scooters themselves but there have been a few problems with the way people are using them.

'It seems like some families are logging in to the scooters and then allowing children to use them. They should only be used by people aged 18 and over, and by those with at least provisional driving licences. The police know about this and will be cracking down on it.

'At the moment it is hoped seven more docking stations will open in April depending on what public feedback is in those areas.'

Felicity Tidbury, transport planning manager at the council, said ‘We are pleased to see people trying the rental e-scooters in Portsmouth as part of the trial.

‘To keep riders safe we encourage them to wear a helmet, complete Voi’s in app safety training and follow the rider rules that are outlined in the Voi app. Rental e-scooters are a sustainable alternative to car travel and we expect an increase in riders as the weather improves.’

Portsmouth central inspector Marcus Kennedy said: ‘Rental e-scooters are classed as a motor vehicle under UK law which means that to legally use them riders must follow the rules of use as well as the Highway Code.

‘We don’t want to see people riding on pavements, unless they are in a cycle lane, or riding under the influence of drink or drugs.

‘The scooters should also only be used by one person aged 18 or over with no passengers. The law needs to be followed, just like if you were driving a car.

‘We appreciate that e-scooters are a new concept to a lot of people but we urge people to follow the rules and use them in a safe and respectful manner.’

He added that enforcement action will be taken for repeated instances of illegal rental e-scooter use. ‘If you are caught breaking the law on a rental e-scooter, you could face a large fine and points on your licence,’ he said.

Insurance

Voi said it maintains motor third party liability insurance which covers a rider’s legal liability for injury or property damage to a third party while using one of the e-scooters.

The company also has personal accident insurance in the event of serious injury to its riders while using an e-scooter. The insurance cover is automatically included upon rental.

To report dangerous e-scooter drivers and for more information go to: travel.portsmouth.gov.uk/schemes/rental-e-scooter-trial/

A message from the Editor, Mark Waldron

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Update on E-scooter trial on 29 March 2021. Pictured: Harry Holt and Leila-Rose Lynch in Albert Road, Southsea with the new E-scooters. Picture: Habibur Rahman