Bid to scrap Portsmouth's Voi e-scooter trial fails - - but police criticised for 'not enforcing the law'

A VOTE on whether Portsmouth City Council should scrap its e-scooter rental scheme failed at a meeting yesterday (November 8) after winning the support of just five councillors.
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Safety concerns and public opposition to the Voi scheme prompted Portsmouth Independents councillor George Madgwick to propose that the trial, which has been extended to May 2024, be ‘terminated at the earliest opportunity’.

But his motion was opposed by most Lib Dem, Conservative and Labour councillors who said illegal private machines were a bigger problem and that instead Hampshire Constabulary needed to ramp up enforcement operations.

A Voi scooter being ridden on the pavement in Ordnance Road, PortseaA Voi scooter being ridden on the pavement in Ordnance Road, Portsea
A Voi scooter being ridden on the pavement in Ordnance Road, Portsea
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Cllr Madgwick said negative public perception of the scheme and safety concerns meant the trial should be ended early.

‘This city is not built for e-scooters,’ he said. ‘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.’

Support for the motion was given by Pompey Pensioners Association whose members unanimously agreed to support it.

On Tuesday, association member Charles Burns said ending the scheme would allow the council to send 'a strong message' to the government that e-scooters needed greater regulation.

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'I think it is very valid in pointing out that we now have Beryl Bikes in the city which provides an alternative to these scooters,' he said. 'But if we stopped the official scheme then it means that any e-scooter being ridden in the city is illegal and can be enforced by police.'

But Lib Dem councillor Lee Hunt said the 'crux of the problem' was that policing had been 'mostly non-existent' and criticised the government for its slow pace in bringing legislation into force.

'The government is unlikely to shut down this industry so these machines will go on being used,' the former police officer said. 'We can chuck the Voi scheme out but it won't change a damn thing.

'Having a scheme that is regulated and through which people can have sanctions imposed upon them... is better than having unregulated, uninsured machines on our streets.'

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Earlier this week, council leader Gerald Vernon-Jackson wrote to Hampshire Constabulary calling on the force to emulate enforcement efforts being made in Manchester and Glasgow where he said 'major pushes' had been made.

His calls were echoed by Labour spokesman for transport councillor Graham Heaney who said 'the police aren't enforcing the law here' and that scrapping the Voi trial had 'no real purpose'.

'I recognise that using these e-scooters is not the most serious crime but a bit of high-profile activity could certainly send out a message,' he said. 'A bit more publicity; a bit more activity would really help.'

Conservative councillor Daniel Wemyss said he believed visits of council and police officers to schools across the city would be a more effective approach to tackling issues around their use.

'There are a lot of people using them terribly,' he added. 'But there are a lot of people using them well. They're an absolutely fantastic means of transport if you can't get somewhere by car or bus and they're quite cost-effective.'

Cabinet member for transport Lynne Stagg said e-scooters were helping to tackle pollution problems in the city by reducing dependence on cars.

'If we are to succeed in getting residents to use their cars less then there needs to be a variety of different travel options available,' she said. 'There's no one-size-fits-all and e-scooters aren't going away.'

She said safety features, such as speed limits, a sanctions system, lights and indicators, made Voi machines preferable to privately-owned ones.

Cllr Madgwick's motion was lost by five votes to 26.

Addressing concerns raised at the meeting, acting Portsmouth chief inspector Pete Smith said the force was 'committed to dealing with all road users who drive in an irresponsible, illegal or dangerous manner, including those who use e-scooters'.

He said anyone riding a privately-owned e-scooter on public land would be 'engaged' with to 'educate them on the requirements' and anyone seen a second time could be issued with a fine, receive points on their licence and have the scooter seized. He said seizures may also be made if they are being used in a 'careless, dangerous or anti-social manner'.

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'Our roads policing team carried out a dedicated e-scooter operation in Portsmouth earlier this year and our Portsmouth city centre team has also been focusing on vehicle-related anti-social behaviour, including e-scooter use, in Commercial Road and Guildhall Walk,' he added.

'We will continue this activity, seizing e-scooters and dealing with people who are riding them dangerously and illegally where possible, in line with other competing demands across the city.'

Ahead of Christmas, he also urged people considering buying an e-scooter to remember that they cannot be used on public roads and footpaths, only on private land.