From the 15th February 2021 it will be possible to rent an e-scooter for the first time in Newcastle. Initially Heaton won’t be covered but the scooters will be available in the city centre. The area of use may expand as the trail progresses though.
SPACE for Heaton has had a look around the app used for the trial to see how the scheme will operate.
Firstly, it’s important to note that it will only be legal to ride the official scooters on the road – riding a privately owned e-scooter on the road will continue to be illegal.
To use the trial scooters, you must be at least 18 years old and have a full or provisional driving licence, the details of which are needed to sign up to the service.
Once registered, pay-per-ride costs are £1 + 18p per minute but three-day, weekly and monthly passes are available which will allow riders to ride as often as they want for up to 90 minutes per day.
The scooters utilise GPS to control the area they will work within, speeds and to incentivise parking. If a scooter is ridden outside the allowed area, it’s motor stops working and the rider will be unable to end the ride. This means that, until the scooter is pushed back into the allowed area, the rider will continue to accrue costs to their credit card.
Additionally, there are no parking zones and low speed zones and no ride zones. While you can ride in a no parking zone it’s not possible to end the ride within the zone, so if a scooter is left the user will continue to accrue charges for it.
Within a low-speed zone, the top speed of the scooter, usually 15mph, will be limited to 9mph. A no ride zone
Early indications from a test zone shown within the app suggest that, if leaving a scooter in a preferred parking zone, the rider will get a voucher towards future rides. It appears that if a scooter is idle for 10 minutes the ride will be automatically ended (unless outside the ride zone or within a no parking zone) to stop unintended charges.
To start or end a ride the phone running the app will need to have internet access, so it won’t be possible to use a device without a data connection of some sort.
The rules of riding are quite clear that the scooters should not be ridden under the influence of alcohol or any other substance, while wearing headphones or using a device of any kind (including smartwatches). As the scooters can only be ridden on the road and cycle lanes (not pavements) it’s possible that, if caught, riders could get points on their licence for drink driving so it will be worth becoming familiar with the rules before setting out and abiding by them. In addition, all traffic laws need to be adhered to as would be expected.
The scooters themselves have built in lights and reflectors, audible alerts with voice guidance, sensors to detect crashes or toppled scooters and reasonable size wheels so they should be able to cope with small imperfections in the road surface.
A lot is made of ‘the world’s first app-controlled helmet lock’ which secures a helmet to every e-scooter in between trips. The promotional material suggests there may be financial incentives for wearing the helmet as well as responsible parking.
Each scooter also has a unique licence plate so it (and the rider who has rented it) can be identified if necessary.
Behind the scenes is a 24h response team to deal with issues and change batteries.
It looks like a lot of lessons have been learned from bike sharing schemes (or scooters are just more expensive, so more effort is put in to looking after them).
The GPS enforcement of zones, speed and parking should bring a bit of order to the scheme and the signup requirements should encourage responsible riding (and make it possible to sanction to opposite).
For short journeys around the city a scooter is a far more efficient option that a car or taxi so it will be interesting to see how the trial goes over the coming year as the area of availability expands and number of available scooters increase.
It’s good to see quieter, efficient modes of transport being trialed and if it proves a success more people using scooters could help to speed up the creation of more safe, car free routes across the city that can also be used for more active modes of travel.