Police chiefs have been won over by the region’s e-scooter trials after initially fearing “twisted metal and bodies scattered all over the highway”, it has been revealed.
Avon & Somerset Constabulary traffic management unit boss Richard McKiernan told a remote meeting that he had expected carnage on roads and pavements during the West of England Combined Authority’s (WECA’s) pilot project.
Instead it has been a “policing non-event” and he has been “massively reassured” by the trial, which metro mayor Tim Bowles says will become vital in how we move around the region for generations to come.
The trailblazing 12-month scheme was launched in Bristol and Bath in October with electric scooter firm Voi Technologies and is the only way to ride the vehicles legally.
It introduced 100 rental e-scooters in central Bristol and 50 in central Bath, where there have been more than 50,000 and 12,500 rides respectively.
The trial area has now been expanded, free rides reintroduced for NHS workers, 999 personnel and the armed forces and the number of vehicles is gradually increasing to 450 in Bristol and 100 in Bath.
In Coventry, where Voi also won the contract, the pilot was stopped after just five days last year because too many people were riding on pavements.
But speaking during a webinar on lessons learned from e-scooter trials, traffic unit manager Mr McKiernan, the Avon & Somerset force lead for the Weca experiment, said: “After 32 years as a police officer before I came into this role, I was as cynical as I could have got.
“I must admit my heart sank when I heard about the introduction of the trials.
“I thought ‘That’s it, we’re going to end up with twisted metal and bodies scattered all over the highway and we would be mopping up pieces all over the place’.
“I am probably the biggest convert out of everybody.
“I have been massively reassured by the attitudes taken by Voi and the other companies and the local authority.
“This isn’t a money-making venture, this is really a case of getting it right, and that has been hugely beneficial.
“From a policing perspective, it has been a policing non-event, which is the best thing that could have come out of it from my perspective.”
Mr McKiernan said the advantage of the force being involved from an early stage was it gave officers time to develop their approach because all e-scooters were previously illegal.
He said they decided to engage, explain and educate, and only enforce the law if warnings were ignored.
Mr McKiernan said the vast majority of complaints and issues related to privately owned e-scooters because it was still against the law to ride them anywhere other than private land.
“The biggest problem we’ve got in the rollout of trial scooters is that there will still be the ignorance of people who think they can use their privately owned scooter,” he said.
“So we’ve got that balance where there will be more scooters being used properly but there will probably be more scooters not being used properly, and a reluctance to go on the road.
“It may well be that we will be saying in consultation that there should be more cycle lanes so it’s safer and a more protected environment for cyclists.
“But we are fully supportive of the expansions, and if it stays like this then happy days.”
West of England mayor Tim Bowles told the meeting that congestion cost the region’s economy about £300million a year and that two-thirds of commutes were by car, of which 40 per cent were less than 2km.
But he said residents had shown a great willingness to move onto public transport where Weca had invested heavily.
Mr Bowles said: “We have always seen e-scooters as part of our longer-term actions to bring different options into play for people.
“We do not see these as toys or gimmicks, we see these as a vital way in which we integrate options to allow people either to replace those short journeys in their commute or to connect into other public transport.
“So it is a really exciting opportunity for us to move this forward quickly, but this has got to be done responsibility and positively.”
He said e-scooters would become an option for that first and last mile of the commute.
“They will never replace in some instances the need for car journeys and we are very sensible about that,” the mayor said.
“We are not saying this is a magic silver bullet but we are saying we have to provide that right mix of modes for people to do it.
“This is a complementary element of the incredible investment we are able to deliver as a combined authority and as a metro mayor and these are things that are going to complement that for generations to come.”
The Learning From e-Scooter Trials webinar also involved Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority mayor James Palmer and Richard Corbett, the UK, Ireland and Benelux general manager of Voi, which organised the event on Thursday, 7th January.
Adam Postans, Local Democracy Reporter