Published: 14:36, 11 May 2022
| Updated: 15:49, 11 May 2022
New “cobble-proof” electric scooters are set to be launched in Kent next week.
It comes as the government has confirmed it is considering expanding the legal use of privately-owned e-scooters.
Bird, the firm behind Canterbury’s rental scheme, says its new model, called Bird Three, features “cobble-proof” pneumatic - or “self-healing” - tyres.
It also has a 63cm (25in) long footboard, a “beginner mode” for softer acceleration, and longer lasting batteries which are also safer to use.
The California-based company has also announced six new “nests” in the city from which the scooters can be rented. These are: Hales Drive, Tenterden Drive bus stop, Nethersole Close, Stephenson Road, Pine Tree Avenue/Birchwood Walk car park and Vauxhall Avenue/Sturry Road.
Although the e-scooter rental scheme in Canterbury is set to end in November, Kent County Council has confirmed the temporary traffic order for the trial will be made permanent - but has stressed the order can be cancelled at any time.
The order only applies to Bird e-scooters rented as part of the scheme, and they can only be used in the authorised area.
They are allowed to use the same road space as bicycles and are not permitted to travel on the pavement.
Whilst it remains illegal to use privately-owned e-scooters in public spaces, the government announced plans to expand their use as part of the Queen’s Speech.
A government spokesman said: "While riding a privately-owned e scooter on public land is currently illegal, we are considering how best to design future regulations and our Transport Bill will help us to take the steps we need to make e-scooters safer and support innovation.”
Bird’s general manager James Padden says this is fantastic news for the industry and the public as it will allow them to switch to greener transport options.
The company’s research shows since the trial began, one in five eligible Canterbury residents have ridden one of the scooters, and this year demand has increased fourfold.
While the vehicles are provided by Bird, KCC is responsible for hosting them on its network in the operational area and gathering the views of local people.
A Freedom of Information request carried out by the Local Democrary Reporting Service shows KCC has received 72 complaints since the scheme began in November 2020. The complaints ranged from anti-social riding, inappropriate parking, pavement riding, and perceived danger.
Mr Padden said: “There will be teething issues with a new mode of transport.
“This is brand new, and we’re all still getting used to it and the norms of it.
“Education around use is really key, and that’s something we’ve worked really hard on in Kent; we’ve engaged in lots of in-person training events, lots of work around encouraging different groups of users, and listened to how they want to use these features or what might be holding them back.
“We know that occasionally people have complained about seeing e-scooters on the pavement.
“We work immediately if we do get a report of an e-scooter on the pavement and de-register that user, if indeed they were a Bird user.”
Mr Padden - who used to work at the Department for Transport - also called on the government to invest more in cycling infrastructure to encourage more people to use green transport modes including bikes, e bikes, and e scooters.
Kent’s Police and Crime Commissioner Matthew Scott has previously called for all e scooters to be banned, and branded the government trial a “failure”.
Mr Padden said the trials which have been running across the country had been an “enormous success” and had produced data showing there has been a shift away from car use in those areas, which in turn contributed to better air quality.
He added: “For anyone who hasn’t had a go, hasn’t been to Canterbury, or didn’t feel like it was for them, I’d say at Bird, we’re absolutely focused on the goal of reducing reliance on combustion engine petrol and diesel-powered cars.
“That’s absolutely critical to everyone’s future and local environmental goals as well as the government’s environmental goals.”