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Canterbury e-scooter trial: Labour councillor Dave Wilson criticises scheme

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With a trial of electric scooters now underway in Canterbury , Cllr Dave Wilson (Lab) questions the motivation behind the controversial scheme...

We are about to be plagued by e-scooters. You may already have encountered these, of course, barrelling along the pavement at 15mph, weaving in and out of cars: silent, uninsured and, it has to be said, illegal.

The Bird electric scooters at the University of Kent. Picture: Bird
The Bird electric scooters at the University of Kent. Picture: Bird

Now, thanks to Canterbury City Council and KCC, a legal trial of these scooters is now underway, running between the Kent and Christ Church university campuses.

To be fair, the company running the scheme, Bird, has a good product. Fully insured, with lights, tightly constrained to a very specific route with speeds limited from place to place, and restricted to adults with a driving licence, it might be that this is as safe a trial as it is possible to have. But that doesn’t mean it’s a good idea.

The argument is that this will reduce car movements between the two universities, although since no one knows how many such journeys there are, this may well be a problem which doesn’t exist. Nor is it entirely obvious that any lecturers or students who do travel between the sites will choose a longish scooter ride exposed to the elements, for which privilege they will have to pay a £1 fixed charge plus 19p a minute, over using the car or bus.

Of course, no one has asked the residents who live or walk along the proposed route whether they want to be faced with the risk of death by e-scooter.

Still, the district’s very own tech-loving whizz kid, council leader Ben Fitter-Harding, a man who doesn’t let trivial issues like facts sully his enthusiasm for imposing solutions no one asked for to problems that don’t exist, is all for it - which is, it seems, all that matters.

Yet if we really want to take cars off the road and provide an alternative that residents might actually use, why has this scheme been allowed? Why not link up London Road estate or Spring Lane with the city centre? Why not run it from a park and ride site? Why not make existing e-scooters legal?

The answer, of course, is money. This trial is a commercial dry run, not a public service. Bird want to know if demand for the service exists. They want to make a profit. So they had to convince the authorities to let them play on our pavements, park footpaths and roads - the route meanders across all these at different points - to test the concept.

Canterbury city councillor Dave Wilson
Canterbury city councillor Dave Wilson

They need customers who can afford their charges, who may not be those who need transport but can’t pay £6 plus to get into the city and home again.

They certainly don’t want to invest money in creating safe routes for their scooters to use, separate from pedestrians and traffic.

This is why I object to the scheme. It’s not that it’s a wholly bad idea: but if we are serious about getting people out of their cars then we need to make a commitment to doing it properly. While it’s a truism that expanding roads creates more traffic, we never seem to think that building more bike lanes will have the same impact on cycle usage.

That means money being spent on dedicated bike and scooter paths. It means creating the capacity to safely accommodate things travelling at up to 15mph, with proper road crossings, lighting and signage. It means picking routes that people actually want to use, not between sites that no one actually travels.

It means thinking long-term, and for public good, not private gain. Which, as we’re regularly seeing, seems to be something beyond our council.

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