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Canterbury e scooter trial a 'total disaster' and 'destined to fail'

A controversial electric scooter scheme that has been targeted by vandals and left residents "frightened" is destined to fail, a councillor believes.

The vehicles have been used across Canterbury since a Department for Transport pilot was launched last year.

Bird e scooters in Canterbury city centre
Bird e scooters in Canterbury city centre

However, 100 of the 200 machines have been pulled from service after a number were damaged - with several targeted by louts wielding an angle grinder.

During a meeting on Tuesday, city councillors called for the project to be scrapped as they believe it has sparked an explosion in the use of privately-owned and illegal scooters.

Conservative Neil Baker told the committee: "I can understand the reason behind it, to get cars with small journeys off the road, but by doing it when no one is enforcing illegal scooters, it has mixed up the idea of the trial in people’s minds.

“Every part of the county I’ve been in, you don’t have to go for long to see someone on an e scooter illegally where they shouldn’t be.

“I think this e-scooter trial is destined to fail because the people who want them to succeed are going to struggle to convince people to block out the issues with the illegal scooters.

"They should be enforced at source. They're being sold in the likes of Halfords and other shops with the bare minimum wording at the point of sale letting people know they can only be used on private land with the landlord's consent."

Tankerton councillor Neil Baker
Tankerton councillor Neil Baker

Cllr Baker said the e scooters, owned by company Bird, are an "absolute menace".

"I think we need to have a serious think whether we need to turn around and use what influence we have to pull the plug and say 'look, Bird, thanks for now, but no thanks'," he added.

The vehicles are illegal to ride in public areas unless rented as part of government-backed trials, like Bird's.

The scheme was initially launched by Kent County Council (KCC) for use between the University of Kent and Canterbury Christ Church University, before further routes were added.

In June, student Joshua Mpia, 19, pleaded guilty to dangerous driving after crashing a privately-owned electric scooter into mum-of-three Pauline Lilford.

Mrs Lilford, 58, suffered two broken limbs during the incident along the pavement of St Thomas Hill in Canterbury last year.

Pauline Lilford was badly injured when she was hit by an e scooter in Canterbury. Picture: Mike Lilford
Pauline Lilford was badly injured when she was hit by an e scooter in Canterbury. Picture: Mike Lilford

Agreeing with Cllr Baker, Cllr Ashley Clark called for the programme to be "kicked well and truly into the long grass".

“Trial is what some people would call it, others would call it a cluster... I won’t finish the rest of that sentence," the Tory said.

“All it's served to do is put out total mixed messages. I've looked online [at private scooters] and you really have to look at the small print to see you can't use them.

"We’ve had crashes, including a lady with broken legs as a result, and if there is a villain of the piece it is the government.

“In their plunge to find the holy grail of green transportation they’ve dived into this without lining their ducks up in the water before they shoot.

"This has gone off half-cocked, it's not been thought through, there's mixed messages, and it's created danger and genuine fear among people on footpaths, particularly those who are vulnerable."

Gorrell councillor Valerie Kenny. Picture: Chris Cornell
Gorrell councillor Valerie Kenny. Picture: Chris Cornell

Heron councillor Andrew Cook (Con) also labelled the situation "a total disaster", adding that "sooner or later, someone's going to get killed".

While most committee members agreed issues with privately-owned e scooters needed to be addressed, Labour's Val Kenny did not want the scheme to be removed entirely.

“I actually looked forward to these e scooters being introduced because I think that trying to solve short journeys in our towns and cities is something we need to do," she explained.

“However, I agree with everyone here, the messaging has become so mixed up, that nobody understands how to use them. The legality isn’t there, the framework isn’t there and we have residents who are quite frightened of them.

“I think the whole system needs a review of how we can introduce them and use them far more safely with more communication about who can use them, why, what the legality is. Whether we can do that or not I don’t know.

“I would be very sad to see them go completely because I think it is a valuable step forward, but one that certainly needs reviewing."

In all, Bird has received 72 complaints about the pilot.

The government has offered KCC the chance to extend the trial from its originally scheduled end date of November 1 to March 31 next year, following difficulties "in the ability to collect data during the periods of lockdown".

The county council says it is currently assessing the merits of doing so.

Bird has been contacted for comment.

Additional reporting by Jack Dyson

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