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E scooter trial in Canterbury to end after two years

Electric scooters will soon vanish from Kent's streets as a decision has been taken to end a controversial trial of the divisive vehicles.

The pilot scheme launched in Canterbury in November 2020 for an initial 12-month period but, despite public safety fears and a pedestrian being knocked down, has twice been extended.

Bird launched the trial scheme in Canterbury in November 2020
Bird launched the trial scheme in Canterbury in November 2020

However, Kent County Council has now rejected an offer from the Department for Transport to continue the trial until May 2024 - well beyond its current end date of November 30 this year.

It will instead be scaled back ahead of the pilot concluding, with the number of scooters and designated routes reduced.

The politician overseeing the trial - KCC's cabinet member for transport, Cllr David Brazier - says he decided to "truncate it before someone was seriously hurt”.

He told county councillors at a cross-party committee that e-scooter users had been riding routes not permitted by the official pilot, which is operated by Bird.

“You cannot legislate against people who will agree to use something in a certain way and then suit themselves," he said.

"I tended to favour the trial going on, but it was quite obvious now accidents could have been worse than they were.

Sarah Carter recovering at home after being struck by an e-scooter in Canterbury
Sarah Carter recovering at home after being struck by an e-scooter in Canterbury

"As we were nearing the end of the trial, I decided to truncate it before someone was seriously hurt.

“Recently an elderly lady was quite seriously injured by one being ridden on a pedestrian area which was not allowed.”

In July, 80-year-old Sarah Carter suffered a broken wrist, cracked jaw and broken cheekbone after she was struck by a Bird e-scooter being ridden on a pavement in Station Road West, Canterbury.

The retired university librarian described the vehicles as "lethal", adding: "Another elderly person could have quite easily been even more seriously injured or even killed."

A spokesperson for Bird says the young man riding the scooter was immediately identified and blocked from using the service.

But fears of further accidents remained and for many outweighed the environmental benefits of the electric vehicles.

It means from December 1 there will be no legally ridden e-scooters on Kent's streets, as they are only permitted on public highways as part of government-approved trials.

It is understood the Canterbury pilot could now be reduced to a single route before November 30.

Cllr Brazier told Thursday's meeting: "The agreement reached by officers was the area of operation should immediately be limited to the corridor between the university and the city centre.

"I believe that further reductions have taken place since then.”

Operator Bird launched the trial initially for students to travel between Canterbury's universities and the city centre, where air pollution exceeds three World Health Organisation limits, according to Imperial University’s Air Quality Report.

The trial zone was later increased and opened to all eligible riders in March last year, when it was extended for a second time, with KentOnline testing out the vehicles.

Reporter Lydia Chantler-Hicks previously tried out an e-scooter in Canterbury
Reporter Lydia Chantler-Hicks previously tried out an e-scooter in Canterbury

Opinion on the scheme has been split, with supporters saying it cuts pollution, and others arguing the scooters are dangerous to pedestrians.

While there have been many complaints, Cllr Brazier described Bird as "competent and professional people" who have "taken many steps to ensure the safety of their contractors and the public at large".

A KCC spokesman has confirmed the trial will end in November.

"KCC and our operating partner, Bird, are continuing to collect valuable data through the Canterbury electric scooter trial to share with the Department for Transport," they said.

“In recent months Bird, working to deliver this trial for KCC, has introduced enhanced safety measures including a reduction of the electric scooter speeds from 15mph to 12mph. Additionally, they increased Birdwatchers to patrol the city for pavement riding and changed their rider policy to introduce an immediate ban for any misdemeanour."

“KCC has decided to gradually reduce the number of vehicles in the trial, as well as the areas in which they operate, ahead of the trial finishing in Kent at the end of November."

Cllr David Brazier, KCC's cabinet member for transport
Cllr David Brazier, KCC's cabinet member for transport

A spokeswoman for Bird says the firm is "clearly very disappointed with this decision".

"At Bird we pride ourselves on always being at the forefront of enhanced safety and innovation, whether that be through our industry-leading vehicles and technology, safety events and parking patrols organised in close collaboration with the city, the police and our partners," she said.

"We have an incredibly low incident rate of 0.0014% out of almost 67,000 rides since we launched in 2020, and one in five eligible Canterbury riders have used our vehicles, opting for sustainable travel and ditching petrol-powered trips.

"We will continue to provide our eco-friendly and convenient vehicles for Canterbury residents until the end of November."

Data from the trial will be passed to the DfT, along with that from 29 other government-approved trials,

When the pilots end in May 2024, the government is expected to make a decision on whether or not to approve the use of e-scooters on public highways in the UK.

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