Published: 06:00, 12 August 2020
| Updated: 10:53, 12 August 2020
A "transport revolution" could be on its way to Kent - as a council confirms it hopes to trial rental e-scooters on the county's streets.
As people are advised to avoid public transport in the wake of coronavirus, The Department for Transport has legalised trials of the two-wheeled electric vehicles, which would be permitted on roads and cycle lanes, but not on pavements.
Following successful roll-outs in cities such as Santa Monica, Paris and San Francisco, e-scooter sharing systems are growing in popularity.
On its consultation website, the government says e-scooter companies would work with local areas, to provide the vehicles on the street for hire.
"These allow people to unlock the e-scooter using an app, ride to their destination, park the e-scooter and pay in the app, usually priced by the length or duration of the journey," it adds.
Kent County Council has confirmed it has notified the Department for Transport (DfT) of its interest in launching an e-scooter trial in Canterbury, and that it plans to make a formal submission in the near future.
Fred Jones is UK head of TIER - one of Europe's largest e-scooter operators, which is among those hoping to take over the city's tender if the plans go ahead.
The firm already runs e-scooter rental schemes in about 70 cities across the continent.
Mr Jones, who previously headed up Uber's UK operation, says he feels Canterbury is well-suited to the burgeoning mode of transport.
"Canterbury's such a vibrant place - two universities, big tourist town, vibrant, local retail community - all the hallmarks that I think will make it embrace new and innovative technologies," he said.
"Short term, we need to reopen our economies and communities from lockdown, and naturally people are advised not to travel on public transport.
"This is a really important, safe, socially distanced way of helping people get around the city cheaply and easily."
Longer term he feels e-scooters, which run on a battery and electric motor, could help tackle the city's ongoing problems with congestion and pollution.
Figures published by the DfT in 2018 found the vast majority of journeys over a mile are made by car or van - with more than 60% of journeys covering just one or two miles made by motor vehicle.
"They can be a really important way of weaning people off cars, reducing congestion, and just making cities much more liveable," said Mr Jones.
If awarded a tender to run a trial in Canterbury, TIER would start with just a few scooters operating in a limited area of the city.
"But ultimately, if scooters could operate all around the main metropolitan and residential areas, it could be quite a few hundred scooters," said Mr Jones.
"Our prices typically are very similar to a bus ticket, or a bit cheaper if possible. If you're a regular commuter, it will be less than a monthly bus pass."
The scooters would operate at a maximum speed of 15.5mph, and may only be ridden by those aged 17 and above, who hold a provisional or full driving licence.
Some people have raised concerns over how safe the trials would be for both e-scooter users and pedestrians - particularly vulnerable members of society.
But Mr Jones says there are a number of measures in place designed to make the experience safe.
Each TIER bike comes with a foldable crash helmet, has a wide front wheel designed to reduce the risk posed by potholes and cobbles, and features a bell.
For new users, scooter speeds are capped for the first five minutes, to give them time to get used to the vehicle.
"We also provide you with important educational material how to use the scooter, and would be holding regular in-person training events," he added.
"With our technology we can make some areas of the city no-go, where scooters will slow to 3mph, and we can make some areas of the city slow zones. We can also create areas where you can't park."
Mr Jones says that although younger people are likely to be quicker to try them out, e-scooters can benefit people of all ages.
"We've seen they're very popular with professionals and key workers for commuting, particularly in this Covid world," he said.
"We've had people write into us who suffer from things like rheumatoid arthritis, saying the scooter has been a revelation for them because it's a really easy way to get around."
If successful, TIER would hire a local team of staff who would be on-hand to service the city's fleet.
"Our local team goes out and manages the scooters, parks them in the right way near train stations in the morning, or on university campuses to get to lectures, said Mr Jones. "We make sure the fleet is orderly.
"Our street team use e-cargo bikes, maybe an electric van, and all scooters have swappable batteries, so they can go out and swap them in situ.
"Our scooters also have a sensor in so if they fall over we know, and we can dispatch someone to go and pick them up."
Mr Jones says he feels the trial of e-scooters in Canterbury would signal a "fundamental shift" in the city's transport scene.
"I'd call it a transport revolution," he said. "It's about a modal shift away from private cars - something that's shared, sustainable, equitable, and fits in with public transport and the local economy.
"I wouldn't be surprised if in a few years' time, they're a fundamental way of getting around cities.
"In a couple of years, we'll be like 'why didn't we do this before"