Published: 19:00, 20 March 2022
| Updated: 19:35, 20 March 2022
As Kent's police chief Matthew Scott calls for "dangerous" e scooter trials to be halted, we take a look back at when KentOnline reporter Lydia Chantler-Hicks took one of the controversial two-wheelers for a spin in Canterbury city centre.
Here's how she got on...
Sleek, matte black and totally bereft of Barbie branding, the Bird vehicles are a far cry from the beloved little scooter I rode to school when I was six.
They are heavy and very sturdy-feeling and as I wheeled mine out from its parking bay, it struck me as bizarre that I – with no training whatsoever – had been allowed free reign of a vehicle I’ve never so much as touched before.
Keen to avoid embarrassing myself in front of the teenagers grouped nearby, I found a spot down an empty side-road to give it a try.
Pushing off with one foot, I pressed down on the throttle with my thumb and was shocked by its sudden burst of speed.
After a few lengths of the side-road, I headed to the city proper to give the escooter a spin around Burgate and St Peter’s Street.
The high street is a “no-ride” zone until 4pm but as it had reached 4.05pm I scooted from Mountain Warehouse towards St Dunstans.
The scooters are capped there at 7.5mph but there were few times when I felt confident going at full speed.
Although a relatively quiet afternoon, there were a fair number of shoppers and vehicles around and I frequently slowed to a stop to avoid people, or let cars go by.
Elsewhere in the city, the scooters travel at a maximum 15mph. That may feel like nothing in a car but standing on an electric scooter for the first time, it feels fast.
Bird does make it clear that you should wear a helmet when scooting.
With my bike in another city I didn't have one to hand and - probably naively - presumed one would be provided. But it was not.
I do wonder how many people are likely to wear helmets when using the e scooters, although they certainly should.
Not one of the other people I saw scooting on Tuesday was wearing one and asking people to carry their own helmet around seems a little at odds with the supposedly convenient, hop-on-hop-off nature of the scheme.
I stopped in Burgate for a short while to take photos, propping my scooter up on its kickstand.
To my horror, as I tried pushing it away again, it began emitting a shrill, incessant beeping sound.
The e scooter began beeping angrily
I tried troubleshooting the issue on the app but after clicking through the 'help' page to a section marked 'trouble with your ride', I was maddeningly met with 'The page you were looking for doesn't exist'.
After a flustered few minutes and plenty of raised eyebrows from passers-by, I realised the scooter had locked itself - presumably some kind of anti-theft mechanism - and managed to unlock it using the app.
I encountered a fair amount of scepticism as I scooted around the city.
The escooters are perfectly legal and I was riding mine by the book.
But I still got a lot of stares and glares from passers-by, who presumably disapproved of the trial or suspected I might be some kind of scooter hooligan.
A couple of people watched interestedly and asked ‘what’s it like?’ but one woman stopped me to pointedly outline in superlative terms why she thought the trial an “absolutely ridiculous” idea.
On a smooth surface, the e scooters ride beautifully. But the city’s cobbles and more uneven stretches of Tarmac make for a pretty bumpy ride and I did hop off at points.
The escooters are supposed to use the same spaces as bikes and are not allowed on pavements. But as the new kid on the block, motorists and cyclists don’t quite seem to know how to treat them.
When bikes approached, I too didn’t know what to do and sheepishly pulled over to let them zoom past.
The scooters also have no indicators, and don’t appear to have brake lights.
When cycling, it’s easy to just stick out an arm to signal where you’re going. But as an escooting novice navigating a bumpy road, I didn’t feel confident doing that.
After nearly an hour on the escooter, I did start to feel more comfortable with it.
But my confidence waned as I made my way up New Dover Road, hugging the kerb as I joined the stream of cars leaving the city.
The trial rules say escooters should “occupy the same road space as bikes” but I felt quite vulnerable scooting along at 15mph.
I said goodbye to my scooter by Barton Vets in New Dover Road, rather relieved.
Would I ride one again? Maybe. Perhaps if a friend was visiting and we needed to get from A to B.
Downloading the Bird app, scanning my driving licence and creating an account took all of about five minutes and it was easy enough to find an available scooter using the map.
But my ride was about an hour and 15 minutes long, and cost £14.87, so these definitely aren’t for just cruising around on all day.