Year-long trial kicks off following deal with Swedish e-scooter operator Voi
A 12-month trial will see up to 10,000 e-scooters arrive in the West Midlands, as local transport leaders look to cut car journeys and air pollution in the wake of the coronavirus crisis.
Starting next week, the e-scooters - operated by Swedish company Voi - will be available in Birmingham and Coventry city centres. Each centre will begin with 200 e-scooters before the trial expands. Sandwell, Solihull, Walsall, Wolverhampton, and Warwickshire are all in line to benefit from the scheme, which is backed by Transport for West Midlands (TfWM).
Advocate of e-scooters argue that the technology can have a key role to play in cutting congestion, air pollution, and carbon emissions, especially at a time when commuters are being advised not to crowd onto public transport in order to minimise the spread of the coronavirus. However, the technology has also faced criticism from some quarters, sparking accusations that the scooters pose a safety risk, can lead to street clutter, and tend to replace active travel options, such as bicycles and walking, as much as cars.
"In the UK, 60 per cent of car journeys are between one and three miles, which significantly increases congestion," said Lucy Yu, Voi's director of public policy. "Cars no longer suit the way we live today, and we estimate that 20 per cent of short journeys could be replaced by low-carbon e-scooters with a minimum five-year lifespan."
Voi already operates in 45 cities across 11 countries, including Bordeaux, Stockholm, and Berlin.
Cabinet member for Transport and the Environment at Birmingham City Council, Cllr Waseem Zaffar, said he was "delighted" by the e-scooters' arrival to the region.
"This provides the public with yet another green alternative to private cars, supporting social distancing but also helping to reduce pollution levels and improve air quality," he said. "Working with our partners, we have managed to turn this project around really quickly and made sure that safety is absolutely paramount. I hope the people of Birmingham will embrace this new, environmentally-friendly way of getting around our city."
The e-scooters will cost £1 to unlock and a further 20p per minute to ride, with reduced rates for NHS workers, students and those on low incomes. An unlimited rides pass will be available for £40 per month.
Requirements for the trial include a maximum speed of 15.5 mph on roads a lower speed limit of 5mph in pedestrianised areas. While users are recommended to use cycle routes where possible, E-scooters are allowed on any road with a speed limit of 30 mph or less.
To maximise safety, Voi says it has "gone over and above" government requirements on age limits, insurance and rider verification. An online school - #RideLikeViola - has also been made available to users in the West Midlands. Users will need a full or provisional driving license to unlock the e-scooters.
To ensure the trial meets Covid-19 health and safety standards, Voi has added Shieldex Copper-Tape to the handlebars of its e-scooters, which kill 99.98 per cent of coronavirus on contact, while all e-scooters will be disinfected every 24 hours.
Andy Street, Mayor of the West Midlands, welcomed the launch of the trial. "E-scooters will help bring more flexibility, choice, and greener travel solutions for the West Midlands, at a time when we are facing a climate emergency and urging people to leave the car at home," he said.
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