There can be no doubt that Coventry wants electric scooters.
Residents have taken more than 7,500 rides on Voi e-scooters in just the first five days of the programme (10 to 14 September 2020 inclusive), adding up to a frankly astonishing 9,600 miles.
Can’t visualise that distance? Put it this way: end-to-end, those rides would traverse the length of Great Britain, from Land’s End to John O’Groats, more than 10 times.
With an 85% returning customer rate and average journey time of 20 minutes, the salmon-coloured scooters have morphed from novelty factor into a meaningful green transport mode virtually overnight.
And, thanks to its sustainability programme, every ride Voi users make is carbon neutral. Voi estimates Coventry riders have already helped save 353kg of carbon by using scooters instead of motor vehicles, which will have immediate benefits to local air quality.
“Coventry’s numbers are huge,” says Zag’s Oliver O’Brien. “The scale is probably bigger than both Voi and TfWM were expecting, despite the spike you’d expect following a new launch.”
Based on data Voi shared with us, each scooter in Coventry has averaged seven journeys every day. That’s nearly double London’s giant bike-share scheme.
“London Santander Cycles has around 9,000 bicycles and reported 1.17m trips in July,” says O’Brien. “That’s an average of 4.2 trips/bike/day. Edinburgh’s bike-share scheme has around 350 bicycles, which were used for 29,572 trips in July. That’s an average of 2.7 trips/bike/day. Voi’s e-scooter numbers in Coventry dwarf both of these established systems. We could genuinely be on the cusp of a transport revolution.”
Coventry’s trial is part of the mammoth West Midlands e-scooter trial programme and this early insight shows there is quite the appetite for scooters in the region.
And yet, Coventry City Council decided to suspend this extraordinary success story just five days after it began, citing safety concerns (despite no publicly-reported collisions). Why such a bonkers move?
“Coventry and Voi decided to temporarily pause the city’s trial e-scooter operation earlier this week, to allow us to evaluate the first few days of the service,” Voi’s UK general manager Richard Corbett told Zag, diplomatically. “In terms of numbers, the launch has been hugely successful but we are conscious that a few rogue riders are spoiling it for everyone. Safety is always our number one priority and we want to learn from our early findings. We will return very soon with more rider education and increased presence on the ground, so that we can continue an effective collaboration with the council and extend a more bespoke service to meet the city’s needs.”
There have been news reports of people riding on pavements and parking inconsiderately but no reports of actual collisions.
Voi is not hanging around in taking steps to convince the council to change its mind, however. Its most drastic action is to roll out licence plates, to help spot offending riders. It’s a magnanimous move by the micromobility company, given that no other scooter scheme in the country has called for them.
If councils decide this is what they’d like on all e-scooter trials (an easier decision for them to make given that it’s the operators who are having to put their hands in their pocket), how long before they require cyclists to carry plates too?
That’s not all. Voi is tweaking its geofencing technology to begin decelerating riders further away from designated slow zones and to incorporate more red zones (areas where scooter riders can’t go). This should help protect those parts of the cityscape even more.
In Coventry, Voi scooters cannot exceed 12.4mph. In contrast, it’s worth noting that cyclists and car drivers remain free to choose their own speeds, in any area, and whether or not to obey posted speed limits. A recent DfT report showed that 54% of drivers disregard 30mph limits.
Voi will also double its ambassador programme to provide more one-to-one instruction for riders. And the company is in discussions with police over how to improve enforcement, with the Swedish firm prepared to foot the bill.
The decisions by Coventy city officials to suspend the service and demand so much more of Voi raise some troubling questions about bias.
Councils holding the transit operator responsible for the behaviour of its customers is not something that bus, rail or bike-share companies have to contend with; neither are car manufacturers expected to pay the penalty when drivers kill or maim others while piloting their products.
Why are e-scooter operators being held to a different standard?
If Coventry officials really want to improve air quality, reduce road fatalities and create a more inclusive society, they must give e-scooters a fair tryout.
Update: in a statement provided to Zag, Coventry City Council said: “The trial has been introduced to identify the safest way that e-scooters can be used going forward so it’s right to pause the scheme if concerns are being raised. The initial take-up has been encouraging but we need to ensure that the safety of all people using the city centre is protected and that the e-scooters are used in the proper way, hence our decision to pause the pilot until systems are improved.”