Roll-out of e-scooter trial in the Stokes sparks confusion and controversy

Photo of a row of Voi scooters.
E-scooters parked in a row on Brook Way, Bradley Stoke.

Residents of the Stokes are now able to hire ‘hop-on, hop-off’ e-scooters after a trial scheme established in Bristol city centre in October 2020 was expanded to cover Bradley Stoke, Stoke Gifford and Filton.
Clusters of coral-coloured e-scooters began appearing at MetroBus stops and other key locations in the area on Friday 12th February 2021.

The first few weeks of the scheme have seen significant numbers of people hiring the scooters but also a steady flow of (mostly) negative comments on social media. There have also been critical comments from local councillors peeved at not being consulted prior to the start of the trial.

Concerns raised have related to under-age riding, anti-social and dangerous riding, inconsiderate parking, confusion over where the e-scooters are permitted to be ridden and the clarity of hire charges and penalties.

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As previously reported, the scheme forms part of a government initiative to support a ‘green’ restart of local travel and help mitigate reduced public transport capacity during the coronavirus emergency. It is being led locally by the West of England Combined Authority (Weca) which has signed a deal with e-scooter provider Voi Technology Ltd, Europe’s fastest growing micro-mobility operator.

The trial’s expansion has seen the number of scooters available increased to 400 in Bristol and 200 in South Gloucestershire.

The trial e-scooters can be rented by anyone over 18 with a full or provisional driving licence. Within the designated geographical area the vehicles may be used on roads, cycle lanes and designated cycle paths (including shared-use paths) but not on regular pavements.

In line with the Department for Transport’s guidance, Weca recommends wearing a cycle helmet when using an e-scooter, but their use is not mandatory.

Hiring a scooter on a casual basis costs 99p to unlock the vehicle and thereafter 14p per minute. There are also a variety of subscriptions available,

including a day pass for £4.99 and a monthly pass for £34.99. With these passes, the first 45 minutes of every ride are free (anything beyond this is charged).

Third-party insurance cover is included within the hire charge.

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To hire an e-scooter, users need to first download the ‘VOI Scooters: Get Magic Wheels’ app onto their smartphone, register with the service and add a payment method (credit/debit card or Paypal). They can then locate an available e-scooter using the map function within the app.

Once at the e-scooter’s location, the hirer uses the smartphone app to scan the QR code on the vehicle’s handlebars or footpad to ‘unlock’ it and commence the hire period.

The Voi e-scooters use geofencing technology to limit access to some places, such as parks, nature reserves and play areas. Geofencing uses GPS technology to restrict use or limit the speed of e-scooters within geographically defined zones.

The maximum speed achieved by the scooters is between 10 and 15.5mph (the legal maximum).

At the end of a ride, the e-scooter must be ‘parked’ in one of the approved ‘parking spots’ shown on the map within the smartphone app. Although these spots are described in the app as a “good” place to park (suggesting that other places might also be acceptable), within the Weca trial area parking at these spots is mandatory and users are unable to end their hire at other locations.

Riders are required to take a photo of their scooter as part of the hire-termination process and are warned that “improper” parking may result in a £25 fine.

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Notwithstanding these rules and procedures, social media is awash with complaints about “abandoned”, “dumped” and inconsiderately parked e-scooters. Investigation by the Journal suggests that e-scooters abandoned far away from the mandatory parking spots are likely to be a consequence of the vehicle running out of power (i.e. low battery level).

Safety measures to protect riders against Covid-19 include equipping all handlebars with anti-bacterial tape and ensuring the vehicles are regularly disinfected.

Personal e-scooters, outside of the trial, remain illegal except when used on private land with the permission of the landowner.

Photo of Voi e-scooters blocking a path.
Voi e-scooters blocking a path between Sherbourne Avenue and Baileys Court Road.

The photo above was tweeted by Neil Curry (@NeilSKN) on the second day of the trial.

Neil tweeted:

“@voitechnology your scooters have been left in a dangerous spot by your employees in Bradley Stoke on Baileys Court Road. On Fri 12th there was one scooter today (13th) there are all these blocking the pathway preventing mobility scooter and pram users.”

Voi’s reply:

“Thank you for bringing this to our attention and I deeply apologize on the behalf of our hunters. I’ve just reported these scooters to the responsible team and they’ll be taken care of as soon as possible.”

Readers’ comments on the Journal’s Facebook page

RB: I’ve only seen children using them on the pavement, too young to have a licence, seen dads passing them over to their kids to use and leave them to it. Like the idea, but assuming all people are responsible is a mistake.

AD: Dreadful idea. These are being trialled in the wrong area, they won’t stop anyone driving, and the only people I’ve seen using them are young people who are enjoying the ‘gadget’ syndrome. They are an eyesore, inappropriately left anywhere, and are not needed.

CO: They are located by bus stops, the leisure centre and Willow Brook etc. If you get off a bus and use one to get home, who returns it?

MS: Used these a few times now here and abroad, they’re great for short journeys where using the car doesn’t seem worth it (like for driving less than a mile etc.), definitely worth it.

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Comments made by councillors

From the draft minutes of a meeting of Bradley Stoke Town Council’s Planning Committee on 24th February 2021.

  • There was no consultation with the town council before the scooters were installed. The first that was known, was when social media posts were seen once the scooters had arrived. If councillors had been consulted before the scooters were introduced, suitable locations for the scooters could have been identified.
  • Scooters are being left/abandoned by people in unsuitable/dangerous locations which are obstructing public footpaths/pavements causing hazards to footpath users.
  • Proper parking bays/cycle racks need to be installed for the scooters
  • All scooters need to be collected at night and relocated to the correct places. This is not necessarily happening at the moment.
  • Scooters should only be used on shared-use paths (not pavements) and on the roads – this is not happening. There is clear evidence of them being used on pavements and people observed scooting down the middle of roads, sometimes with more than one individual on a scooter.
  • No enforcement of usage is being carried out – if this scheme is to continue, Weca/SGC need to fund the local police to be able to address this issue. Apparently, police do have concerns about the usage, but are apparently not in a position to be able to act on these concerns.
  • The introduction of the scooters is ill-timed given the current Covid-19 pandemic and the restrictions in place for everyone.
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Enforcement, incident reporting and agreed actions

All Voi e-scooters have number plates displaying a four-character registration mark. As part of its operating licence, Voi has committed to deploying ‘ambassadors’ on the streets to enforce safe behaviour.

The ambassadors are required to work with the police to restrict or ban non-compliant users.

When reporting incidents (see contact details below), members of the public are requested to include the registration mark and ideally provide photographic evidence.

Following a videoconference called by South Gloucestershire Council on 25th February to address concerns raised during the first days of the trial, the following actions were agreed:

  • The travelwest.info and Voi websites should be improved to make organisational contact details more prominent and facilitate better triaging of comments and feedback to the relevant organisation.
  • A mechanism to upload photos and videos should be provided
  • Better communication within the community regarding future expansion/changes
  • Discussions with Voi to improve parking compliance through enhanced incentives (in-app and on-street)
  • Discussions between Voi and South Gloucestershire Council to trial on-street markings to improve parking compliance
  • Increased ambassador presence in Cheswick Village, Bradley Stoke and Stoke Gifford.
  • Ongoing liaison with Avon and Somerset Police about possible increased activity in the area

How to report issues

Voi’s support channels for the general public to report incorrectly parked scooters or for any other questions or concerns are:

General feedback about the Weca trial should be directed to: escootertrial@westofengland-ca.gov.uk

This article originally appeared in the March/April 2021 issue of the Bradley Stoke Journal magazine (on pages 4 & 5). The magazine is delivered FREE, nine times a year, to ALL 8,700 homes in Bradley Stoke. Phone 01454 300 400 to enquire about advertising or leaflet insertion.


Addendum 1: Voi responses

We asked Voi Technology to comment on a number of issues raised by our readers. The questions from Journal editor Stephen Horton and the responses received from Voi (in italics) are shown below. Unfortunately there was insufficient space to include these in the March/April magazine article.

Under-age riding

The Voi smartphone app sign-up and first-hire procedure requires a driving licence to be scanned and a selfie of the hirer to be uploaded. However, this is being blatantly side-stepped by parents and/or other adults completing the sign-up process and then allowing children to ride the e-scooters, sometimes accompanied.

What steps are you taking to address this and, in cases where under-age riding has been reported, will you liaise with the police to identify the adult who has signed up for the e-scooter being ridden and take action against them?

At Voi, we work closely with the local police to ensure the overall safety of the trial.

If a rider is using our scooter, and we verify that he is underage, either via our local ambassadors, who monitor the e-scooter activity or through a police report, we will block the account and the user won’t be able to use our service anymore. 

In situations where the age can’t be verified either by Voi or the police, such as via a public report, the user will receive a ‘strike’ – strikes are warnings that we give our users for not complying with the e-scooter usage recommendations. If a user reaches three strikes, their account is blocked, and they won’t be able to use the service anymore. 

Unclear guidance regarding charges

Users signing up for the day pass have complained of being stung by very high unexpected additional charges (fines) for exceeding the time limit for a single ride. I have checked the Voi app and verified that these charges aren’t specifically listed during the day pass purchase process. Are you doing anything to improve this?

As stated in our terms of service, while using a Voi pass, if the ride is not ended within 45 minutes, users will be charged for the exceeding time in accordance with the pricing on a pay per ride basis. 

In our app, if you click on the menu and then scroll down to the Voi pass you can find information and a short Q&A about the Voi pass, including a notification saying that the 45 minutes of every ride are always free. We are currently reviewing this section of the app to ensure the information provided is clear. An updated version will be released shortly.

Dangerous riding on roads

There have been local reports of Voi e-scooters being ridden in groups across the whole width of the road, on the wrong side of the road (risking head-on collisions) and going the wrong way around major roundabouts.

In cases where dangerous riding has been reported, will you liaise with police to identify the probable riders based on GPS tracking data and ban them from future hiring?

Safety remains the top priority for e-scooter usage. Regulations allow e-scooters in the official trials to use the same road spaces as bikes, including cycle lanes. A trial e-scooter may be used on the road (except motorways) and in cycle lanes within the approved trial geographical area. Riding on pavements and in no-ride zones identified on the app is prohibited. 

Voi employs various measures to identify misuse and block users who do not comply with the e-scooter guidelines and regulations. We also work closely with the local police. For instance, we collaborate with them to identify non-compliant riders, so the police can take appropriate action.

Unclear guidance regarding parking of e-scooters

In our area, there have been many complaints about the inconsiderate parking of Voi scooters.

There is contradictory information about the rules for parking across various Voi media (website / app). Section 2 of the website FAQ states: “Vois can be parked almost anywhere within our Operational Area (inside the red geofence on the map).” Also: “We also have Great Parking Spots highlighted in green on the map! Park scooters in one of these areas and a small bonus will be coming your way!” The app also talks about “good parking areas” shown in blue. Use of the word “good” (rather than, for example, “mandatory”) implies that other areas would be acceptable (but not ideal) to park in.

However, in the videoconference on 25th February it was stated that the blue zones are mandatory and riders are unable to terminate their ride if they are not in a blue zone. How exactly is this achieved?

Do you agree that this needs to be made clearer and, if so, how do you propose to do this and how soon?

We would like to highlight that the information in the app is provided to all our users across the UK; it is not specific to the Weca region. Voi operates in many other cities (currently, we are present in 14 cities in the UK), and in some of these areas, we don’t have mandatory parking zones. That is why we use the description ‘good’ instead of mandatory or obligatory – we need to ensure the language resonates with users in all regions. Nonetheless, we continuously listen to our users and the local community and regularly improve the information provided in-app and on our website to ensure the information provided is clear.

Currently, information on parking can also be found on our website:

How do I park my Voi?

and one of our recent blogs:

A Voi e-scooter guide to parking

Parking of e-scooters: In practice

Notwithstanding the above, I have observed plenty of e-scooters within our area that are definitely NOT parked in the blue zones shown in the app. How can this be explained? What is going wrong?

Safety is a top priority for Voi, and we take a three-pronged approach to safety:

Education – We incentivise and reward our users for completing the first online digital traffic school – RideLikeVoila – and provide our users with regular safety in-app updates. Please visit our safety page for additional information on our educational efforts: www.voiscooters.com/safety/ 

Operations – We introduced number plates on our scooters so they can easily be identified and reported. In addition, we deploy ambassadors on the ground to monitor e-scooter activity. We have various measures in place to identify misuse and users can be blocked from using the service if they do not comply with the e-scooter guidelines and recommendations. 

Technology – We use geofencing technology to create no ride, slow ride, mandatory parking and no parking zones to ensure rider and other road users safety.

As with any new service, there are always small adjustments that need to be done. At Voi, we work closely with the regional transport authority, Weca, to understand user behaviour and make any necessary adjustments to the service as the trial progresses. This includes refining or geofenced areas, such as mandatory parking zones, to ensure the scooters are parked correctly and without causing a nuisance.

Overall, our goal is to provide the safest and best possible experience for our users and the overall community.


Addendum 2: Police responses

Similarly, we asked Avon and Somerset Police to comment on a number of issues raised by local councillors and our readers. The questions from Journal editor Stephen Horton and the responses received from the police (in italics) are shown below. Unfortunately there was insufficient space to include these in the March/April magazine article.

Enforcement and funding

Speaking at a meeting of Bradley Stoke Town Council’s Planning Committee on 24th February, Cllr Keith Cranney said (of issues related to the Voi trial): “The police are saying they do not have the funds and they are not going to apply for funds to enforce this.” Can you provide a comment on any such issues linking enforcement and funding?

The police response to any incident is prioritised according to an assessment of threat, harm and risk, with the focus on protecting the most vulnerable in our communities. This determines how our resources are allocated (regardless of funding available).

Under-age riding

Can you confirm that this is considered an offence?

The Voi smartphone app sign-up and first-hire procedure requires a driving licence to be scanned and a selfie of the hirer to be uploaded. However, this is being blatantly side-stepped by parents and/or other adults completing the sign-up process and then allowing children to ride the e-scooters, sometimes accompanied.

Is this an issue that the police would take action on? What proactive actions (if any) are being taken by the police? Will the police liaise with Voi to identify the adult who has signed up for the e-scooter being ridden and take action against them? How should members of the public suspecting an offence of this type report it? What response should they expect from the police?

The law relating to e-scooters is the same as motor vehicles, therefore, under-age riding is considered an offence.

Anyone with concerns that an offence is being committed can make a report to police on 101 or via our website. A threat, harm and risk analysis will determine the priority all reports are given. However, we’d encourage anyone with concerns about underage riders to report them to Voi in the first instance. Police will look to Voi to address the issue by revoking the agreement with the registered adult user before taking further enforcement action.

Potential enforcement action that could be taken: In cases where a driving licence is not held, an under-age rider could be reported for driving without a licence, as well as driving without insurance. It is possible for penalty points to be awarded where a licence isn’t held – these come into effect when a driving licence is later acquired. We are keen for young people to be aware of this, as it can have an impact on obtaining car insurance as a new driver.

Dangerous riding / inconsiderate parking

Riding on pavements/ Dangerous riding on roads/ Parked e-scooters obstructing footpaths.

For each of these, can you confirm that this is considered an offence? Is this an issue that the police would take action on? What proactive actions (if any) are being taken by the police? How should members of the public suspecting an offence of this type report it? What response should they expect from the police?

Once again, the law relating to e-scooters is the same as motor vehicles, so all of the above would likely constitute a traffic offence. Anyone with concerns that an offence is being committed can make a report to police on 101 or via our website. A threat, harm and risk analysis will determine the priority all reports are given.

However, anyone using a trial e-scooter signs a user agreement with Voi and we’d expect this to be enforced by Voi – and revoked where the agreement isn’t adhered to. Therefore we’d encourage anyone with concerns to report them to Voi in the first instance.

Our policing response is to engage, explain and encourage members of the public to comply with the law, but enforcement, such as a fixed penalty notice, remains an option for people who persistently flout the law or where an offence is considered to be causing a serious danger to others.

In cases where enforcement action is taken, it is likely police will work with Voi to obtain evidence relating to a suspected offence, and any evidence submitted by a member of the public such as dashcam footage would also be taken into consideration.

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