Chelmsford Council set to endorse e-scooter trials

Chelmsford City Council is set to endorse plans to roll out an e-scooter trial in the city.

Department for Transport (DfT) e-scooter trials are already operating around the country, such as in York, Liverpool, Norwich, Cambridge and Milton Keynes.

The government is fast-tracking and expanding a series of pilots in response to the coronavirus pandemic to help ease the burden on transport networks and allow for social distancing.

But a trial, lasting up to 12 months, will not be launched in Essex until at least December 2021, subject to Essex County Council (ECC) looking into the implications of Covid-19 restrictions.

Ultimately though the objective is to deliver high-quality e-scooters to help ECC meet its net zero targets by 2050, by providing “first and last mile” travel options, targeted primarily at commuters, as well as offering “Park & Scoot” options and encouraging people to move way from car dependency to reduce congestion and pollution.

It is proposed to trial a short-term public hire system within Chelmsford city centre and its urban area with 50 Ford Spin scooters to be hired per minute, or via passes by the day or week 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

The number of scooters could eventually double depending on uptake.

The e-scooters could be ridden on cycle paths and roads of less than 30mph, although not on pavements.

Riders would need to be over 18 years old and hold a provisional or full driving licence.

E-scooter users would be required to complete and pass safety training.

Spin’s e-scooters are bright orange and easily distinguished from ‘personal’ scooters which are typically black, and which would remain illegal throughout the trial.

Scooters hired in Chelmsford would only be allowed for use there and could be geo-fenced to set ‘no go’ zones such as  Chelmsford High Street, or ‘go slow’ zones in busy pedestrian locations.

Chelmsford Council admits it has no effective powers to manage anti-social behaviour caused by the use of e-scooters, although councillors would probably be the first point of contact for concerned residents.

The DfT approved ECC’s proposals, which include trial centres in Basildon, Braintree, Brentwood, Chelmsford, Clacton-on-Sea and Colchester, but no legal dispensation will be granted until schemes and start dates have been agreed and finalised. If the DfT does not grant this, Essex will not become a pilot area, and all scooter use in Essex will remain illegal unless the law changes.

A statement to cabinet next week said: “There is no obligation for Chelmsford City Council to participate in the trial, although it would have the opportunity to shape and refine its implementation.

“Officers consider that a carefully delivered 12-month trial could provide an opportunity to promote sustainable travel options, particularly for short trips and commuting, reduce traffic congestion and cut carbon emissions. It could also benefit Chelmsford while social distancing is in place on public transport.”

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Piers Meyler

Local Democracy Reporter