Chelmsford e-scooter trial raises concerns for blind pedestrians

Chelmsford City Council is set to endorse plans to roll out an e-scooter trial in the city – but there are concerns over the safety of blind pedestrians.

Department for Transport (DfT) e-scooter trials are already operating around the country, such as in York, Liverpool, Norwich, Cambridge and Milton Keynes where notably 65 per cent of e-scooter journeys would have ordinarily been taken by car.

But ahead of an anticipated trial launch in Chelmsford, Peter Blackman said he wanted assurances that the scooters will not be a danger to visually impaired people.

Mr Blackman, who is a guide dog walker and speaker, and whose wife is registered visually impaired, asked what had been done to ensure the safety of more than 6,000 people in Chelmsford known to be visually impaired.

“What such consultations has Chelmsford City Council had and what such consultations does it require Spin to take?

“What safeguards will Chelmsford City Council ensure are in place to make sure no visually impaired  people are endangered by any scooter trial before it is permitted to start?” the chairman of South Woodham Ferrers Health & Social Care Group asked.

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 away 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.

The scooters will cut out if they are ridden on restricted streets.

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.

Tracy Vickers, head of sustainable transport at Essex County Council, said: “The trial has to end in October 2021 and timing was critical for the trial to get enough information to see if the scheme was a success or not. One of the six trials should be launched before Christmas and the other soon after.

“We will work with the access groups and vision impairments groups to make sure we do everything we can to avoid street clutter, make sure the users are well trained in responsible driving and how to take into consideration the needs of other road users and pedestrians.”

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Piers Meyler

Local Democracy Reporter