The year-long trial of electric scooters in the county is due to come to an end this month – and although they may be a handy way to get around for some town visitors misuse of the machines has become a concern for others.
E-scooters have become a common site parked up on pavements in Stafford and Newcastle as part of a national pilot scheme.
Residents and visitors who need to take shorter journeys within the two towns are being encouraged to rent one of the fleet of more than 150 e-scooters for their brief trip instead of using their car.
The scheme aims to reduce emissions and congestion on urban roads and is being run locally by Staffordshire County Council, transport partner Amey and e-scooter providers Ginger in Stafford and Zwings in Newcastle.
Users have to download an app before they can take an e-scooter for a spin and they must be aged at least 16 in Newcastle or 18 in Stafford and hold a provisional or full driving or motorcycle licence.
Since the scheme launched in Staffordshire in September 2020 thousands of e-scooter rides have been taken – with one intrepid user travelling 23.6 miles (38km) on their journey.
However, the vehicles have not proved a hit with everyone and it remains illegal to ride a privately-owned e-scooter on a public highway.
County Councillor Mark Winnington, who represents Gnosall and Doxey, asked at a recent meeting what measures were in place to control e-scooter usage.
He said: “While I totally support projects that are designed to counter climate change, I am becoming increasingly concerned about the misuse of electric scooters across the county. I have had many communications from residents who have seen younger people riding these scooters in an unsafe way.
“Could I ask the cabinet member what controls are in place to register those scooters that are under the county-supported scheme? I would also like to know if driving licences are being checked?
“In terms of Staffordshire County Council’s input who enforces the measures and is Staffordshire County Council liable if someone does get hurt? Who is the accountable person or organisation on this?
“I have had a lot of residents very concerned about the misuse of electric scooters. I see they are registered to 12mph but if one hits you at 12mph it could damage people.”
Councillor David Williams, cabinet member for highways and transport, responded: “The problem that we might have with these scooters is that many of them out there are illegal ones and not the ones in the trial. They are able to be bought quite freely.
“While we were launching the e-scooter trial last year an illegal scooter came straight through where we were doing the photo shoot.
“The Government are looking at it in a White Paper and this may be taken out of our hands. But at present, with the trials that are going on, it is the responsibility of the operators should anybody misuse their scooters or anybody be injured. That was part of the agreement when it came from Government.
“The pilot e-scooter schemes in the Stafford and Newcastle have generally had a positive response from users and take up is increasing. As you would expect there are several controls to encourage safe usage and we are working closely with the operators and the police on this issue.
“Across both trials areas we operate a fixed parking bay model. This means e-scooters can only be parked and left in designated bays, that is agreed by the operators and the council, without (the user) incurring a fine and potential account suspension.
“Each e-scooter on the trial is capped at 12mph, the legal limit set by the DfT is 15mph. E-scooters cannot be rented by anyone under the age of 16 (18 in Stafford), they must upload a picture of their driving licence and a selfie.
“In conjunction with the operator we determine the operational area. Outside of this area, e-scooters stop. There are some areas in the operational area, such as pedestrianised areas, where using a e-scooter is not appropriate. E-scooters come to a stop in these areas.”
Councillor Williams added that in “slow zones”, where the e-scooters are allowed but there are a high number of pedestrian and vehicle movements, e-scooter speed reduces to 6.5mph. There is also a 10pm curfew on journeys, meaning that no new rides can start after this time.
He said: “A small number of users have been banned for unsafe riding or antisocial behaviour, this is done by the operators when incidents are reported to them. Using the built in GPS tracking system, a rider will usually receive a warning and then, if appropriate, a ban.
“We are working with all stakeholders including the police to improve rider education and reduce misuse. Driving licences are checked prior to rental although it is recognised that like any system this is open to potential abuse. The operators are constantly working on ways to improve rider education in this area to minimise this happening.
“The council is in close contact with the Department of Transport which is collecting data from all the e-scooter pilot areas prior to deciding on whether to legalize e-scooters for use across England on the public highway. The control of private E-scooters, operating outside the control of rental schemes such as the two in Staffordshire, will clearly be a matter for full debate and careful consideration.”