Headington’s e-scooter innovation

Speed freaks and thrill-seekers need not apply

By Jonny Ives

When it comes to innovation, it seems Headington is ahead of the game. Having cornered the market in shark-through-roof art installations and led the way in fridge-temperature Covid-19 vaccines, the suburb up the hill is now the site of the county’s first experiment with street-legal e-scooters.

With privately owned motorised scooters still prohibited from use on roads or in public spaces, the 12-month trial offers a rare opportunity to use an e-scooter as a means of transport rather than a source of entertainment.

Oxfordshire County Council hopes that the trial will be part of a green restart for local travel as lockdown begins to ease, reducing the need for short car journeys and contributing to improved air quality. The operator, Swedish company Voi, hopes that the scooters will become a popular micro-mobility option, attracting enough users, particularly among students and key workers, to make the scheme economically viable.

Some voices have expressed fears that the new scooters will be a menace on the pavements and on the roads, filling the JR with victims of hit-and-scoot collisions or inexperienced riders who came a cropper at the first corner they encounter.

Only time will tell, but a test ride suggests that those anticipating scooter-induced speed-crazed carnage are likely to be disappointed.

The first hurdle for any user to clear is access. The new scooters require registration via an app and only accept those over 18 with a provisional or full driving licence. A credit card and scan of your licence are also required before you can start.

Then there is the geo-fencing, a GPS system used to restrict not only the area of the trial but also where you can ride; currently parks and hospital sites are among the no-scoot zones. This means that the motor on your scooter will cut out when you enter a restricted area or leave the boundary of the trial. The geo-fence facility is also used to create ‘go slow’ areas, where scooter speeds are restricted; Headington’s central shopping area is a slow zone.

Outside the slow zone, speed freaks and thrill-seekers are likely to be disappointed by their e-scooter experience but anyone looking to get from A to B in an enjoyable manner might find their inner-child unleashed. Once you are on board, the ride is fairly stable and just fast enough (with its 10mph limit) to bring a smile to your face; more than a trundle but not quite a whizz. Hills and bumps are handled fairly well, although riding one-handed would be tricky, which might make signalling difficult.

Is an e-scooter the future? A bike is faster, more convenient and more versatile; walking is cheaper and much better from a public health perspective; but if Oxford is serious about creating a city where people come to stay, meet, walk and ride, one can imagine that a fleet of geo-fenced and speed-restricted e-scooters might have a role to play as an enjoyable part of a vibrant cityscape.

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