DOZENS of people have been suspended from using Newcastle’s e-scooters dangerously and parking fines could soon be imposed too.
Scooter operator Neuron confirmed that it has issued more than 40 suspensions since the electric vehicles were launched in the city in February, for offences such as riding on pavements or two people to a scooter.
The firm has also introduced a reaction test, which appears on its mobile app after 9pm, in order to discourage people from using them under the influence of alcohol.
At North Tyneside Magistrates’ Court on Thursday, six people were banned from the roads after being caught riding the e-scooters in Jesmond – five who were found to be over the legal alcohol limit and another who refused to provide a breath specimen.
The orange scooters became a source of controversy after their arrival, amid complaints of them being “dumped all over the place” and ridden illegally or recklessly.
An overnight curfew has already been imposed so that they cannot be hired between 11pm and 5am and the next step could be to impose penalties on users who abandon their scooter.
There are around 40 designated parking spots for the scooters around the city, such as at Metro stations, and riders are given a 30p discount if they park in those areas rather than leave their scooter at random locations – but it is not compulsory to do so.
Neuron bosses told Newcastle City Council’s overview and scrutiny committee on Thursday that parking fines are “definitely on the table” if problems akin to those suffered by the old Mobikes continue.
George Symes, expansion manager at Neuron Mobility, said the company will be “refining” the location of its parking spots and adding more, with stickers to be installed on the ground to mark them.
He added that, once there is a parking area every 50 to 100 metres, the company could reluctantly seek to impose fines on riders who do not use them.
Mr Symes said: “From our experience globally we find that people respond much better to the carrot rather than the stick and by offering incentives that is money out of our pockets that we are returning to the users, whereas if we introduce penalties that is potentially an extra revenue stream for us but it is bad revenue – so we don’t like to go there, if possible.”
Neuron wants to get up to around 80 designated parking zones, with particular demand for some in Sandyford and Shieldfield, and is asking businesses in Jesmond to volunteer their forecourts.
An initial 250 of the scooters were launched for hire in Newcastle last month as part of a year-long trial scheme. They are legal on roads, bus lanes, cycle lanes, and pavements that are designated cycleways where the speed limit is 30mph or less within the Neuron ride zone – which covers the city centre, Sandyford, Shieldfield, Jesmond, and Gosforth.
Almost 650 free passes have already been given to NHS workers to use them and Neuron has reported that the “novelty factor” has worn off, with average trip times down from 22 minutes to just ten.
Mr Symes told councillors that the app’s new reaction test now appeared every day between 9pm and 11pm – though it is not mandatory for riders to pass it before hiring a scooter.
He said it was “not an alternative to the breathalyser test, but an extra point of self-reflection to make people think ‘should I really be riding on this e-scooter?’”
He also confirmed that more than 40 two-month suspensions have been issued to users – and that anyone who is caught riding dangerously for a second time after the suspension ends would be banned for good.
Those caught riding under the influence of alcohol have been banned for life.
The electric scooters’ level of resistance when they are stationary is also being increased to stop them being taken and ridden down hills, such as to the Quayside, without people paying to hire them.
Mr Symes said: “At the moment when the scooter is in lock mode it can be pushed if there is a lot of force. That is to enable the scooter to be re-parked or repositioned without having to lift it off the ground completely.
“We are increasing that resistance to cope better with the steep gradients of Newcastle and make sure people cannot kick-scoot the scooters even down the steepest hills, towards the Quayside for instance.”
Lib Dem councillor Wendy Taylor said she was “glad things are being done” to address early concerns about the scooters, but is worried that it will be “hard to shift” the negative view that many city residents now have of them because of regular sightings of them being misused.