An innovative e-scooter trial has been launched in North Devon.
North Devon Council launched the scooters at 1pm today in a joint event with Petroc College and European mobility company Voi.
The long-term rental trial is being offered to staff and students of Petroc with the aim of improving access to the Sticklepath and Brannams campus to ease congestion during peak times.
The trial aims to enable students and staff to move around the Barnstaple sites without having to use a car, while improving air quality in the town.
Vol have previously run trials in Bath, Bristol and South Gloucestershire, however this is the first example of the scooters being used in a rural area.
The event was attended by North Devon MP Selaine Saxby, as well as District Councillors Robbie Mack, David Knight and Graham Lofthouse.
Devon and Cornwall Police were present at the trial, as well as staff and students from the college.
Selaine Saxby MP told DevonLive: “I think this is an opportunity. I don’t think it’s the whole solution to environmental travel but it is a part of it. It gives young people a mode of transport that they can use by themselves.
“It’s environmentally friendly, it’s much cheaper than a car and it gives them independence, which I think is important for young people in a very rural location.”
“I know there are people who have quite legitimate and very genuine concerns about the usage but I have a lot of confidence in the young people here that they will be responsible and the police are very closely involved in monitoring and patrolling this trial.
Cllr Graham Lofthouse said: “I think it’s gonna be a good move forward, and to try and move towards sustainability. If it uses less energy than car travel, then it’s got to be a plus. If everybody used electric transport then we’d have a much better quality of air.
“The other thing that I hope local people will notice is that there are less people looking to park in their roads around here, because that is a problem.”
A range of safety measures are in place for the trial. This includes an initial speed limit of 12.5mph, which is below the 15.5mph speed recommended by the Department for Transport (DfT).
E-scooters will also be geofenced to a predefined area, decided by the council in close collaboration with Devon and Cornwall Police. ‘Slow zones’ will also be implemented, which will cause the e-scooters to reduce in speed to 5mph. If a user enters a no ride zone the e-scooter will slow down until it comes to a halt.
Riders will be incentivised and rewarded with credits for completing the RidelikeVoila traffic school, and encouraged to participate in free online webinars where they can learn how to ride and park an e-scooter safely.
In order to use an e-scooter, the user must be over 16 years-of-age and have at least a provisional driver’s license.
Nathan Ashley, senior publicity manager for Voi, said: “I think it’s really important for us to show that micro mobility, or e-scooters, can actually work in rural areas. It’s really important that we can also introduce different types of mobility, to allow for people to maybe think about what types of transport they take, and obviously helping to improve air quality and reduce congestion on the roads.”
The council aims to extend the trial on a “hop-on hop-off” basis later in the year, providing a way for tourists to move around without causing congestion on the roads.
During the launch, attendees ignored the torrential rain, seizing the opportunity to test out the e-scooters on a designated course.
Bill Blythe, vice-principal at Petroc College, said he was excited about the opportunities the trial will provide for staff and students.
He said: “I think it’s going to be a great opportunity for North Devon to really trailblaze and pilot, something really, really different that hasn’t happened anywhere else in the country.
“I think it’s really important that we show other parts of the country that that rural areas can keep up, and that there’s opportunities for young people and adults across the rural areas to do the same things that people can do in in some of the big cities.
“We’ve got a fabulous student group who we can put absolute trust in that they will use these things sensibly. I’d like to see students and staff really taking to this technology, seeing it as a real alternative to getting in the car, and using it for appropriate journeys around North Devon.”
Bea Pengelly, 21, is based in Bickington and got the opportunity to try out the scooters as part of the trial.
She said: “I was very excited and think this will be definitely be good for the community, especially for those who are learning to drive.
“My sister turned 17 in December but because of Covid, has not had the opportunity to drive yet. This will definitely be good for her.
“In the local area, the traffic is so bad. I think students will be able to get here so much quicker and if less people used cars to get here, it will be better for everyone.”