A bike and scooter hire scheme, which may include electric transport, could be be coming to Maidstone.
Maidstone Borough Council are set to debate different options for a micromobility hire scheme this evening.
Introducing such a facility may serve to “revitalise the town centre post-Covid”, documents prepared by council officers ahead of tonight’s strategic planning and infrastructure committee, read.
While the plans at this early stage do not specify which mode of transport will be chosen, the council is not ruling out electric scooters or bikes.
If given the go-ahead, the service would run as a trial for three years, with the council gathering data on the financial viability of the scheme.
Members will examine three procurement options available to the council for bringing a micromobility hire scheme offer to the market.
The first would be finding an operator to run a leisure-focussed scheme.
This would cater primarily to visitors to the borough, specifically those visiting green spaces and the town centre.
The primary pick-up and drop-off sites would be Mote Park, the town centre and the Willington Street Park and Ride site, with “30 transports”.
However, a leisure-focussed scheme would mean the service would be used mostly at the weekends rather than weekdays, limiting the potential number of service users. Its popularity would also be likely limited to summer holiday mostly as well, council documents say.
The trail from Willington Street Park and Ride to the town centre can also double as a commuter offering, with people parking for free out of town and paying a reduced fee compared to a car park or public transport.
The report reads: “This option would likely be the most low-cost scheme we could implement; however, it would also likely be the lowest utilised service of all options where we proceed to procure a hire scheme.”
Option two would focus on commuters, allowing for coverage over a two-mile radius, from the town centre.
Pick-up and drop-off sites would cover commuter hotspots, including the two town centre railway stations.
This would require a minimum of 45 transports.
The scheme should provide a “last-mile” solution for workers in the town centre, particularly lower-income workers for whom public transport or town centre parking charges may not be viable, officers say.
The third option, which is recommended by council officers, is a blend of the two already mentioned, catering to both leisure and commuter demographics.
Primary pick-up and drop-off sites will be Maidstone East railway station, Maidstone West, the bus station in the town centre, Willington Street Park and Ride and Mote Park.
The council-owned alternatives for Maidstone East, Maidstone West and the bus station are given as County Road, Lockmeadow and Medway Street.
Sites at Maidstone Hospital and MidKent College Oakwood Park Campus will be investigated after the first year of the trial.
This option would provide the “core benefit” of a consistent sustained user group, i.e workers, with the hope that those using the scheme for leisure would then choose to use it for their daily commute.
A fourth option of not going ahead with the scheme is also put forward.
If councillors agree to a scheme, then a supplier will be appointed no later than early September 2021.
Council officers say that popularity for micromobility hire services have “sky rocketed over the past five years”.
MBC has committed, documents say, to the vision of “making cycling and walking the natural choices for shorter journeys, or as part of a longer journey”.
There are economic, health and social benefits to active travel, particularly cycling, the council says.
The scheme could also have a role in revitalising the town, “post-Covid” by providing an “active new service which has see unparalleled growth globally and nationally over the past two years”.
The cost of the scheme is not yet known and cannot be determined until a procurement process is complete.
Maidstone would not be the first town in Kent to trial a micromobility scheme.
A controversial trial of rental electric scooters is underway in Canterbury, beginning last year.
The service was launched by Kent County Council headed up by e-scooter rental firm Bird.
It previously covered the city centre, but earlier this month was broadened to encompass peripheral areas outside the city including Thanington and Wincheap– along with a stretch of the A28 heading in the direction of Sturry.
Canterbury’s trial – one of 31 taking place across UK towns and cities as part of a Department for Transport project – has proven controversial.
Some have praised the scheme and its green credentials, as the trial aims to provide a greener alternative to driving cars.
But many have criticised the scheme and raised concerns over safety of the vehicles, which can travel up to 15mph.
There are several steps however, before Maidstone’s scheme becomes a reality and it is not known at this stage exactly which transport will be used.
An Maidstone Borough Council spokesman said: “The preferred option does not specify which mode of transport (pedal cycle, electric cycle or electric scooter) is required.
“The preferred report option will rely on using procurement legislation to set key outputs we expect to see from a successful hire scheme, this would allow the market more flexibility in how they respond and provide the council with a broader range of potential solutions which would then be scored on both the quality and pricing of the supplier’s submission.
“By opening up the market in this way and creating some flexibility, we believe we can achieve the best outcome for Maidstone. However, this is all subject to member approval and may vary following committee on 08 June.”