E-scooters arrive in Northampton!

E-scooters arrive in Northampton!

From the off, I want to make it clear that I am in no way affiliated with or connected to Voi . I am purely interested in the concept of e-scooters in Northampton as a resident and commuter.

Like many others, this year has forced us to take a look at our lifestyle and think about what works, and what doesn’t. Lockdown, although an incredibly difficult time, was a good opportunity to reassess how we live our lives. There were things we liked (our flexible jobs) and things we need to work on (mostly waist related!), but one thing that came out of this period was the fact that we really don’t need two vehicles.

Luke is self employed and has worked from home for the last few years. I work 2 or 3 days a week out of the home, and then do at least 2 days at home freelancing. Yet we still run two vehicles. It’s especially crazy as my part time job is just a half an hour walk away. Our second vehicle is only really used by me to go to work, and that adds up to an average of around 10 miles a week.

I know I know, you’re probably wondering why I don’t just walk. I do sometimes, but the fact is I finish work at 7 or 8 o’clock at night and don’t fancy walking home in the dark on my own. But it really is madness to shell out for a vehicle to do so few miles. I need to find a better way.

Bizarrely, before I even knew about the trial of e-scooters in Northampton, we had actually discussed buying our own. They are quick, economical and environmentally friendly, plus they take up very little room. It seemed like the perfect answer! Luke had been busily researching online and watching YouTube videos, only to have the rug pulled from under us when we realised that it’s illegal to ride a privately owned e-scooter on the road.

Completely coincidently, a few weeks later I saw that a company called Voi and Northamptonshire County Council were joining forces to carry out a 12 month trial of e-scooters in Northampton.

Our first try of the e-scooters in Northampton. It is recommended that you wear a helmet.

Could this be the answer to my commuting conundrum?

So how does the scheme work?

It is a very simple idea. There are 300 e-scooters available in a predetermined area of Northampton. You can pick one up and park it anywhere within this area, although there are areas where you are encouraged to park by getting a discount.

You access the e-scooters in Northampton by using the Voi app. The first time it takes a few minutes as you have to upload your driving licence, but after that it is really very simple. You simply scan the qr code on the scooter to unlock it and away you go.

The Voi app is very user friendly. This shows the area where you can park your e-scooter, as well as the location of available e-scooters

Likewise, when you are finished, you park up safely and scan the qr code to lock the e-scooter and leave it for someone else.

So far, so simple. But does it work as a viable commuting option?

Luke and I took a couple of e-scooters for a ride around the park to get used to them. It was a bit tricky to start with, especially cornering, but we soon got the hang of it. The e-scooters have a top speed of 15.5 mph, but I’m not sure I got anywhere near that!

The First Commute

To date I have only used the e-scooters once to get to work and that was a bit of a mixed bag. Going to work was fine, better and easier than I thought it would be. We are lucky in that we live near a large park and in a student area which is a bit of a hub for the e-scooters in Northampton. Likewise, my work is near the train station, which again is a hub, so I couldn’t be better placed to take advantage of this scheme.

Getting from my home to the town centre was a bit hard going as the roads are so potholed and bumpy, but once I got to the town centre it was plain sailing. The pedestrianised section is great and very smooth, then from the town centre to the station I can use the cycle paths, which are wide and smooth. I was pleasantly surprised, it took me 13 minutes (that was taking it VERY steady) and it was incredibly straightforward.

Unfortunately, coming home was a different matter. As my time to clock off drew near, I was anxiously checking and rechecking the app, as it appeared that there were very few e-scooters available.

As I was due to leave work, this is what the app looked like.

Then, as I left work, two available e-scooters appeared at the station. Perfect! I set off on the two minute walk to the train station feeling very smug.

Unfortunately, when I tried to scan an e-scooter, it showed as unavailable. I don’t know why, maybe the battery was too low. Somebody else was trying to use them, and was equally disappointed. Nevermind, there was bound to be one in the town centre, so I carried on walking.

After passing a couple of e-scooters being used very irresponsibly by people clearly worse for wear (the drawback of leaving work at 7 o’clock on a Saturday) I did come across another e-scooter. It had a green light and seemed to be available, but when I scanned it, I wasn’t able to use it. Again, I don’t know why, this one had a full battery.

To cut a long story short I ended up walking home. Not ideal, but manageable.

So, my first e-scooter commute I give a 5 out of 10.

I’m not deterred. This could just work, so I am going to give it a go over a longer period of time before jumping to any conclusions. I will write another post after I’ve tried it for a month or so.

This scheme is ambitious and forward thinking, which is quite uncharacteristic of our council, so I desperately want it to work. However, I do have a few doubts. As I mentioned above, I have already seen many e-scooters in Northampton being used incorrectly. You are supposed to be at least 18 and have a driving licence, but I have seen many youngsters tearing around on them. I also think that the scheme would have a better chance of success if there was some investment in infrastructure first.

There needs to be clear and purpose built parking spots in place to cut down on e-scooters being abandoned all over the place. Also, for safety, the main shopping street in Northampton (Abington Street) needs a designated e-scooter lane. I rode down there at 8.30 in the morning and had to swerve to avoid pedestrians. At a busier time it must be mayhem.

I’m not a cyclist, but it appears that Northampton isn’t the most cycle friendly town. I want this scheme to work, but I can’t help thinking that if we were better set up for cycling in the first place, it would work a lot more effectively.

Fingers crossed, that people use the e-scooter trial scheme in Northampton as it’s intended and it is a success.

What does it cost?

It costs £1 to unlock an e-scooter and 20p for every minute. You can buy a pass for 24 hours for £9.99 or for a month for £39.99. There are also discounts available the more you ride and for parking in green zones.

If you fancy trying out the e-sccoters in Northampton, you can download the Voi app here.

Have you used the e-scooters in Northampton? Are you in favour of the scheme?

Looking for more Northamptonshire content?

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