E-scooter operator partners with voice app in bid to help blind and visually-impaired avoid dangers

The app will relay real-time voice messages to enable people with disabilities to navigate the streets of Merseyside.

E-scooter operator Voi has partnered with an app which it says will allow blind and visually-impaired people to get ‘real-time information’ on e-scooter parking locations.

The move comes following criticism from the National Federation of the Blind of the UK (NFBUK) and other organisations which say badly parked e-scooters pose a danger to pedestrians.

The Lazarillo app users will also be able to report any poorly parked scooters.

Voi has been running an e-scooter trial in Liverpool since 2020 and said the app is currently live in the city alongside Bristol and Birmingham with more cities to be added.

Campaigners have called for a ban on e-scooter trials with the NFBUK highlighting concerns about the danger posed by e-scooters to blind and partially sighted people.

The charity has raised issues about e-scooters being parked or abandoned on the pavement, damaged tyres and ‘unsafe’ rider behaviour.

How will the app work?

The Lazarillo app, available for free on iOS and Android, is used by over a quarter of a million blind or visually-impaired people, including thousands of users in the UK, to help guide them through busy streets.

Voi said it will use Lazarillo’s open-source mapping technology to link their information in an accessible format, which the app relays as real-time voice messages to enable people with disabilities to navigate the streets of Merseyside.

The app will also include notifications on Voi e-scooter parking locations, which Voi claims will allow users to ‘safely and confidently navigate some of the biggest micromobility cities’, where Voi riders have taken over seven million e-scooter journeys.

Jack Samler, general manager at Voi UK and Ireland, said: “We are delighted to be collaborating with the Lazarillo team. Not only are they aligned with us in terms of our goal to build safer and more accessible cities for all but, most importantly, they support our mission to be a responsible and inclusive business and our commitment towards Vision Zero.

“As the demand for micromobility services continues to grow across the UK, this partnership is one step forward to ensuring everyone can benefit from the introduction of this new sustainable transport mode, including those who are vulnerable.

“We look forward to getting feedback from Lazarillo’s blind and visually-impaired people in Birmingham, Bristol and Liverpool and we look forward to continuing to work with Lazarillo to roll out this service in other towns and cities.”

Mike Bell, national public affairs lead for sight loss charity Thomas Pocklington Trust said: “We’re pleased that Voi is listening to the concerns of blind and partially sighted people around e-scooter use.

“The partnership with Lazarillo will help to deliver a safer experience for visually-impaired pedestrians and raise awareness of the crucial importance of safe parking and use of e-scooters.”

‘Unsafe business model’

However, Sarah Gayton, NFBUK Street Access Campaigns Coordinator, who has been taking photographs and video footage of the scooters described the idea as ‘ludicrous’.

She said: “We have blind and visually-impared people who struggle with technology anyway, plus people need to be able to afford a phone that can offer this technology.

“What if a phone battery is low and you need the phone for something else? People who are blind or visually-impared also use their hearing to navigate and will not be fully concentrating if they are using the app.

“This is a life or death situation about a serious trip hazard on the pavement with the ability to create serious injuries.

“This business model is not safe. We will never accept the e-scooters parked on pavements, ever.”

She added that there was ‘massive underreporting’ to the Department for Transport (DfT) about the amount of injuries caused by e-scooters.

E-scooter trials

The DfT announced the introduction of e-scooter trials across England in June 2020.

Riding an e-scooter on a pavement is an offence and riding a privately owned e-scooter on a public road is still illegal.

The Liverpool pilot started in October 2020 as a joint initiative of Liverpool City Region Combined Authority and Liverpool City Council.

Swedish-based e-scooter company Voi have provided the scooters in the city, which the public can hire using a mobile app.

Private e-scooters

A report from the Parliamentary Advisory Council for Transport Safety (PACTS) published in March recommended the DfT takes immediate action to address dangerous and illegal private e-scooter use and undertakes a ‘thorough public consultation before making any decision on the legalisation of e-scooters’.

The report showed that 1 million private e-scooters had been imported to the UK over the last three years.

There were 11 deaths involving private e-scooters in 2021 and nearly 900 casualties from collisions involving e-scooters in 2021.

Although there are concerns about the underreporting of e-scooter incidents, a report from the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents released in May concluded that the risk of e-scooter crashes was lower than the risk of crashes on motorbikes and bicycles.