Evidence revealing the ‘shocking state’ of e-scooter tyres has been handed to the Prime Minister by a charity supporting blind and partially sighted people.
The National Federation of the Blind of the UK (NFBUK) has called for an immediate suspension of all e-scooter trials across the UK.
The charity submitted a petition letter and photographic evidence to Downing Street showing worn and cracked back tyres of rented scooters in Liverpool, Birmingham, Northampton and Nottingham.
The Liverpool evidence, collated from August 25, has also been given to Merseyside’s Police Chief Constable Serena Kennedy requesting her to take action and look at the safety of the scooters.
Why are NFBUK investigating e-scooters safety?
The charity is concerned about the danger posed by e-scooters to blind and partially sighted people as well as other pedestrians.
The new evidence about tyres is in addition to ongoing ‘serious safety concerns’ raised by NFBUK about e-scooters being parked or abandoned on the pavement and ‘unsafe’ rider behaviour.
Blind and partially sighted people have reported a number of close calls and collisions with e-scooters being ridden on the pavement.
NFBUK took photos of 283 Voi e-scooter back tyres in Liverpool and claim that 38% (107) appear ‘not to be fit for purpose’ with the tread worn away on all or part of the tyre.
The Department for Transport (DfT) has issued guidance about the technical requirements for the operators of e-scooters which includes tyres.
It states tyres should not have defects and be maintained to be fit for use.
Sarah Gayton, NFBUK Street Access Campaigns Coordinator, who took the photographs and video footage of the scooters said: “The safety of the e-scooter back tyres in Liverpool was very worrying, with significant numbers having some or most of the tread worn away, as well as having splits in the side wall of the tyre.
“It was truly shocking to see the state of the back wheels, as this is the only thing between the rider and the road surface, they have to be fit for purpose and any defect or tread missing could compromise this.
“There is a clear safety issue going on in Liverpool and the trial needs to be suspended immediately to ensure the safety of the public.”
She, said that she was also nearly knocked over herself by e-scooter riders on the pavement and witnessed adults riding with small children on the front of the scooters.
The Department for Transport (DfT) announced the introduction of e-scooter trials in June last year.
The DfT said they are now across 32 regions in England and the trials have been extended to March 2022. 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 last year 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.
The Voi e-scooter trial has proved very popular – with more than 800,000 rides taken so far and over 1.8 million miles travelled by users of the pilot.
Tom Walker, a freelance communications specialist, who lives in Liverpool and is severely sight impaired told LiverpoolWorld: “The e-scooters have turned Liverpool city centre into a no go zone for the blind and partially sighted.
“It’s like being part of the Wacky Races cartoon.
“One came very close to knocking me over on the pavement outside Liverpool Central train station, the first I knew of it was a woosh of air and someone told me what had happened.
“On Smithdown Road a scooter clipped the end of my cane. I’m confident and experienced walking out and about, but for blind or visually impaired people who have only recently lost their sight this is causing a lot of anxiety. I think the trials should be cancelled and the pavements returned to pedestrians.”
RoadPeace North West Local Branch Coordinator, Pauline Fielding, said: "The evidence presented to the Prime Minister is another cause for concern about the use of e-scooters in our cities and the dangers they present to other road users, particularly those who are vulnerable.
"I have witnessed inappropriate use of e-scooters on pavements, three people on one e-scooter, e-scooters travelling the wrong way up one way streets and going through traffic lights on red, to name a few of the offences I have seen.
"The fact many of these e-scooters have defective tyres adds to the risks they pose. Action must be taken as soon as possible to prevent injury or worse to other road users, especially vulnerable pedestrians."
Merseyside Police Roads Policing Inspector, Carl McNulty, said the police meet weekly with Voi, the local authority and other partners to discuss statistics, incidents and ensure the scooters are regularly maintained.
“Where officers believe any offence has been committed or the standard of driving or riding is of danger to road users, then action will be taken.”
Earlier this year privately-owned e-scooters were crushed by Merseyside Police as part of Operation Brookdale, an annual campaign against nuisance and reckless bikers.
Liverpool University Hospitals research
David Bodansky, an orthopaedic surgeon at Liverpool University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, told LiverpoolWorld in August his research showed that e-scooters were associated with a ‘marked increase in musculoskeletal trauma’ in the city.
Mr Bodansky revealed the research, which has been submitted for publication, showed that 51 patients between October 2020 to May 2021 had musculoskeletal injuries involving e-scooters.
In the seven-month period before the Voi e-scooter trial started, there were just six e-scooter injuries compared with 51 during the seven months the surgical team were monitoring the situation.
What Voi and Department for Transport say
A Voi spokesperson described renting an e-scooter as ‘overwhelmingly safe’.
"There are no legal limits for e-scooter tyre depths, so Voi adopts the much stricter rules for motor vehicles, such as motorcycles.
“The evidence, which was reviewed by our experts, reveals nearly all our vehicle tyres are safe and within those legal limits for rider usage. Where tyres have fallen below our high safety standards, either caused by usage or acts of vandalism, the e-scooters will be taken out of service and repaired by our team of highly-trained mechanics before going back into circulation.”
He added that each e-scooter undergoes a ‘comprehensive quality control test’ at the end of each repair.
A DfT spokesperson said: “Safety will always be our top priority and the trials currently taking place in 32 regions across England help us to better understand the benefits of e-scooters and their impact on public space.
“We continue to engage with vulnerable road user groups to help shape the rules, on top of existing safety features - such as compulsory horns and bells - and ensuring trial areas have sufficient parking to avoid street clutter.”