Are the Neuron e-scooters novel or a nuisance?

Tom Wrath weighs up the pros and cons of the city’s new e-scooters

Tom Wrath
2nd March 2021
Image: Joe Molander
Walking through the Jesmond suburbs has become precarious in the past week or so, largely due to Neuron’s new e-scooters. Have they alienated the pedestrian, or are they key to unlocking networks of underused cycle routes? More ambitious still, could they be the new frontier of alternative green transport?

Fundamentally, the scooters are a product of the shift to low-carbon economies, pioneered in Asian and European cities to solve the last mile problem. This is what sees professionals utilise Ubers to travel the final distance from transportation hubs to the workplace. Cities such as Singapore, Paris and Prague have seen huge successes in increasing air quality by removing carbon-producing vehicles from the road. This has also generated huge profits for increasingly transnational corporations such as Lime, Yellow and Bird, and grown the e-mobility sector with unprecedented exponentiality.

In Newcastle, it’s little surprise that the focus area for the scooters corresponds with the most dangerous air quality figures around Haymarket (59µg/m³). However, with most professionals currently working from home, the scooters have taken on a new purpose in providing students with an alternative to the often-unreliable Metro network. Neuron had the foresight to introduce the scooters during the Metro’s two week engineering shutdown.

To avoid the Council fishing e-scooters out of the Tyne as with the Mobike initiative in 2019, though, Neuron have implemented a geo-fencing strategy. As such, the scooters automatically shut off power outside of the permitted zone, in a bid to keep them away from certain areas. Paradoxically, this discriminatory practice has prevented them from being used by city workers as originally intended. A large proportion of these workers live in Heaton and the surrounding areas, rather than the student dense Jesmond.

For the most part the e-scooters have been used responsibly, although the minority risk ruining the initiative. Misuse and drink driving has been reported by The Courier and The Chronicle. My personal experience of being smashed into by someone with no knowledge of the simple braking system is a cautionary tale of triple-checking when crossing Lonsdale Terrace.

I am not here to unfairly criticise, though. Instead, I urge residents and the City Council to focus on the positives. Consider e-scooters’ effectiveness in transforming vehicle users into extended pedestrians, the increased usage of the many underused cycle lanes across the city, and getting vehicles off the roads.

There is potential for misuse wherever these e-scooters are. It’s time to trust the majority, and understand that e-scooters can become a respected, loved and climate-saving form of public transport.

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