Having had just over two months to acclimatise to their presence, residents across Newcastle are coming to terms with the Neuron e-scooters. Made available on the 16th of February after poor weather delayed release by a day, locals have only had a short time to get to grips with them, but the Neuron Vehicles have wasted no time making an impression.
The e-scooters accumulated over 1000 combined uses per day in their first week, with residents eager to see what all the hype was about. Not one for feeling left out, I decided to download the dedicated Neuron app, locate the nearest bright-orange two-wheeler, and try one out for myself. For clarity, I’ve broken down my initial thoughts and feelings on the e-scooters into the categories below.
It’s early days in the Councils’ e-scooter initiative and with scooters being released on a staggered basis, just 250 scooters are currently in circulation. When you consider how they’re spread across the City Centre, Jesmond and Gosforth, it’s not hard to see why I struggled to nail one down initially.
Availability is heavily dependent on the time of day and the area you’re in but in any case, it’s best to use the reserve feature on the Neuron app. This way you’ll avoid engaging in a wild goose chase as you pursue scooter after scooter, only to see each disappear from the map moments before you arrive. I experienced narrowly missing out on a scooter several times before learning of the reserve feature. It defeats the purpose if you spend too long chasing after something that touts itself as an effort-free alternative to walking.
A reserved e-scooter is only held for 15 minutes so make sure you’ve got the means of reaching it quickly. I also found out early on that the app isn’t the most reliable at displaying all available scooters, so be sure to refresh it regularly and encourage friends to check the app for themselves, even if yours isn’t displaying any available scooters.
The introduction of the e-scooters comes off the back of a government initiative to determine their suitability for legalisation nationwide. One suspects one of the major factors set to influence the final decision is the number of accidents and collisions that occur over the next year.
The Neuron app suggests users wear a helmet but doesn’t make it mandatory. The word used is should, not must. If like me, you take this as an invitation to completely disregard the notion of a helmet, you might want to at least consider it as an option. I was surprised at how fast the scooters accelerated, especially when ramped up to the highest of two-speed settings. The change from a slow speed to high is quick, and the accompanying jolt is significant enough to pose a threat to anyone who’s half-heartedly holding onto the handlebars.
It doesn’t help that other road users, namely car drivers, seem slightly unaware of how to behave when they find themselves fast approaching the back of an e-scooter rider. This was confirmed in a conversation with a Gosforth resident who approached me, after she witnessed me dismount, to find out more about them. She admitted she’d encountered one on the road a day prior and was unsure of what the protocol was regarding overtaking. Granted, this isn’t all drivers, but there were multiple occasions where I was afforded less room than what I’ve come to expect when out riding my bike. I’m expecting to see these kinds of things improve as the e-scooters become a more common sight around the City.
Speed and Usage
I’m not about to condone reckless driving, although it would be wrong of me to pretend, I wasn’t immediately interested in finding out who had the fastest e-scooter out of me and a friend. Annoyingly, I was left trailing behind for much of my first e-scooter session. Petulant and unwilling to accept mediocrity, I investigated the issue further. Upon swapping e-scooters, the speed discrepancy between the two became obvious. E-scooters short on charge will reach nowhere near the 15mph top speed.
This isn’t necessarily a bad thing as racing becomes far less tempting when potential competitors know there’s no chance of winning. Stories of irresponsible riding have cropped up repeatedly throughout local media outlets since the e-scooters introduction and though criticisms have largely been justified, it’s hard to deny e-scooters are great fun. There’s no harm in enjoying the high-speed zones, providing rules are adhered to.
Other factors affecting performance is the gradient and condition of the road. E-scooters perform far from their best when riding uphill. My e-scooter set at high speed, couldn’t even replicate the low-speed setting when faced with a moderate incline. The reverse is also true, as steep declines seem to push the e-scooters right to the top of their speed range. This may or may not have been tested using the slope at Gosforth Shopping centre. Potholes, speedbumps, and anything uneven also had a negative effect on the speed of my e-scooter.
I’m yet to experience a problem with an e-scooter bad enough to prevent me from riding. I’ve racked up a few journeys now and used multiple scooters, and despite noticeable differences in performance, I’ve encountered no major issues. However, a close friend has had an e-scooter completely shut down on him, despite the app indicating it had over 4km of use left.
It’s difficult to say if the fault lied with the vehicle or the app, especially given my own observation that the app is prone to bugs and can be quite temperamental. Whatever the case may have been, it illustrates a key point that all e-scooter hopefuls should carry around with them. Always have a backup for the return journey.
The cost of unlocking a scooter is £1 and users will pay 18p per minute after that. I’ve completed a total of four trips, amassing a total cost of £13.18 with a total distance travelled of 11.72 kilometres and a total trip duration of 52 minutes and 50 seconds. To put that into perspective, the cost of an unlimited use one day metro ticket around Tyne and Wear is £7.80. The e-scooters aren’t the cheapest way of getting around Newcastle but then that’s not what they’re there for. The big advantage of e-scooters is you can leave them wherever you’d like.
You can reduce the cost a little by parking the e-scooter in a designated safe parking location, found at Central Station, Metro stops the Freeman and RVI hospitals and John Dobson Street. Users will get 30p knocked off their trip fee if they upload a photo to the Neuron app showing their vehicle left in one of these locations. This is a nice feature for anyone consistently travelling around the city centre, but for those mainly residing in the Jesmond and Gosforth areas, the convenience of leaving the e-scooter on your doorstep far outweighs the measly 30p discount for parking it in a designated area.
In the first few weeks of the e-scooter trial, several changes have been made to the implementation of e-scooters across the city. Firstly, the pedestrianised area around Grey’s Monument was converted into a no-ride zone after safety concerns. Shortly after came the introduction of the citywide curfew, which deemed e-scooters unavailable between the times of 11 pm and 5 am. These changes demonstrate how the e-scooter initiative is an evolving process that is yet to fully reach its potential. Teething issues aside, I’ve enjoyed my early experiences on the e-scooters and I’m confident given time, as the number of e-scooters in circulation increases, the City can make a success of their introduction.
Written by Joe Hird.
For further information, visit https://www.rideneuron.com/