The Voi e-scooter trial has been extended in Bristol to allow more time to look into concerns including fire safety - as figures obtained by BristolWorld showed there have been 10 fires involving e-scooters since June, four involving Voi e-scooters.
The West of England Combined Authority’s metro mayor, Dan Norris, will have the final say on the future of Voi e-scooters in Bristol, and today told us that he had decided to extend the trial until November 2022 as he needed ‘a lot more information and clarity’ before he could give any kind of permanent scheme the go-ahead.
The Voi trial, which began in Bristol in October 2022 and was due to end in a few weeks, has proven popular and racked up hundreds of thousands of miles, but it is viewed as controversial by some after a number of road accidents and fires.
A Freedom of Information Act request by BristolWorld has revealed that Avon Fire and Rescue Service recorded 10 fires involving e-scooters since June last year, four of them involving Voi e-scooters - although the company say three were ‘because of externalities out of Voi’s control’.
Of the four Voi e-scooter fires, three were in Bristol. They included the warehouse fire in Brislington on New Year’s Day and a fire in a property in Gloucester Road on December 4.
The fourth, in South Gloucestershire, was arson.
The incidents prompted Avon Fire Authority chair and Bristol City councillor Brenda Massey to brand the e-scooters a ‘fire risk’ earlier this year, adding that firefighters had ‘considerable difficulty’ putting out e-scooter fires as the lithium batteries are sealed and have to be completely submerged in water in order to be extinguished.
Speaking to BristolWorld this morning (Monday, February 28), Mr Norris announced that the trial had been extended.
He said: “Following a request by the Department of Transport I took the decision to extend the trial.
“The pandemic has not really allowed the trial to work as intended, and we require more information on how the e-scooters are going to work in the real world.
“There have been a number of concerns that have been raised to me and those include fire safety, particularly after a huge fire broke out at the Brislington depot earlier this year.
“We’ll be looking at how we can address these concerns over the coming months and have some research coming out from the University of West England in the summer, which will be interesting to see.
“In my conversations with the mayor of London, I know there have been a lot of fire safety concerns in relation the lithium batteries the e-scooters contain, and they were already banned on the Underground in December for this reason.”
Another major area of concern for Mr Norris was the impact that e-scooters have on the safety of visually and hearing impaired pedestrians, along with parents and carers with pushchairs.
“The Voi scooters are very quiet and can kind of pop up on the pavement unexpectedly,” he said.
“We’ve heard about people tripping over them when they’re parked, too, and I know there have been instances where people using e-scooters have been injured in Bristol.”
But he added: “While I have to remain neutral, I think it’s terrific that the e-scooters are out there. I think I’m right in saying that around 85% of users are aged under 35.
“The younger age profile really like them. They’re fun and exciting and I think that’s great, but with the obesity epidemic ongoing in Britain, I need to know they are actually getting people out of their cars and encouraging active travel.”
What Voi say
Voi said most of four fires involving its e-scooters were ‘because of externalities out of Voi’s control’.
It highlighted that one was down to arson and another was after a user dismantled a scooter in their own home. The Brislington warehouse fire, it said, was down to an electrical fault.
The remaining fire involved a smoking e-scooter, the company said, and did lead to the temporary pausing of the long-term rental e-scooter service for inspections.
A spokesperson said: “We pride ourselves on having one of the most robust and safest e-scooter fleets in Europe, with strict measures in place to ensure all batteries are handled, stored and disposed of in a safe and responsible manner throughout our operations.
“Voi’s number one priority is safety and none of our e-scooters have been involved in fires whilst in service.
“Most of the incidents where the fire service was involved were due to acts of vandalism and theft or linked to the unfortunate incident at our third-party partner’s warehouse. This incident at the warehouse was an accident due to an electrical fault, according to the official investigation by Avon Fire and Rescue Service.
“As a responsible business, we take any incidents involving the emergency services very seriously and work closely with them to thoroughly investigate and implement all necessary measures to ensure it doesn’t happen again.”
What Avon Fire and Rescue Service say
Avon Fire and Rescue service said lithium batteries were found in many electrical devices from mobility scooters to e-cigarettes, and were used safely by millions of people every day.
A spokesperson added: “However, there are some things you need to know when it comes to fire safety, chargers and batteries.
“While these batteries are not dangerous when used properly, they can present a risk when over-charged, short-circuited, submerged in water or if they are damaged.”