We join police on a crackdown on illegal e-scooters in Bristol city centre

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More than a dozen riders received warnings

‘I bought it off Facebook marketplace - I didn’t know’, replies the puzzled University of Bristol student when asked why he’s illegally riding an e-scooter down Stokes Croft. The PURE e-scooter cost him £300, and he claims he was unaware he was breaking the law by riding the privately-owned device on the road.

The student is one of the first people pulled over during a special police operation targeting the illegal use of e-scooters in Bristol. And his story is not an uncommon one. Many people stopped are seemingly unaware of UK law restricting the use of privately-owned e-scooters, otherwise known as ‘powerered transporters’, on roads and cycle lanes.

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“It is a problem,” says Sgt Rich Jones, who is leading the initiative in the city centre. “You see e-scooters being sold in shops like Halfords for hundreds of pounds and people understandably expect to be able to ride them out on the road. They don’t think it’s just for the back garden. It could be clearer - but we think our work is getting the message across to people.”

Police are keen to clamp down on illegal use of e-scooters. Not only does the force receive complaints over the antisocial use of e-scooters, but it also has safety concerns with the rider not covered by a license and insurance policy. Only Voi e-scooters, which are limited to 15.5mph and have numberplates as well as rear red and signalling lights, are legal to use on roads and cycle lanes

Crime can also be linked to e-scooters. Over a three-month period up to April 2021, Avon and Somerset Police recorded 237 incidents linked to e-scooters, including criminal damage and assaults. Sgt Jones says his teams are aware of gangs using privately-owned e-scooters to push drugs in communities. “It’s another reason for us to be out doing this,” he adds.

The campaign day begins with a briefing at Bridewell Police Station. Sgt Jones informs a team of six police officers that the first approach to a person caught riding an e-scooter illegally should be ‘educate and engage’. This sees the rider issued with a warning document which will not go on their criminal record - but will result in serious action if caught again.

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Other options including summoning the person to court for an offence such as going through a red light, or seizing the e-scooter. The areas being visited are St Augustine Parade, St James Barton Roundabout and Baldwin Street. And joining the officers - who will be in cars, bicycles and on foot - is a small group of Bristol City Council marshalls whose job it is also to give out advice on e-scooters.

It’s not long into the operation when we see the first instance of illegal activity. At the bottom of Stokes Croft, two masked men on privately-owned e-scooters take part in short stand-off with Sgt Jones in his car after refusing to be pulled over. The pair split up and we follow one up toward Kingsdown - however, Sgt Jones doesn’t want to put the rider in danger by escalating the incident into a full-on police chase, and the man gets away.

A student signs a warning form after being stopped while riding a privately-owned e-scooter on the public highwayA student signs a warning form after being stopped while riding a privately-owned e-scooter on the public highway
A student signs a warning form after being stopped while riding a privately-owned e-scooter on the public highway | BristolWorld

“We’ll go back later and check the CCTV,” says Sgt Jones.

A short while later, the university student is pulled over outside The Canteen before we’re alerted by an officer also on the operation to a suspicious car parked outside Cabot Circus. A short chat with the driver reassures Sgt Jones that no crime is being committed and we’re on our way again. “We’re here primarily to focus on e-scooters, but we’ll also pick up other things while out here,” he says.

Next up, in City Road, an annoyed Voi-escooter rider is pulled up for riding on a pavement. The young man is told the offence will be reported to Voi, which will likely send him a warning. Thirty minutes later, we’re heading down Park Street in pursuit of an e-scooter rider spotted speeding on the hill. The man accepts the warning letter and is later seen walking his e-scooter away.

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On foot now, we go to The Fountains where two riders ignore requests to stop from a lone police officer. However, the officer is able to stop a pair on a privately-owned e-scooter while on their way to work. The rider signs the warning letter after a long discussion over the legalities of riding the e-scooter. One more rider is stopped soon after. The man, in his 50s, says he’s on the e-scooter because he’s been banned from driving. He accepts the ticking-off and moves on, on foot.

A man is warned over riding a privately-owned e-scooter on a public highwayA man is warned over riding a privately-owned e-scooter on a public highway
A man is warned over riding a privately-owned e-scooter on a public highway | BristolWorld

After more than two hours’ work, the group of police officers reassemble in the briefing room at Bridewell. In total, 13 warnings have been given out, while earlier in the day one e-scooter and a Surron bike (an electric motorbike) were seized in Southmead with two people summoned to court.

“Pleased?” I ask Sgt Jones. “Yes, we’ve stopped a good number of people today who we’ve engaged with on the use of e-scooters. We hope with a better understanding we will see fewer people breaking the law.”

The Government’s Transport Select Committee is considering making e-scooters legal, with Voi among those in support of the idea. The Swedish company want a change to the vehicle classification, which will enable e-scooters to be ridden legally with the same status as e-bikes. But for now, riding a privately-ranted e-scooter on a public highway is illegal, and anyone caught faces the risk of a fine, penalty points or even e-scooter seizure.

For information on how to report antisocial or illegal riding of e-scooters, click here.