E-Scooting for Safer Journeys - Frankie

By Julia Thorley

Published: April 16, 2024

Frankie Voi Scooter.

By Julia Thorley                                                                                                                      4 minute read
 

Frankie O’Dowd doesn’t think age is a barrier to using an e-scooter to get around town. She’s in her 40s, and says there are more riders like her than you might imagine. She first took to the road on an e-scooter during a visit to Belgium. ‘I noticed everyone seemed to be using them to get around Brussels,’ she says, ‘and I thought I’d give it a go. I soon realised what a sensible option it was. Now I use one most of the time, though I do also drive.’ She was definitely one of the early adopters and says it brings lots of benefits.
 

 

Convenience
‘It’s just so convenient. It’s quick and there’s no issue with parking. A 15-minute walk becomes a two-minute scoot. Because I’m a frequent user, I was offered a helmet by Voi at a reduced price, which I’m happy to use. I’d also recommend wearing gloves. I get a ‘frequent user’ discount, too. ‘One of the first trips I took was to deliver my Christmas cards. Instead of driving around town for a couple of hours, I did the whole job in about 20 minutes.’
 

Voi Scooters parked in Kettering

Feeling Safer After Dark
Now one of her main uses is her regular trip to the railway station from where she commutes to London. ‘It almost feels like a bit of a treat to use a scooter for this relatively short journey. I catch a very early train and sometimes it’s still dark when I leave home. I feel safer making this trip on an e-scooter than I would walking because it’s quicker and I feel more visible. The same is true in the evenings when I’m connecting with friends, perhaps out for a meal. I’ve never felt unsafe or had any bother from anyone.’
 

Training and Good Riding
Another reason why Frankie feels safe on her scooter is that she’s a very confident rider. ‘I followed Voi’s online training, which is very useful because it reminds you of how to behave on the road, as well as teaching you to manage the scooter’s controls. You can set the machine to ‘training’ mode and practise slowly at first until you get the hang of it. 'You could almost say I’m a bit sanctimonious when it comes to the rules of the road. I’m very respectful of other road-users and extremely law-abiding. I used to cycle in London, so I’m happy finding my space on the carriageway. I pay attention, too. Riding is an active process. I practise defensive scooting, trying to anticipate problems before they arise, and I stand up very straight, like a meerkat! ‘The only thing I sometimes have a bit of an issue with is indicating to turn. On a pushbike you simply put your arm out; you can’t do that on an e-scooter because it would throw your balance off, and anyway you need to keep your hands on the controls.’
Some people say that it’s possible to indicate by sticking one leg out, but this is not official Voi policy! Frankie laughs at this suggestion. ‘Maybe I should give it a try! What I actually do if I’m unsure, especially with turning right across traffic, is to pull into the kerb and cross the road with the pedestrians.’

Voi Scooter parked against a bush Voi Scooter Rack. Frankie Voi Scooter.

No Room for Colin!
There is one small problem she has with using an e-scooter, however. ‘It’s just a little grumble, really, but I can’t take my dog Colin on it, which is a shame because I could take him with me to Wicksteed Park or Weekley Hall Wood. That said, I haven’t tried putting him in a dog-carrier on my back. Perhaps I should look into this. Otherwise, I can generally carry everything I need in a couple of bags slung one over each shoulder.
 

Availability and Infrastructure
‘The only other issue, and again it’s not a huge problem, is that sometimes I struggle to find a scooter during the day because a lot of them are used by people who work on the edge of town on one of the industrial estates. There’s usually one in an adjacent road, though, and the app is very good at showing where free scooters are and how much range there is on the battery.’ When it comes to local infrastructure, there are a couple of things that Frankie would like to see improved. ‘Some of the road markings are a bit confusing on the cycle paths. It’s not always clear whether a route is for walkers or cyclists or both. I would never ride on a path where it is illegal to. Then there’s the problem of potholes, which, based on what friends in other parts of the country tell me, are particularly bad in Northamptonshire. I’m very aware of this, and of drains and so on. I often report problems.’
 

Who E-Scoots?
Frankie says she has encouraged several of her friends to convert to e-scooting. ‘Once they give it a go, they are generally surprised at how great they are. There are actually a lot of women my age who use them; it’s just that you don’t see us because either we use them early in the morning or after dark for socialising. There is a perception that e-scooters are aimed at a younger demographic and I do wonder why more older people don’t give it a try. It could be a question of confidence, or perhaps they’re just in the habit of taking quick journeys by car. Maybe we could have some ‘have a go’ sessions.’
 

Happy to Hire
Even if it became legal to ride privately owned e-scooters on UK roads, Frankie would probably stick to hiring one when she needs it. ‘I’m happy to leave the responsibility of the regulations around licensing and insurance to someone else. I also wonder if people who owned one would make full use of it, or whether it would end up sitting in the shed, especially since you can’t take them on a train.’
The Voi e-scooters are in Kettering and other towns in North and West Northamptonshire as part of one of several trials around the country. What will happen when the trial ends hasn’t been decided.
‘I really hope we get to keep them,’ says Frankie. ‘They are an asset to the town.’
 

Frankie Voi Scooter. Lady riding an e scooter Lady on E scooter

Footnote
While anyone can own an e-scooter, the only place you are legally allowed to use one is on private land. Only e-scooters rented as part of an approved scheme may be driven on UK roads or cycle paths. To ride a Voi-e-scooter, riders must have either a full or provisional driving licence and meet age restrictions. In Northamptonshire, the age limit is 18. Account holders must not allow anyone else to use their scooter.

Which Trips Could You Switch?
Even if you go everywhere by car, which trips would you consider switching to an e-scooter?  What would inspire you or enable you to give it a go? 
Our ‘Which Trips Could You Switch?’ series of case studies are based on interviews with people from Kettering, North Northamptonshire as part of the Brightwayz Get Down To Town project which aims to support, enable and promote more travel options for short journeys in the town. The Get Down To Town project is funded by North Northamptonshire Council with funding from Active Travel England and is designed and delivered by Brightwayz social enterprise.

Now watch our Video:  Which Trips Could You Switch? Voi e-scooter - Frankie O’Dowd

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