I tried Birmingham’s new Beryl e-scooters and I will scoot again

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Launched on Wednesday, the new devices are under the spotlight for safety concerns - but here is how it went for me

When I was invited to try one of Beryl’s new e-scooters in Birmingham I thought I was being super smart and getting ahead of the competition by planning to scoot from town to the e-scooter launch event in Selly Oak, Birmingham.

Finding one of the shiny new scooter bays just off Broad Street I approached warily, more like it was a spaceship than a method of getting from Cineworld to the big Sainsbury’s.

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I’m not a driver, to be honest. I’ve always been a bit nervous about being on the road and I never did get my licence as a teenager, preferring to be DJ in the passenger seat of friend’s cars.

When I turned 18 and moved to London, home to the most reliable public transport system in the country, thoughts of owning a car were blissfully far away, replaced by more pressing concerns like the astronomical cost of a pint or a coffee.

But since moving back to my home city, I’ve found the need for speed more pressing. I thought it was time to put my big girl pants on and get out there – maybe an e-scooter was the best place to start? However, my nerves had other ideas.

I had downloaded the Beryl app and registered ahead of time – you can operate an e-scooter with a valid provisional licence, as long as you are over 18 – but while fumbling with my phone on the busy street by the bay, I overheard snippets of conversations from passers-by.

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“Those are death traps, those things” said one woman to her friend.

E-scooter and cycle hire specialist Beryl bring new e-scooter hire scheme to the streets of Birmingham and reporter Kate Knowles takes one for a spin in Selly Oak (Photo - Martin O’Callaghan)E-scooter and cycle hire specialist Beryl bring new e-scooter hire scheme to the streets of Birmingham and reporter Kate Knowles takes one for a spin in Selly Oak (Photo - Martin O’Callaghan)
E-scooter and cycle hire specialist Beryl bring new e-scooter hire scheme to the streets of Birmingham and reporter Kate Knowles takes one for a spin in Selly Oak (Photo - Martin O’Callaghan) | Martin O'Callaghan

A slideshow of old experiences riding my bike on Birmingham streets flashed before my eyes: there was the time I nearly came off in the rain during rush hour, the time a car full of lads sped past to overtake me, yelling “SLAG” out of the window. It was, you know, a pleasant trip down memory lane.

I’m ashamed to say I closed the app and booked an Uber. Thankfully, the launch was a different story, and a helpful pair of Beryl employees showed me the ropes, even going as far as to pop a helmet on me, which they advise riders to wear.

The equipment itself is hefty, the hardest part is turning the scooter around which requires a bit of space, but the weight does make it feel sturdier and I wouldn’t want to take something flimsy on the road.

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Feeling a bit like a primary school kid on a special day out, I walked my scooter to the cycle path in the wake of my Beryl chaperone who pointed out the accelerator and explained how to use it.

There’s a bit of a jolt as it powers up – nothing out of control but you can definitely feel it – but once I got going the thing felt intuitive to use and I zoomed off down the path with ease.

But there are good reasons to be cautious: the West Midlands has been e-scooter free for about five months, since a three-and-a-half year trial period with Swedish company Voi ended in February.

Transport for West Midlands (TfWM) paused its search for the next operator amid safety concerns with several serious collisions blighting the reputation of the devices, including the tragic death of 12-year-old Mustafa Nadeem.

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The coroner found Mustafa died by collision and Voi cooperated with police and the courts throughout, but Mustafa’s family pleaded for more restrictions to stop kids getting hold of the machines.

Beryl and TfWM say these new scooters have enhanced safety measures include driving-licence-scanning technology with selfie verification on sign up and further checks when moving accounts to a new device.

The driving licence scan happens just before your first ride, as explained on the app in a five-slide tutorial with colourful moving illustrations.

Beryl CEO Phil Ellis, who is from the West Midlands and attended Birmingham University, explained that TfWM had brought previous learning to the new scheme to ensure it was safe.

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TfWM’s Head of Operational Assets Andy Thrupp echoed his thoughts, saying: “I think first, it goes without saying that safety is paramount for us.

“So we’ve been working closely with Beryl over the past few months to make sure that safety is the first thing that everybody thinks about and we’ve actually, working with Beryl, enhanced the security features that that we’ve experienced previously.”

As for me, I will scoot again. My only concern is if Birmingham has the infrastructure to use these scooters on – they can’t be used on pavements and it’s recommended to only ride anywhere you’d use a bike. I would have asked Birmingham City Council’s cabinet member for transport Coun Liz Clements (Lab, Bournville and Cotteridge), but unfortunately she didn’t show up to the event.

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