Ever since the first salmon-coloured contraption was spotted on the streets of Bristol back in October 2020, Voi’s e-scooters have changed the face of the city.
And now, with Bristol firmly established as the place which has taken e-scooters more firmly to their hearts than anywhere else in Europe, Voi have chosen Bristol to roll out the next generation of their machines.
With thousands of people regularly riding them at least once a week, around 5,000 on the roads at any one time, seven million miles travelled on them around Bristol and South Gloucestershire and people taking four million journeys in the past 18 months or so, the scooters have become such a fixture in Bristol now that it’s hard to imagine the city without them.
The roll out of the new scooters coincides with the areas of Bristol in which they can be legally ridden expanding. From today, they can be ridden in North West Bristol – from Westbury-on-Trym to Avonmouth and everywhere in between.
And from next month, Bristol’s e-scooter revolution will – finally – include everywhere in South Bristol beyond the ring road – from Withywood and Hartcliffe round to Stockwood and Whitchurch.
Lots and lots of people don’t like them. The kind of drivers who think the roads belong to the motor vehicle and didn’t think it was possible for them to loathe another fellow traveller more than cyclists have found a new nemesis. Pedestrians complain about people riding them on pavements, or them being parked on pavements blocking the way.
A lot of the issues with e-scooters relate to the principle of the actual hire scheme pilot itself – which requires people to leave them for the next rider somewhere in public, while other issues relate just as much, if not more, to the thousands upon thousands of privately-owned and still – at the time of writing – illegally-ridden e-scooters that buzz around the city.
But now, 20 months after the first Vois were introduced to Bristol and Bath, they’ve had an upgrade. The new ‘V5’ is the latest iteration of the Voi, and is gradually going to replace the older versions from Horfield to Highridge.
So for the thousands of you who ride Voi e-scooters around Bristol regularly, what exactly are the new V5s like? I took one for a test ride, along some of the most gruelling terrain the the city – the cobbles either side of Prince Street Bridge – and this is what it’s like.
The V5’s first big difference is the size. It feels chunkier. The deck you stand on is wider, it’s higher off the ground – so there’s none of that crunch on your ankle when you kick the stand up and it drops to the wheels. It is less likely to scrape on the kerb either as you manoeuvre it off the pavement and onto the road too.
A lot of this feel of being bigger comes from the wheels, which are noticeably wider and bigger than what now feel like ‘old’ Voi e-scooters. It’s like this new version is an off-road BMX compared to a junior racing bike.
The wider deck, bigger and wider wheels and higher starting point is continued at the back, where the rear mudguard thing is a lot more sturdy. Many an old Voi I’ve ridden where the back wheel protector has come loose somehow and is scraping the wheel or wobbling about like a hen party in the harbourside. This new Voi seems a bit less breakable.
The biggest change is up the top though – in the handlebar area. Gone is the thing you’re supposed to put your phone on. No one does, of course, because it’s a fiddly and too fragile-looking frame with a screw to tighten it.
Now, the new Voi has a centred phone holder that is fundamentally part of the scooter, not another wobbly appendage. Everything on the handlebar seems a bit more natural and less counter-intuitive too. Voi said they’ve listened to transport groups of different people – women’s groups and disabled groups – and made changes. While it might feel sexist to say the new scooters are better adapted for smaller women’s hands, it kind of matters. It’s a lot more user-friendly, especially for someone with hands and fingers smaller than my great sausages.
The brakes, indicators and the ‘Go’ button are closer together, more easily reached, and the brakes themselves are responsive and tight, although that’s to be expected on a new machine, of course.
The indicators are different too. They just need pressing once and will automatically switch off after a few seconds – a bit like driving a car. That could be a bit of a pain for someone waiting in traffic, but at least it should end the unnecessary angst of seeing someone riding along a straight road blissfully unaware they’ve forgotten to turn the indicator off.
Overall, I was surprised at how different the V5 e-scooter actually was. It felt different, more robust, bigger, safer and more sturdy.
The other thing Voi say they’ve improved is actually my biggest bug-bear with the e-scooter pilot scheme so far: the patchy GPS facility. To enforce where the scooters can be ridden at normal speed, slow speed or not at all, and where they can be parked or not parked, they are all fitted with a GPS function which will slow down or stop a scooter, or not allow it to be parked up in the wrong place.
On the old Voi scooters, this didn’t work well enough. Too many times, I’d be riding along Colston Avenue, on the road, in front of a lorry and alongside a bus, and the scooter would just stop dead or slow to a halt quickly because the GPS wrongly thought I was 20 yards to my left, buzzing past pensioners at the Cenotaph. I wasn’t, I was having a near-death experience with the front bumper of an HGV screeching to a halt behind me.
Too many times I’ve been in a rush to park, only to find myself wandering in circles, focussed on myself as a dot on a map on my phone, trying to line it up with a tiny P sign on the map. Too many times, the app says I’m in a good spot to park and not in a parking spot at the same time – like Schroedinger’s scooter park – a phenomenon so bizarre that my colleague Conor Gogarty wrote about it when he experienced it.
The jury is out on whether the new V5s have solved this problem – only time and extensive usage will tell if they’ve cracked it. I hope so, because they’ve improved everything else physically with the scooters.