E-scooter sharing providers have been around for a few good years and the industry is finally (slowly) moving away from its controversial status that came with unregulated launches. Remember the bans that followed the rollout of such operations in major cities around the world? Some banned the Personal Mobility Devices (PMDs) altogether, while others restricted their use in certain areas. Now, things are starting to change.
The pandemic helped the electric scooter industry move faster into a new era where instead of the two-sided, public-private argument we have the public-private cooperation. This is the only approach that, according to mobility experts, will guarantee its growth.
The biggest news for the shared e-scooter business in the last year came in June when, mid-pandemic, the U.K. and New York City announced the legalization of electric scooters to rent. In both cases, legislation—referred by some as out of date—banned the use of scooters. The main issues were related to the safety of the riders and of other traffic participants. NYC, one of the most coveted markets worldwide by ride-share and micromobility providers, launched a Request for Expressions of Interest scheduled to close in mid-December. The selected operator(s) are expected to start a pilot program in every borough—except Manhattan—in March. The same is planned in London, where trials with up to three companies are starting in spring. Other cities in the U.K. already started testing the vehicles with mixed results.
The idea behind the fresh start in these two major cities is to address both previously contentious safety issues, a much needed response to the COVID-19 pandemic, and sustainability, to counteract the effects of climate change. An encouraging fact is that in countries like Germany, e-scooter ridership has increased significantly recently as the PMDs are seen as a great alternative to public transport, which poses increased health risks, and the use of private cars. Roughly 51 percent of e-scooter rides in the country have been used to replace trips that would have been made by car, according to a Nunatak survey. The explanation is that Germany put together clear regulations in place to allow the use of e-scooters in public areas since the spring of 2019. These rules limit the speed to 20 km/h (about 12 mph) but also clarify technical aspects.
In a Micromobility Industries podcast, host Oliver Bruce discusses with urbanist and shared mobility expert Emily Castor Warren how the regulation in Germany is even reflected in the technical quality of the scooters, which are sturdy and well-equipped compared to those in other countries with lower standards. This is a great considerable winin favor of sustainability, a major goal in European countries. Higher quality e-scooters need less maintenance and don’t need to be replaced so often.
More encouraging numbers come from France. Bird claims that its ridership in Paris increased by 300 percent during the metro strikes at the end of last year, which goes to show that the city can survive without public transport and e-scooters are a great alternative during major disruptive events. Why would the pandemic be any different?
Before scooters were banned from major cities, there were no clear rules for parking, speed limits etc., which annoyed pedestrians and even put some at risk (disabled or blind city dwellers, for example). Now, state and local governments are paying more attention to all aspects related to riding e-scooters in order to avoid any inconveniences and provide the most benefit to the city. In fact, adhering to a community’s welfare is a must for a micromobility provider looking to be successful Warren—a former policy advisor for Lyft and Lime—highlights in the same podcast. She encourages newcomers in the segment to build partnerships with local governments early on and get involved in creating new regulatory pathways, where necessary. In her opinion, the future of micromobility means striking a balance between a viable business and protecting the concerns and goals that public authorities have.
This approach is highlighted in the business strategy of LINK, the newly launched shared micromobility division of mobility engineering and tech company Superpedestrian. Warren, who is an advisor for Superpedestrian, says that LINK combines proven vehicle technology and fleet management with a deep respect for city government. The mobility expert believes that the latter is an essential part of the future of micromobility.
In a recent op-ed dedicated to NYC’s upcoming shared e-scooters pilot program, she outlines three lessons she had learned from the mistakes of other cities that she would like to see applied in the Big Apple. One of them is finding a provider that is committed to being a good civic partner. She writes: “Sadly, the recent history of mobility tech platforms is marred by a lack of transparency, good-faith collaboration and mutual trust.” The other two lessons are: using tech to self-enforce no-ride zone and addressing low-income riders, an initiative that needs to be rewarded by local governments.
Warren applied all these principles at LINK, already operating in a few U.S. cities like Fort Pierce, Knoxville, Salt Lake City and Columbus. The company is also doing trials in some NYC boroughs, showing riders the new generation of e-scooters. Some of the characteristics of these vehicles include:
- geofencing—uses GPS to determine where scooters can and cannot be ridden, based on city policy
- Vehicle Intelligence System that monitors the entire vehicle in real-time and does a self-check before each ride
- green light on handlebars that lets people know a scooter can be rented—possible only after a LINK staff member fully sanitized the device (happens after each ride)
In future, there won’t be two sides of an conflict, instead more like two sides of a partnership when it comes to e-scooters to rent in major cities. Next year, the battle for two major markets—New York City and London—will come to an end and the industry will top 500 million rides globally, Bird Founder & CEO Travis VanderZanden predicts. The business man writes that e-scooter tech will continue to develop around two major points: sustainability and safety. VanderZanden underlines the necessity of environmentally friendly mobility solutions, which will fuel the growth of the sector.
So, providers in the industry need to work WITH cities and FOR the people in order to achieve success. That’s what will make the difference going forward. While e-scooters were once a modern plague for urban settings, the devices now have the chance to become the key solution for a greener, safer city life.