Rental e-scooters are a common sight in the main cities of countries like France, Italy and the US – but they were illegal in the UK until recently.
However, now with the pandemic narrowing daily commuters to choose to travel from public transport and preferably switching to safe personal transport – e-scooters, e-bikes are becoming quite popular in urban cities.
Consequently, the UK has announced a scheme under which e-scooters are now legal on roads in England, Scotland, and Wales as a part of a 12-month trial. Right now the trial is live in Middlesbrough, a post-industrial town in North Yorkshire, England.
With the new rules in effect, several e-scooter companies are interested in entering UK cities with their cool and next-gen e-scooter fleets. However, there are a set of rules that needs to be followed.
The e-scooters will be limited to travelling at 15.5mph and banned on pavements. Also, riders will need to be aged 16 or over and have a full or provisional driving license. Notably, the privately-owned e-scooters remain illegal on roads.
Previously, the e-scooter-sharing schemes were severely criticised over dumped scooters on the pavements in Paris. So now it is important to establish some ground rules to avoid vehicles being abandoned on pavements.
According to DfT’s statement, the regulations only cover rental schemes “to avoid a flood of poor-quality scooters onto the streets.”
A lot of electric-scooter firms, including Voi, Tier Mobility, Neuron, Bird, are vying for licences in UK cities right now. We chatted to mobility startups to understand how they are planning to implement the fleet for use in city trials.
Neuron Mobility: From Asia with love
The e-scooter hire operator in Australia and New Zealand — Neuron — is now preparing to launch their e-scooters in the UK. As per the Singapore-based startup their e-scooters are built for safe sharing and are all set to hit the streets of England soon.
Founded by Zachary Wang and Harry Yu in 2016, Neuron has secured over €18 million of investment from Square Peg and GSR Ventures. In an exclusive interview with Silicon Canals, Zachary Wang says, “We are excited to be talking to local authorities across the UK that have expressed an interest in taking part in the e-scooter trials. We have a great experience from the Australia and New Zealand markets that can transfer well to the UK. We are working to individual towns’ and cities’ timetables, but we hope to hit their streets soon.”
According to Wang, Neuron has taken a different approach than many other operators. “We want to run a sustainable business (for example, we were the first to introduce battery swapping, which reduces the cost of our operations). Our approach has been to partner with cities for the long-term, providing them with bespoke solutions that best suit their needs. In Brisbane, we recently got our contract extended after a successful 12 months.”
Voi: ‘A fifth of e-scooters could replace cars on packed UK streets’
The Swedish micro-mobility startup Voi recently announced that it has reached its first-ever monthly profit at a group level for June 2020. On top of that, it also topped up it’s funding with €26.3 million. The investment was led by VNV Global Ltd, along with the participation of more than 20 existing shareholders.
With its e-scooter service spread across 40 cities and 11 countries, Voi is the next e-scooter competitor planning to foray into the UK market to fight for a chunk of market share.
Voi’s spokesperson says, “We believe that the best way to test rental e-scooters is to work very closely with local authorities, communities, and other transport partners to create a micro-mobility offer that truly responds to the local needs. We are bringing with us the many lessons learned in the cities and regions we operate in across Europe. Most importantly, Voi is taking the many lessons learned in its work in other countries and applying them here, to launch safely, sustainably, and with benefits for all road users.”
Voi has also seen a paradigm shift in the operating environment. Following the COVID-19 lockdowns, the regulatory environment in many countries has improved significantly, and decision-makers are embracing new modes of transportation.
Revealing some details on the UK launch, the spokesperson informs, “We’re in the process of launching at the moment – our UK team is seeing huge interest in Voi’s e-scooter rental service from cities and regions right across the country. We’re currently in the final stages of several tenders with cities, towns, and regions, and we hope to have our first pilot up and running in a matter of weeks. Also, we see the UK as potentially the largest market for e-scooters in Europe and believe that we can facilitate 100,000 rides a day across the UK by the end of 2020. We also believe that a fifth of Voi rides could replace cars on packed UK streets.”
Bird: Gets approval from UK government
Already scored approval from the government’s Department for Transport (DfT), Bird One electric scooter model will hit the streets as a part of local micro-mobility trials throughout Britain.
“Bird pioneered the shared e-scooter industry, and we’re honoured to bring our robust operational experience and unrivaled vehicle engineering to the UK,” said Caroline Hazlehurst, Bird’s Vice President of operations in Europe. “Transport Minister Maclean has made it clear that safety and sustainability will be at the core of the upcoming micro-mobility trials, and today’s decision from the DfT demonstrates our readiness to help local governments respond to these critically important issues.”
How green and safe are e-scooters really?
How did e-scooters, a dangerous tech mobility device transformed into a ‘safer’ green travel alternative for the post-lockdown era?
For this, the Scandinavian green mobility company, Voi focuses on excellent customer service, unit economics, sustainability performance, and operational excellence, the spokesperson notes, “Voi is a European company and this is a core part of our identity – all of our scooters are designed in Stockholm, and we’re more focussed on sustainability than other players. When we launch in the UK, we will offer riders our latest e-scooter – Voiager 3. It features a swappable battery because this means each working e-scooter can be on the streets for longer, which is ultimately better for the environment.”
It’s worth mentioning that, Voiager 3 e-scooter, generates 34,7 CO2 eq. emissions per person per kilometer, which is 72% lower than our US counterparts. “We have also recently announced that we have a carbon-neutral service in all Voi cities through a partnership with EcoAct, French climate neutrality expert, and contributor to Paris’ Climate Plan. By the end of this year, all of Voi’s warehouses will run on green energy. We’re also opposed to ‘gig’ work employment (and don’t employ anyone in this way) and are committed to living carbon-neutral. We’re also committed to responsible growth, and won’t be flooding the streets with scooters.”
On the other hand, guided by three principles – safety, innovation, and partnerships, Neuron has developed many world firsts in the e-scooter market. It also includes the only app-controlled helmet attached which has to be unlocked before use, 999 Emergency Button, topple control features, geo-location, and the first voice guidance talking e-scooter feature.
Coming to US-based Bird, their e-scooter — Bird One is equipped with features like dual independent brakes, industry-leading battery waterproofing, Bluetooth connectivity. Further, it also comes with state of the art fault detection that allows users to proactively identify and prevent possible issues.
New normal, new rules: E-scooters are safer!
Such glaring pledge to sustainability definitely is pleasing the authorities in charge of the coronavirus recovery, as they attempt to develop transport needs that fit social distancing. At the same time, several shared e-scooters brands which were paused during the lockdown, they are gradually coming back to cities, with high-standard cleaning measures.
Voi also had paused operations in several markets but managed to re-open successfully. The spokesperson says, “Since scooters operate in the open air, they are a much safer choice for commuters than other forms of enclosed public transport, at this time. As a result, we’ve since seen a huge increase in the number of journeys made using Voi’s scooters. In fact, Voi was profitable for the first time in June. To make sure our fleet is safe, we have increased our cleaning and maintenance frequencies. We alert riders to the need to sanitise their hands before and after using an e-scooter or to wash hands thoroughly. In France, we’re also piloting self-cleaning/sanitising handle-bars on our scooters.”
Although, Neuron doesn’t seem to be affected, and in fact, the startup is said to have helped many public health workers with free passes during the crisis.
Wang notes, “Unlike most of our competitors, we decided to keep our service running to support the cities and our riders throughout COVID-19. We provided free passes to public health workers, and we had terrific feedback about that.”
He goes on saying. “One of our company priorities has always been to be a true partner to the cities we operate, so it just seemed the right thing to do. Continuing to run our service through the lockdown period was a great way to support the cities we operate, and it also allowed us to gain valuable insight into how people will want to travel post-COVID-19. Many new habits were forged during the lockdown, including perceptions of different transport options and how we travel around cities.”
In a survey conducted by the company from the riders, concerns around social distancing and the exposure to germs on public transport have increased the popularity of individual transport options like bikes and e- scooters. Wang from Neuron adds, “One out of every five riders in the lockdown had never ridden a scooter before. Findings showed a massive 91% of travellers now consider the risks of COVID-19 when deciding between available transport options, and 85% of respondents said they would continue to be aware of COVID-19 risks on transport even when restrictions relax.”
Talking about sanitising their e-scooters, Wang shares, “When the pandemic struck, we immediately deployed teams sanitising around the clock using a hospital-grade disinfectant, designed to kill a broad range of bacteria and viruses including COVID-19. We track exactly when our e-scooters and helmets are cleaned. We also put into place practices to protect our staff, with personal protection equipment, as well as revised illness and travel policies. We will be introducing all of these policies in the UK, plus we have some new features.”
But it can be fatal..
While e-scooters caught up with the trend since last year, one more thing which increased with their adoption was accidents – and some of them were fatal. E-scooters pose dangerous threats to wheelchair users, blind and partially sighted and of course the pedestrians. Also, using the e-scooters on roads without cycle lanes is also risky. Further, there are no insurance rules and also e-scooters can be hazardous when not in use: most sharing rentals are dockless, resulting in scooters being dumped on pavements, causing roadblocks.
Most of the leading mobility startups are still in the process of working on these concerns. Throwing some lights on safety measures, Voi’s spokesperson shares “We believe in tackling safety through rider education. New riders can earn credits from our #RidelikeVoila traffic school. For non-driving riders this is a vital resource and sometimes the only place they will receive road safety instruction. We find that they quickly learn important tips from our apps. As more people turn to micro-mobility, it’s our job to educate riders about traffic rules using technology and pop-up stands, where it is appropriate. In city centres, the main cause of accidents is cars, with 8/10 accidents involving a car. That is why we want to see infrastructure adapted to make safe routes for cyclists, scooter riders, and pedestrians. Changing how we move around city centres will free up space for people to get out of cars.”
On the other side, Caroline Hazlehurst, Bird’s Vice President of operations in Europe, says “Bird pioneered the shared e-scooter industry, and we’re honoured to bring our robust operational experience and unrivaled vehicle engineering to the UK. Transport Minister Maclean has made it clear that safety and sustainability will be at the core of the upcoming micro-mobility trials, and today’s decision from the DfT demonstrates our readiness to help local governments respond to these critically important issues.”
Further, Neuron is focusing on getting things right in the UK amid COVID-19 pandemic as the government plans to run, and expand, e-scooter trials across the UK. Talking about the European expansion plans, “COVID-19 has made everyone rethink city travel and obviously, this has fast-tracked the UK government’s plans to run, and expand, e-scooter trials across the UK. We see real potential for our e-scooter model which is focused on safety and partnership with UK local authorities,” concludes Wang.
The 12-month trial
Taking the 12-month trial as an opportunity, Voi aims to demonstrate the benefits of e-scooters to stakeholders across national and local government. “Ensuring safety is our main priority and should be for all participants in the trial. We’ll also need to work closely with city authorities to deal with the issue of street clutter. At Voi, we believe that we’re ahead of the curve on this. In Stockholm, Oslo, and Helsinki, we’ve developed physical parking racks, as well as dockless parking with GPS technology that keeps scooters in recognised parking zones to address this issue. If possible, we’ll be looking at ways of bringing this technology to the UK.”
While, shared mobility startups are paying attention to sustainability and security measures, interjecting the use of renewable energy in operations, electric vehicles, swappable batteries that reduce the need to move scooters away to charge, and extended scooter life with better design and repairs. What do you think? Share your opinion in the comments section below, do you think e-scooters will be a success on UK streets?
Main image credits: BIRD