By Fredrik Hjelm, co-founder and CEO, Voi Technology
2019 was the year that millions of Europeans discovered the electric scooter.
Fully grown adults ditched cars or private hire vehicles last year to ride these silent, climate-friendly vehicles as part of their commute or simply to explore town in a new, fun way.
A third of Oslo residents used an e-scooter in 2019, demonstrating the level of demand operators have seen across the continent.
But as e-scooter operators moved into new markets in Germany, Scandinavia, France, Spain, Italy and Portugal, there were headlines we did not want to see. Pedestrians complained of clutter and wild-cat parking, about the speed of vehicles and who had priority on pavements.
While policy makers in many countries held back from snap decisions, it became clear to us and to many city officials across Europe that regulation was necessary if the nascent e-scooter sector was to survive. 2020 needs to be the year when regulators make their mark. Without any regulation, e-scooters will never achieve the goal of providing a non-polluting, cheap, personal way to get around cities.
It’s a rare CEO who actively invites regulation of his sector but that is what is needed. Without clear rules this transport option may never get off the ground. We know what happened to dockless bikes Ofo and Mobikes in markets like the UK, where there were no controls.
Responsible e-scooter operators are working closely with city authorities and national governments such as that of the UK are reviewing how the new form of transport can be made legal.
Denmark is one state that has just announced that it will put in place national legislation to enable municipalities to provide parking spaces for micro mobility – something which we applaud. That’s why it was particularly disheartening to see Copenhagen in December split a city tender to provide 3,000 e-scooters between 10 operators, without looking at what would actually deliver the best possible service to the citizens.
Copenhagen’s move was tantamount to inaction.
Undoubtedly there will be different models of regulation that evolve in the next 12 months. One size will never fit all in our complicated continent. But the Copenhagen model is not one that should prosper.
Marseille recently awarded three city tenders to Voi, Bird of California and Germany’s Circ which will enable each operator to put 2,000 e-scooters into the city. Contracts will be renewed each year, for up to three years.
Paris is in the middle of making a decision on which operators should provide its e-scooter services. Amsterdam, Rome and Turin are also planning tenders.
Progressive and innovative cities are adopting a regulatory approach to micro mobility, opting for a limited number of players in their cities.
In contrast, Copenhagen’s solution will lead to more clutter, confusion for users and allow smaller, less well-resourced operators an opportunity to scrape through without the organisation to provide a decent, safe service. Madrid, which resorted to banning scooters for a while, is still struggling with too many operators.
Also, it will be very difficult for an operator providing just 300 scooters to integrate effectively with public transport providers who move tens of thousands of people each day.
As we wait for Paris to complete its tender process, other city authorities across Europe should recognise that without licensing or rules, there is only so much an e-scooter operator can do to encourage and promote good rider behaviour, safe tidy parking and ultimately sustainability.
If cities want to encourage less polluting new modes of transport they need to devote space, time and resources to it – of which a rigorous licensing process is just the beginning.
Policy makers owe it to citizens and visitors to their city to use their authority to shape cities for the future.
In Germany, we have worked very closely with the authorities in each city where we operate under legislation. Since launching in June last year, several million riders have used our scooters which have to reach minimum safety standards and use certain parking bays.
In our home city of Sweden, we have introduced designated parking spaces and reduced speed zones in Swedish cities as a precursor to conversations about licensing.
In 2020 we expect that some cities will take really radical steps to improving their environment, like banning gas guzzling 4 x 4s from the streets. Others will move to devote more space to new forms of transport.
But the very least a city should do is create a responsible framework in which low-polluting models of transport could thrive.
Copenhagen should look more closely at the Marseille model that awards a limited number of licences on the basis of evidence of competence and financial resilience.
Very few public transport systems are entirely open to the free market – for good reason. Copenhagen is well positioned as the bike capital of Europe to lead the way in integrating different sustainable modes. But if micro-mobility is to succeed in Europe’s cities regulation needs to be fit for purpose.
Only with firm hands on the tiller will Denmark’s very ambitious and admirable goals to fight climate change be achieved.