If you live in any major European city, you have probably seen an electric scooter. Maybe you have even used one yourself to get back from work or take a self-guided tour of a foreign city. Scooter-sharing programs are everywhere you turn and have become the go-to mode of transportation for urban areas around the world.
This new form of transportation is quickly becoming useful for cities trying to unclog their streets and reduce traffic and pollution. They don’t, however, come without a cost, as scooters are creating havoc on sidewalks and pedestrian walkways. As scooters become more ubiquitous, it will be up to cities to find a way to incorporate these new forms of transportation safely and effectively.
How it All Started
In urban areas, transportation has always been either expensive or slow and tedious. Public transportation, while cheap, can be a hassle, and taking a taxi cab is not economically viable for many people. Car-sharing apps like Uber and Lyft were the first to disrupt the urban transportation industry, providing a peer-to-peer network of ride-sharing services which looked to reduce the price of transportation in urban areas.
Iterating off the ride-sharing idea, and with more of a movement to reduce congestion on roadways, several companies launched bike-sharing programs where riders could pick up and drop off bicycles at any station around the city, paying for only as much time as they used. Companies such as Citi Bike and YouBike have made a name for themselves by providing bicycles to city dwellers and travelers. There are now even companies which provide services for companies and localities looking to put in their own personalized, bike-sharing services.
With the car sharing and bike sharing markets fully saturated, there was a need for transportation services which didn’t clog up city streets like cars but also were easier and quicker to use than bicycles. This lack led to the emergence of electric scooter sharing. Electric scooters mimic the function of traditional bikes except they allow users to travel in a fraction of the time. Concurrently, they keep cars off of the roads, limiting congestion in cities and reducing pollution.
Competition is Fierce
Even though scooter sharing is relatively new, there are already several large players working to be the global standard. The major scooter-sharing service in the United States, Bird is preparing itself to launch in more than 50 European cities. The company is backed by more than $400 million in funding to grow its operations.
The other major player in the market, Lime, has already raised $765 million in funding from large venture capital funds like Bain Capital Ventures. Lime is centered mostly in the East Coast of the United States, but also has scooters in several countries throughout Europe such as Austria, France, Finland, and Germany, to name a few. The company recognizes the flaws within the scooter rental industry, and has helped to establish a safety advisory board as a result.
This new fad is so popular even car-sharing companies are getting in on the action. Bolt, an Uber-like ride-sharing service out of Estonia, recently launched a scooter-sharing service in Paris and Madrid. According to the company’s co-founder Markus Villig, the goal is to increase travel efficiency. “Beating the traffic is a big issue in cities such as Madrid, and a lot of trips are much more efficiently covered with an electric scooter rather than a car with a driver,” Villig said.
Cityscoot is one of the biggest players in the European market. The company is more focused on two-wheel sitdown scooters as opposed to the standing scooters other companies have introduced. After raising €40 million last year, Cityscoot is set to grow its operations outside of its current localities of Paris, Nice, Milan, and Rome.
VOI out of Sweden is another European-born competitor in this crowded field. The company is looking to hit 150 European cities with its electric scooters. VOI has already found some success, having reached 2 million rides from customers since its inception. To top things off, the Berlin-based Tier raised €25 million in a round of funding late last year.
These are just some of the players in a market which is increasing in size daily. Although, new entrants will have to come strapped with cash to fund their operations and relationships with cities across Europe to get prime real estate to reel in customers.
Maybe the biggest advantage electric scooters have over more traditional forms of transportation is that of pollution reduction. An electric scooter can travel an estimated 80 miles on one-kilowatt hour of energy versus one mile of travel by a conventional car. By eliminating one more car on the road, electric scooters decrease carbon emissions and help restore balance to the Earth.
The other big advantage of this new mode of transportation is reducing congestion on the roads. Major cities around the world are plagued with terrible traffic that makes getting around difficult. Electric scooters, especially the stand-up variety, allow more traffic in bike lanes and sidewalks, relieving crowded city streets of congestion.
Scooters also provide large cities with another tourist attraction. Tourists can easily hop on a scooter and take a guided or self-guided tour of any city quickly and easily without having to pay for an expensive rental car. This has created an entirely new electric scooter tour sub-category within the tourism industry, which is set to grow in popularity along with this new form of transportation.
A New Kind of Congestion
Unfortunately, while electric scooters remove congestion on the roads, they move congestion to the sidewalks. Pedestrians complain that the influx of scooters is dangerous to those on bicycles or walking as they have been known to weave their way in and out of traffic on the sidewalk.
Even parked scooters remain a congestion issue as they impede pathways when not in use. In Paris, there are an estimated 15,000 scooters already on the streets, leading to congested sidewalks. This has led to businesses which give scooters parking tickets and even repossess the two-wheelers if left unattended.
There is a lack of clear regulation around these new forms of transportation, which makes it the wild-west in the minds of many. Motivational speaker Alex Montoya, who wears three prosthetic limbs says, “I’ve almost been knocked over several times…We’re not trying to eliminate the scooters. We’re trying to make sure people ride them responsibly.” Such safety concerns are very real. The recent death of a British YouTube star riding an electric scooter calls into question the safety of these vehicles in congested cities.
Cities are now issuing citations to scooter companies for everything from failure to affix educational brochures to scooters to operating outside of their licensed zone. There are even scooter repo men who have been found repossessing scooters which are not following the law and holding them for ransom.
The Future Will Bring More Regulation
If scooters really take off, cities could take even more expanded measures to welcome them. One would be to expand bicycle paths to incorporate standing scooters. Many believe allowing scooters full access to bike lanes would lessen congestion that these vehicles currently present and create a more appropriate division in streets for the flow of traffic. Previously mentioned scooter startup Bird even offered to pay a subsidy for bike lanes (which it recently got rid of) in order to create a safe space for scooter riders.
This could lead to an increase in regulation around the vehicles, which is a necessary step in order to keep everyone on the road safe. Such regulation could make it harder for new electric scooter companies to enter the market, but would likely not deter the incumbent companies from growing their businesses to new locations.
With all that scooters bring to the table, there is no reason not to think that this new transportation revolution will continue to grow. Cities across Europe will have to adjust their thinking on transportation to better incorporate electric scooters into their cities.