In some of the world's metropolises they have become part of the street scenery, in many others they will soon be indispensable: e-scooters. The pedal scooters with electric drive offer city dwellers, commuters and tourists a locally emission-free alternative or supplement to local public transport and the car.
Investors include a Formula One World Champion and nine-times Olympic gold medalists
The sharing economy is proving a springboard to get relatively quickly more of these electric powered commuting two-wheelers onto the streets. Now some of the fastest people on earth are getting involved too. Bolt Mobility a company of the charismatic Jamaican former multi Olympic gold medal winning sprinter, Usain Bolt, recently took to the streets in Paris with e-scooters. Almost at the same time, former Formula 1 world champion Nico Rosberg took up a minority shareholding in German based Tier Mobility.
More akin to a child’s toy rather than a serious form of transport, e-scooters have the potential to solve congested city problems from Lisbon to LA. And the industry is growing rapidly: no less than a quarter of a million e-scooters have been driving on France's roads alone since last year.
SEAT has successfully launched its electric scooter SEAT eXS powered by Segway, especially in Spain. The Volkswagen brand is also active in the field: This year it will launch its own last mile surfer, the City Skater, on various markets.
How do they work?
E-Scooter sharing is similar to free floating carsharing. With an app and GPS users can generally locate the closest scooter, scan the QR code and then unlock the scooter. To begin “scooting” the user is required to kick-off and then, the electric motor takes over. In most cases, acceleration is achieved by operating a small throttle lever on the handlebar with your thumb. The payment is taken automatically, being billed directly to the means of payment in the member’s account. The costs are often less than a bus or subway ticket – but arguably a lot more fun, weather permitting.
Range & speed
The scooters maximum range is on average 20 kilometers, with an average maximum speed of around 20km/h in most cases. A helmet is not required but recommended. In the case of scooter-sharing companies, the vehicles “hibernate” overnight, allowing the batteries to be fully charged, returning to the streets the following morning. Some operators allow private people to take on this role, in return for a small consideration.
Where are they in operation?
Over 30 cities and more than 20 states have e-scooters currently roaming their streets. Like the skateboard or beach buggy, the e-scooter hype started in California. Creating the perfect full year market environment, the sunshine state is unsurprisingly also home to a large number of e-scooter sharing operators.
The deployment of e-scooters here hasn’t been without controversy though. In some cities regulators are for example slowly capping the number of scooters. All operators can increase the capped fleet size if they branch out to low income communities.
In areas where the scooters are not welcome geofencing prevents scooters from functioning by detecting the scooters location and disabling the system. People can report improper use of scooters or poorly parked scooters and operators have two hours to pick them up or face their vehicles being impounded.
Paris was one of the first European cities to adopt this new form of transport after the US. Referred to as “trottinettes” in France, they were recently banned from sidewalks with riders now required to use either bike lanes or roads. In Paris, even parking on sidewalks is now forbidden. France has seen a rise in the private use of trottinettes, with many commuters privately buying these contraptions and using them to commute from home to the station to the workplace. According to the French Micro Mobility Federation electric scooters private sales have boomed with more than 200,000 registered in 2018, more than doubling on the previous year.
A small government backed e-scooter test fleet recently took place in Southern Germany to assess the possibility of allowing the further rollout across the entire country later this year. With the successful pilot phase completed, the Upper House of the German Government decided May 17 to allow the scooters to hit the roads and cycleways – but not the pavements.The Federal Government implemented this change in mid-June. The first e-scooter rental companies have already started operating in Berlin. In Germany the scooters electric motor can’t be more powerful than 500 Watts, not be ridden by under the ages of 14 years and not exceed a speed limit of 20km/h. There are also a number of safety conditions that need to be met, including two independent brakes and appropriate lighting. A helmet is recommended but not compulsory.
Capital city, Brussels, already has six different sharing operators, two of which are Belgian companies. Since February 1 authorities have begun regulating the operators more tightly.
There are also several e-scooter providers in Vienna, a total of five in the Austrian capital. The electric kickscooters are limited to a geofenced business area. If the scooters go out of the zone the vehicle makes a warning noise urging the user to return, where the scooter session can be ended.
After a number of incidents a big sharing operator temporarily removed their scooters from the streets pending a further investigation, but this hasn’t stopped the fondly named e-Trottis from both private buyers and other sharing operators from expanding. These can be found in their highest concentration in both Basel and Zurich.
Great Britain is also preparing for the e-scooter wave. A test phase by one operator is currently taking place at London’s Olympic Park to evaluate the potential of a wider roll-out. At the moment e-scooters are only allowed to be ridden on private land.
Thanks to the perfect climate in both Malaga and Madrid these two cities can benefit from year-round operations, which isn’t the case in the more inclement north European cities. Operators such as Bird, Lime and Tier all operate in Spain currently. SEAT has also announced a strategic alliance with the start-up UFO to offer a kicksharing service. As part of this project, 530 units of the SEAT eXS Kickscooter powered by Segway will be made available to residents of Madrid. The Spanish capital does not allow electric scooters in pedestrian areas or on roads where the speed limit is above 50km/h. After a number of incidents late last year the Spanish government began imposing more regulations on operators.
Since last year a Californian operator introduced just under 500 scooters to Portugal’s capital, Lisbon. The city, similar to neighboring Spain, can offer 365 days per year use thanks to its climate although the hilly and often cobbled city streets aren’t without their hazards.
The e-scooter hype has also arrived in Poland. In Warsaw and Wroclaw, the pedal Sharing providers are also taking up business in other cities.
Sweden is also at the forefront of the modern mobility solution. In the Scandinavian country, it is not US providers who set the tone, but the local company VOI. The operator of e-scooter sharing services offers scooters in Stockholm, Gothenburg and Malmö currently as well as in other European cities like Malaga, Zaragoza, Murcia, Lisbon and Paris.
Ideal weather conditions and a flat topography make scooters a viable daily transport alternative to public transport. As public transport doesn’t operate on the Sabbath, the Jewish day of rest, it offers another alternative then too, resulting in a small spike in usage according to an article in Israeli Newspaper Haaretz.