eScooter – combustive agent for the mobility revolution?

“At last, the time has come. E-scooters are also conquering our conurbations and cities in Germany, proving to be a flexible and intelligent complement to cars and public transportation. I see this first new form of #micromobility as a welcome and necessary accelerator for the overdue #mobility revolution. It leads us to a networked, environmentally conscious and customer-oriented mobility. Away from possession and status to use and share. The question is, how can we together, against our habits, achieve this mobility revolution towards #SMARTMobility – for more quality of life and personal autonomy for all.

So much for my opening statement at the format STREITKULTUR on Deutschlandfunk on June 1, 2019.

My opponent: Burkhard Stork, Federal Director of the General German Bicycle Club (ADFC). He calls for a “modern bicycle traffic infrastructure” and “We have to get to the car”.

There was a limited potential for controversy; ultimately, eScooters are another mobility alternative on two wheels and enable more intelligent, efficient and sustainable mobility in cities.

It remained open why, despite the bicycle lobby or because of the car lobby, we have not managed to establish two-wheelers as a real and attractive alternative in Germany. See for example Copenhagen and Amsterdam.

What remained open, in my view, was the question of why we need much more regulation and restriction compared to other European countries. And why are eBikes or pedelecs excluded from these exactly?

There can only be peaceful coexistence if there is a spatial coexistence.

We also found consensus on the fact that a “street war 2-wheeler against 4-wheeler” is going on in many German cities and that the situation is unacceptable even without the eScooter alternative.

The fears are justified. There will be more conflicts if car drivers, cyclists and pedestrians have to share the extremely limited public space in our cities with eScooter drivers in the future. Playing off the different forms of #micromobility against each other is the wrong approach. Both have a legitimate place especially in urban mobility on the principle of a spatial coexistence.

Existing cycle paths are often so narrow that a cyclist has to swerve onto the road to overtake an eScooter safely. In many places it is already virtually impossible for motorists to maintain the prescribed overtaking distance from a two-wheeler. If two-wheeled driving is to be safe (and comfortable), wider, separate two-wheeled paths are needed. And not only at certain points, but across the whole area.

Parking lots and car lanes have to make way for the #mobilityrevolution and even that is still too short. Those who cannot or do not want to travel on two wheels need new affordable and reliable mobility offers, such as ride sharing an intelligently controlled local transport system that provides sufficient capacity at peak times to offer enough space for people and scooters. And last but not least a regulation of car traffic, so that I can get from A to B reliably and without traffic jams and find a parking space (and not continue to waste 30% of my personal (life) time, space and energy uselessly by searching for a parking space.

Transport politicians must finally dare to redistribute traffic areas. This is mainly about parking spaces and lanes. Today, cars in Germany use an average of 50% of our urban space for roads and parking. A car parking space creates space for 8-10 eScooters or 4-6 bicycles. This calculation is rarely shown. Why should an SUV (over 5 meters long, up to 3000 KG weight) have more rights than an eScooter max 2 meters and 0.7 meters wide) in cities in public spaces?

Space in cities is limited and the trend towards urbanisation and population growth in our big cities will further aggravate this situation.

Germany still developing country for micro-mobility

Since autumn 2017, the hip scooters have been in use in more than 130 cities worldwide, where they are part of the cityscape. On 15 June 2019 the eScooter regulation came into force in Germany and it was high time.

Because the electric scooters are a low-threshold offer to cover short distances in city centres. eScooters are used for distances between 0.5 and 4km. On average, they cover 1.3km, i.e. the first or last mile.

Evaluation of the first usage data

Initial empirical surveys and evaluations show that pedestrians and public transport users in particular are taking advantage of this first new service. Drivers have so far only switched to the eScooter to a limited extent. Only in London is the acceptance of scooters higher due to the high city toll for cars.

There is a great need here for well-founded and neutral market research. In addition, education and information is extremely important to pick up potential users and address their fears and concerns.

In my view, the mistakes of the past should not be repeated here. For a long time, eMobility was influenced by negative reporting and presented as a waiver and restriction. To this day, eMobility is a strongly polarising issue and buying and user behaviour is strongly influenced by it.

My quintessence

The discussion about eScooters is about an important step towards platform mobility as the basis of #SMARTMobility, characterised by intermodular, networked, shared and efficient and customer-centred mobility offers in #SMARTCities.

My expert discussions, among others with providers, users, lobbyists and municipal licensing authorities, yielded the following initial results:

  • eScooters are a very sustainable and green form of mobility, which at the same time offers a lot of fun
  • eScooters are an ideal complement to public transport offers and existing ride-hailing shops/service/platforms, because they are designed for the “first&last-mile”.
  • eScooters need to be charged with green electricity (hive) to further emphasize the sustainable approach and meet certain quality, sustainability and safety standards
  • eScooters can – if used sensibly – relieve inner-city traffic. Thus eScooters can become a benefit for the entire city society.
  • Wherever eScooters have been introduced, they have been very successful and have won over many people
  • Economically the eScooters are a “proven business case”. Due to the relatively low acquisition costs, it is possible to achieve a profit margin within a manageable period of time.

Monetization of micromobility

Since the debut of the USA start-up “Bird”, the market has developed rapidly. Today 11 providers with a capitalization >20 million $ (4 of them are from California and 3 from Berlin) share the market for shared eScooters which have collected more than 1.5 billion $ investment. BCG expects a market potential of $40-50 billion worldwide in 2025 (Source).

For me it is crucial and desirable that new forms of mobility offers complement existing ones and are economically successful in the long run. Only in this way will we have more choice of alternatives that meet the criteria of sustainability, efficiency and comfort and become the foundation of #SMARTMobility in #SMARTCities. Micro-mobility should and may be fun and contribute to personal autonomy.

Sources (some in German):

Photo by Zera Li on Unsplash