2019 was the year that millions of Europeans discovered the electric scooter.
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 become a viable way to get around cities.
It’s a rare chief executive who actively invites regulation of their sector, but without clear rules this transport option may never get off the ground. When dockless bike providers Ofo and Mobike entered markets like the UK several years ago the lack of control led to chaos.
Responsible e-scooter operators are now working closely with city authorities, and national governments are reviewing how best to incorporate this new form of transport.
Regulators need to have a firm hand
Denmark has just announced it will put in place national legislation to enable municipalities to provide parking spaces for micromobility — something which we applaud. That’s why it was particularly disheartening in December to see Copenhagen 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 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 micromobility, 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 required to provide a decent, safe service. Madrid, which resorted to banning scooters for a while, is still struggling with too many operators.
It will also be very difficult for an operator providing just 300 scooters to integrate effectively with public transport providers that move tens of thousands of people each day.
Cities should set high standards
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 and tidy parking, and ultimately sustainability.
“Without licensing or rules, there is only so much an e-scooter operator can do to encourage and promote good rider behaviour, safe and tidy parking, and ultimately sustainability”
If cities want to encourage new, less polluting modes of transport they need to devote space, time and resources to it — for 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.
When Germany legalised scooters last summer, it set minimum safety standards and required users to stick to specific parking bays.
But scooter operators can set their own standards too. At home in 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 four-by-fours 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, which awards a limited number of licences on the basis of evidenced competence and financial resilience.
Very few public transport systems are entirely open to the free market — and for good reason. Copenhagen is well positioned as the bike capital of Europe to lead the way in integrating different sustainable modes. But if micromobility 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.
Fredrik Hjelm is chief executive and cofounder of Swedish micromobility startup Voi.