October 2, 2020

Tier’s lessons from the world’s scooter capital

Paris has adopted strict scooter regulation, and other cities are getting inspired. Tier Mobility’s France chief says that’s not a bad thing.

Earlier this year, Paris said “non” to scooter chaos and adopted a heavily regulated approach instead, handing out only a few licences for electric-scooter operators to deploy.

Now, those licences are coming into play, and Berlin-based Tier Mobility is getting ready to grow its presence tenfold in the next month. 

The company, one of three that are now allowed to operate in the French capital, will deploy 4,500 more of its scooters onto the streets of Paris, on top of its 500 existing vehicles. Its rivals, Uber-backed startup Lime and Amsterdam-based operator Dott, are also allowed 5,000 “trottinettes”, the French word for the scooters, each.


“Objectively Paris is the biggest micromobility market in the world,” says Alexander Souter, who runs Tier’s business in France and is in charge of developing it in Italy, Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg too. 

Paris is now also one of the most heavily regulated markets — and plenty of other cities around Europe are watching to see how that plays out.

“A lot of cities are going to be looking at whether the Paris regulated system is well operated and what the results are.”


The way Paris is structured, with its 20 densely-packed arrondissements (or neighbourhoods) walled by a circle road called the “périphérique”, has made it an ideal laboratory for micromobility. 

It also helps that Mayor Anne Hidalgo, who was re-elected earlier this year, has pledged to cut back on cars and deployed more than 1,000km of bike lanes. She wants to turn Paris into a ‘15-minute city’, where residents can reach everything they need — without a car — in a quarter of an hour. This stance has enticed companies with alternative forms of mobility to the city.

As a result, Paris has been at the forefront of mobility experiments in recent years, with shared bikes, electric cars and mopeds, as well as battery-powered scooters.

But the French capital’s attractiveness as a mobility laboratory has also threatened to bring chaos to the city many times over. 

For a while, it wasn’t uncommon to see Parisians stepping over scooters knocked down in the middle of a sidewalk, or broken scooters abandoned in piles in parks. Thousands of e-scooters were sabotaged around the country, including in protest of the new technology’s environmental impact.

“12 to 18 months ago, concerns were raised — there was too much competition, and all of it on the public domain,” Tier’s Souter recalls. “Flooding the market with scooters wasn’t a sustainable option. We spent a lot of time talking with city officials about the best way to do things instead.”

At one point, Paris had more than 20,000 scooters run by 12 different operators. City hall predicted that number would exceed 40,000 if the market was left unregulated.


More visibility

In July, following a tightly-contested seven-month tender process, Paris handed out licences to three operators: Lime, Tier and Dott, allowing each to operate 5,000 scooters in the city. They beat 13 others, including big US company Bird.

“The licences give us the visibility that allows us to make investments like building out warehouses and hiring staff,” says Souter. “The regulatory approach also means scooter operators can differentiate on things like the quality of our product, not just how many units each can flood the market with.”

In Paris, Tier has invested in a 4,000 square-metre warehouse in the city centre and plans to hire 75 people to go out on bicycles and in electric vans to swap out batteries — instead of picking up the vehicles to recharge them at a warehouse — and maintain its scooters.

Tier, along with its main European scooter rivals Dott and Stockholm-based Voi, has committed to ‘raise sustainability standards’ in the scooter sector. The giant US scooter operators, Lime and Bird, have not made such firm commitments.

Expand to 15 cities

But the licences also come with heavy responsibility. In Paris, operators are responsible for things like making sure available scooters are spread out throughout the city, and not just concentrated in some central areas. Operators also pay the city to occupy the public domain.

Obligations vary in other cities. In the French city of Grenoble, where a single licence was handed out, Tier was responsible for getting scooter parking spots painted onto the streets.

“Cities want to avoid the mistakes of the past — there’s a hangover from what happened in Paris in 2018 and 2019,” says Souter. “In France, and in other cities elsewhere, mayors aren’t going to open their doors to scooters without conditions.”

Souter’s target is to expand to 15 cities in total in France in the coming 12 months, from Paris, Grenoble and Lyon today. A lot of that will depend on future licence tenders.