By Fredrik Hjelm
Last week the city of Madrid took the unexpected decision to take e-scooters off its streets until the providers — including Voi Technology — have adapted their product to prevent scooters being used in certain streets.
Although this is a setback for VOI and the other scooter companies that have begun operating in Spain’s capital, it is an important step towards a viable integration of e-scooters in the city. The move also underlines how important open dialogue is, when introducing new modes of transportation. We are continuing to work closely with the Madrid authorities and we expect to be up and running again soon.
At VOI we have a long term vision: making it possible to live and travel in cities without noise and pollution. Today the reality is the opposite. Look down any European city street from Lisbon to London and you will see the same view. Row upon row of parked cars, literally boxes of metal. An average European car stands still 95 % percent of the time and one car parking spot used for scooter parking can transport up to 10 times the amount of people per day in a city.
At the same time congestion is worsening and the average traffic speeds to cross town are lower than ever. In London they are down to 7.4 mph. Horses and carts travelled faster.
There is no point in claiming e-scooters provide a solution to climate change or that they can replace existing modes of transport. Typically they are a convenient, fun and sustainable last-mile option in many cities and only when combined with other green transport options can they help to move people away from fossil fuel vehicles that pollute and cause congestion.
E-scooters can be shared, they take up little space, they allow people to get further than walking and they have a much lower impact on the environment than a car or a traditional city bus. They also allow people to experience a city in a new way.
The reaction from Madrid city council last year is not a step backwards. It is a clear indication that e-scooters and e-scooter sharing needs to be regulated to protect European citizens and to give people access to these new transport options. Rules are needed, not only in Madrid, but in the whole of Europe.
City authorities have to play a role in designing our transport infrastructure and Voi wants to work closely and cooperatively with them. We want to grow in a sustainable and responsible way that is respectful of local traditions and governance — something that US and Chinese companies have not prioritised in the past.
For more than a hundred years now we have been buying, driving and parking cars — seeing them as extensions of ourselves, our status and signifiers of our aspiration and ambition. City transport authorities and mayors know that this position is unsustainable, but are moving at a snail’s pace towards alternatives.
Too often they are quick to see the negatives, but slower to appreciate the benefits of new modes of transport. The rough and ready approach of some e-scooter companies has not helped. The authorities quite rightly question whether their transport problems are solved by this new technology.
Our long-term vision is clear: by working in partnership with cities, our vehicles can contribute to a transport system with zero-carbon emissions, with fewer cars and taxis on the streets and where journeys are faster. We won’t sacrifice that vision for short-term gains by rushing into new markets where we are not welcome.
In the coming year, when we launch in the Benelux countries, in France, Germany, Italy, Norway and Portugal, we will hold firm to that pledge.
If e-scooters are to work they have to be a community resource and a natural extension of collective transport and we are committed to building genuine partnerships to make that happen.