A successful UK shared e-scooter service — 18 months later : Vianova’s vision
The Covid-19 crisis is one of the most sudden and, in terms of impact, comprehensive behavioural and economic crises to hit modern society in generations. It has led to significant and immediate changes in how people live, shop, work, socialise and consequently travel. Public transport travel demand, in particular, has substantially collapsed in cities around the world during the lockdown phase of national crisis mitigation plans. As the UK emerges from this crisis, levels of travel are again increasing. However, some longer term changes in mobility are expected, and in many ways welcomed. This includes the increased use of sustainable transport and in particular walking, cycling, and other forms of micro-mobility.
The UK government has identified the role of shared micro-mobility, and in particular e-scooters, as a key element in the new mix of transport opportunities and is enabling a series of local authority-led trials starting in late summer 2020. While e-scooters remain technically illegal to use in most situations in the UK, the trials will allow for some use of these devices on public roads and cycle paths during the trials by licensed operators subject to a range of restrictions. This is a huge opportunity to bring innovation and new mobility options to UK cities as well as a risk in deploying a showcase service that may not deliver real user benefits or may create an ongoing irritation to other road and pavement users.
A range of other European and global cities have had shared, as well as private use, e-scooters in operation for a number of years. Based on this experience and ongoing client engagement, Vianova has proposed the following vision for a successful UK deployment of shared e-scooters in the medium term — 18 months. Furthermore, rather than being constricted to the specific legal framework of the UK trial deployment, we have focussed on the needs for developing a successful overall shared e-scooter scheme.
1. A clear plan
Fundamentally, for shared e-scooters to be a successful introduction to a city, a clearly stated and communicated plan for how these services are meant to integrate and support the other modes of available transport is needed. Licensed shared micro-mobility operators should be engaged based on their ability to support this local vision.
While this thinking will inevitably develop over the early trial phases following real user insight, shared e-scooters must be seen and communicated as part of a sustainable mobility vision. Key questions to consider will include:
- the main types of local trip (e.g. commute, leisure, etc.);
- how they support and interlink with other transport modes;
- their role versus shared or privately owned bicycles;
- how parking provision for these new devices as well as other micro-mobility devices will be deployed and managed;
- which parts of the streetscape these new devices are expected to use and how are these networks being developed to create more space for micro-mobility;
- how streetscape use will be evaluated and managed on an ongoing basis.
Local experience will also need to be developed on the most appropriate operator business models and the necessary role(s) for the local authority.
A successful e-scooter service can only be seen as part of a wider mobility strategy for the local area. This plan must be communicated within local planning offices as well as to other key stakeholders and the general public.
2. A virtuous circle of test-learn-iterate
The UK market for shared e-scooters will inevitably have some differences from markets in other European countries as well as globally. While we can plan and make assumptions about the best way to proceed with these developments, it is important that trials are structured with the ability to make rapid amendments and adapt to learnings. Enabling quick iteration should be the collaborative responsibility of stakeholders and the operator(s).
3. Being prepared for misuse
We must be realistic that in any new, as well as existing service, there will be customer misuse. The key issue is how misuse is managed and effectively dealt with! We have all seen speeding car drivers, incorrectly parked cars, road rage incidents, inappropriate cycling behaviour, pedestrians using their mobiles and not looking while crossing the road… None of these behaviours are to be excused, but they are also not reasons to ban these modes or services.
As a publicly available service, unfortunately some people will attempt to misuse e-scooters. Some of this misuse will be due to the new nature of the mode in the UK and unfamiliarity with the appropriate and realistic use of e-scooters as well as which part of the streetscape they are best used on. This is still not always clear even for regular cyclists!
For local authorities, having a clear plan as to the role of shared e-scooters in the local mobility vision is key — “why have we introduced them”. Based on this, the type of trips that can be expected to use them can be identified and explained. This will also identify the types of user training that may be required and where the local authority doesn’t expect to see the devices and areas that should be “geo-fenced”. Positive and productive use of the devices that meets expected citizen demands can then be communicated.
A shared e-scooter trial should be supported by robust user data, as explained in the next section, and this data-led approach should routinely identify unexpected, or clearly inappropriate use of the devices and remedial actions to deal with this behaviour by the local authority, the operator, local landowners and, if needed, the police.
4. Good quality data
As in any successful enterprise, data is key. This applies to a local city’s mobility strategy as well as shared e-scooter trials.
A year from now, a successful UK city trial should be based on robust data that tracks the impact of the devices on overall mobility, views of users and stakeholders, as well as impact on the overall economy.
It is not only success that should be monitored, however, but also problems and challenges. It is even more important that challenges are monitored in real time, and as stated, that this data intelligence is used to drive ongoing evolution of the scheme as well as longer term thinking. This will also protect the overall scheme from media and public challenges as to its outcomes in improving mobility.
It is potentially straightforward to collect data from one micro-mobility operator. It is critical, however, that data is assembled from the range of operators in a local area and that this is combined with data from other modes, such as classic public transport, to develop an overall view of mobility and how it is performing and can be improved.
While the current UK trials are only regarding e-scooters, the trials are already open to deploying multiple operators. Shared cycle and e-bikes may already be in operation and should be incorporated into local thinking. There is also the potential to incorporate data from local car clubs.
This data-led approach will certainly encapsulate the successful UK city led e-scooter trial.
5. The next stage
The deployment of e-scooters should not be seen as the end of a mobility innovation, but part of a wider set of continuous innovations to develop and deploy a robust and comprehensive sustainable urban mobility system that is led by data and insights. The first year of operation in a UK city will provide the core basis for this thinking. Inevitably, a series of changes will be made to the e-scooter service over this first year as its role in local mobility is refined. The evolution of the service should be managed in partnership between local stakeholders and operators who share a common willingness to deal with the ongoing issues and challenges.
However, the next stage will be to integrate these services into the wider transport system. This is essential. Shared micro-mobility and particularly e-scooters only fulfil a useful part of the mobility system if they are considered and integrated with the rest of the local micro-mobility infrastructure — lanes, parking, information, monitoring, etc as well as assist the development and use of other public transport modes such as rail and buses. As an example, shared e-scooters can act as a means of distribution from relatively isolated rail stations with limited local bus service, or along with shared bikes and private micro-mobility, can act as a useful option to access alternative rail stations during engineering works. There are many other use cases that can only be fully exploited via integrated cross-modal thinking and development.
6. In Summary
A successful UK e-scooter trial in 18 months will most likely be providing:
- A clear vision of how micro-mobility in general, and shared e-scooters in particular, fit within a defined context for mobility within a city and the inter-relationships between the modes. This should also include on street, joint authority and operator marketing, as well as some financial support that the new shared modes may require;
- An ability to clearly communicate the role and value of shared micro-mobility, and particularly e-scooters, to local stakeholders and communities, and thus build local support as well as defend the mode against those who will inevitably attempt to abuse it;
- Shared e-scooter and other shared micro-mobility should be provided by locally licensed operators, as well as be providing quality and timely data to cities for use in enforcement, regulation and scheme development. This data should be locally aggregated across operators as well as combined with other public transport modes to provide an overall view of the urban mobility landscape across the city.
- The experience of shared e-scooters and other micro-mobility in the city, including data insights as well as public and stakeholder feedback should be used to develop and implement a wider series of mobility improvements in the city including relevant on-street infrastructure, marketing as well as engagement with local businesses and landowners.
In the medium term we should expect shared e-scooters to become an established part of the overall mobility mix in UK cities based on clear, and evolving, understanding of the key roles that they can play in providing sustainable mobility. Furthermore, there should be robust advice to cities as to how to successfully implement, regulate and monitor these services. The general public should also broadly understand the role of these types of
services. While new use cases will continue to be tested and developed in more distinct locales, the core proposition should be well understood.
Further thoughts about Vianova’s view for planning, developing and deploying successful shared micro-mobility services in European cities can be found in our European Policy Guidelines on Shared Micro-Mobility.
This document has been written by Giles Bailey (Head of Policy & Partnerships) with the assistance and guidance from Thibault Castagne and Thibaud Febvre, co-founders of Vianova.
As an emerging thought leader in the area of mobility and urban space management, Vianova is keen to work with cities that are eager to promote new transport modes such as micro-mobility, enforce reasonable and fair rules of deployment on territories, better integrate these new modes into the wider transport system, as well as better manage public spaces to meet the broader needs for efficient and sustainable mobility.