You may be wondering why it’s been so quiet on Bikesharp, the last couple of years… well the reason is that I have been a data journalist on this topic for Zag Daily, an online magazine focusing on shared electric micromobility, particularly in Europe and especially in the UK. So I’ve been writing about the UK e-scooter trials, how bikeshare in the UK is going electric, European market summaries, and various other data-driven aspects of how the industry is evolving and developing, here and around the world.
So far, I’ve had over 70 articles published there, and also supply the live data feed, updated daily and showing the numbers of e-scooters, operators and cities in the UK e-scooter trials – see the numbers panel on the bottom right of the front page. I’ve also published some maps showing the extent of the trials, you can see a variant of one of them here.
Tier, the German micromobility company, launched their “Tier Four” scooter and their “Energy Network” initiative at an event today in London.
Tier is one of around 20 companies vying to run escootershares in parts of the UK as part of the DfT trials, and so are keen to demonstrate the unique aspects of their offering to the market. They already operate a fleet of around 45000 escooters in 70 cities across Europe, which gives them considerable depth of experience.
The Tier Four escooter contains a number of innovations including user-operated indicator lights, a user-swappable battery, a wireless phone charger, and a foldable helmet contained within a secure box in the scooter, for optional, free use by a user. The helmet includes hairnets for cleanliness between users. The scooter is also designed for safety and comfort with a wide footplate, good lights, dual brakes and 12 inch wheels which both have suspension.
The Energy Network concept involves the operator installing a number of “Powerbox” charging units, containing four batteries, in local stores in a fleet area. Users can swap out their battery at these stores for a fully charged one, using their app to unlock the batteries. The challenge of course is finding a good network of stores willing to host the units and supply the power. If it works, it should cut down on regular operator journeys needed to retrieve scooters and change their batteries.
I took a good look at escooter at the launch and gave it a test ride around Potter’s Fields, by Tower Bridge. The scooter comes with a nice digital readout of the speed (topping at 20km/h in the demo area) and the phone mount means a map of exclusion zones and read-out of journey time should be straightfoward. The indicator buttons were a little hard to find but these are likely to be further refined before the Tier Four is rolled out into a publically accessible system.
Some technical notes:
20km/h max speed (UK allows up to 25km/h)
100kg max load
The formal model name is ES-400B
No word on a UK launch yet – talking to staff indicated that, despite the expedited trial process taking place, there are still many steps for local authorities and operators to complete before an operation launches here. But it’s a nice product and undoubtably a positive addition to potential options for urban travel. and I hope to see it in an appropriate UK setting soon.
The UK escootershare trials are gathering speed, with the launch this weekend of Spin in Milton Keynes – the UK’s first one where journeys can end almost anywhere in the operating zone, rather than in a limited number of hubs. Ginger and Lime are to follow soon – making this a three-way competitive trial of escootershare for the first time in the UK. Ginger already have a small escootershare in Middlesbrough, and Lime already operate a (recently reopened) electric bikeshare in Milton Keynes, so Spin very much are the new kids in the UK, although they have operated various other escootershares in the world, including over 1200 currently in Washington DC.
So far Spin have deployed around 100 escooters, across much of Milton Keynes. The town is large, with a unique (in the UK) structure of 1km square communities connected by a grid of fast (typically 60mph) roads, but with an extensive but little used “redway” parallel cycle network that also joins the communities together but on more wiggly routes. Escooters in the trial can use the same facilities that cyclists can. Hopefully this will lead to a better use of this part of the town’s infrastructure – although interestingly the scooters are allowed on the grid roads too. Only the motorways and trunk roads roads (A5 and M1) are explicitly banned for scooters to go on, in the app (although this also therefore blocks some cycle paths that cross these roads). Users also cannot go in the pedestrianised shopping precient in the town centre, and can ride in, but not end, journeys in the city parks:
No word yet on the Ginger and Lime launches although I would imagine they would be pretty soon in order to not allow Spint to get too entrenched. Ginger recently announced over 15000 miles traveled on their escooters in Middlesbrough which is excellent usage levels for their 50-scooter trial there which has been running for just over a month (4o days). Assuming an average journey of 2 miles (generous – 1-1.5 miles is more typical), that suggests getting on for 200 journeys a day, or 4 per scooter per day. Anything over 2 is a good social use of the asset, and if approaching 4, then that is a good economic use of it as well (i.e. potentially viable for a purely commercial operator). This is a rough calculation, of course, and may include retrievals of the scooters by operators where users didn’t leave them in the hubs. However, with Ginger having suffered numerous operational incidents, this must have been a bit of a relief for them and also demonstrate that escootershare in the UK might well be bigger than anyone has realised. It’s going to be an interesting autumn.
London’s Olympic Park
Hub-based (3 hubs)
Operating, restricted hours
Hub-based (3 hubs)
Currently escootershares in the UK, as of 23 August 2020.
[Updated 12/8: Aylesbury and High Wycombe planned trial]
[Updated 14/8: Zipp approved]
[Updated 19/8: Lime app showing Birmingham as an area of (planned) operation?]
[Updated 26/8: Beryl approved]
It’s been over a month since rental eScooters have been legal on public roads and cycle paths in the UK. Since then, one trial has started and a number have been announced, with a number of eScootershare operators also signaling intent without naming specific cities (by joining the CoMoUK charitable organisation and/or announcing that their vehicles have been approved for use with the trials by the Department of Transport.) Already, a number of differences in the implementations are appearing. To date:
Middlesbrough (Ginger). Part of a wider Tees Valley trial. Painted hubs. Around 50 eScooters in 3 hubs. £2/20 min. Max speed 12mph (DfT allows up to 15.5mph). Over 18s (DfT allows over 16s). Helmets advised but not mandatory. Ginger were quick out of the blocks with a system based on the Joyride platform – a slightly unfortunate name. The fleets appears to be only operational from 9am to 5pm, so not useful for people commuting. Middlesbrough is not a tourist city so one does wonder who therefore is their intended use base? As the first one, there has been a lot of media attention on any “incidents” which have included under-age users in shopping centres and users on the motorway – such locations presumably fixable with more careful geofence specification. The under-age issue is trickier – Ginger doesn’t allow under 18s – so something isn’t working quite right. Perhaps more worryingly, the fleet is already shrinking, with around 25 available. Hopefully the other 25 aren’t already at the bottom of the River Tees. Or maybe they are seeing high maintenance needs.
Hartlepool (Ginger). Part of a Tees Valley trial, however its trial has been delayed indefinitely as Ginger work out the issues raised with the Middlesborough part of the trial. There are also potential political issues, with the local MP not enthusiastic.
Darlington (Ginger). Part of a Tees Valley trial. Specific launch not yet announced.
Cambridge (Voi). £1+20p/min. Helmets mandatory (not required by DfT rules). Of note, Voi will be rolling out pedelecs at the same time. Cambridge has already had Mobike and ofo bikeshares, both of which have closed.
Peterborough (Voi). This has been announced by some media however I think this is confusion over the authority name that covers the Cambridge trial above.
Milton Keynes (Lime). 250 escooters. Lime already have a fleet of dockless pedelecs in Milton Keynes so have “on the ground” experience of the challenges of managing self-service electric rental vehicles in a UK city.
Milton Keynes (Spin). MK is the first multi-operator trial.
Noteably, almost all these areas have had bikeshare systems that have failed in the past, often due to vandalism.
Liverpool (tender live)(they have an existing bikeshare that has struggled with vandalism/theft in the past – so is operating with around 25% of the bikes it should be – but despite this is very popular) – Voi?
Essex(possibly Ipswich, which had a dockless bikeshare “Urbo” which closed shortly after launching and failed to reopen as promised. It was never clear why they didn’t but I suspect it was because almost no one actually used the bikes. The unique feature of Urbo Ipswich is the bikes had to be secured to street furniture using a secondary lock.)
London(presumably some boroughs and not others. Numerous failed bikeshare systems here – but also plenty still going.)
Further details have emerged about this summer’s escootershare UK “revolution”.
Capped at 12.5mph – below the 15.5mph for pedelec.
You’ll need a provisional or full driving licence to use them.
Only escootershare for now – personal escooters are not (yet) to be legalised.
Bicycle-style helmets to be recommended but not mandated.
Will be able to legally go where bicycles can go (so cycle tracks/lanes, roads but not pavements except where marked).
Councils will be able to dictate local policy, e.g. mandatory hub parking.
No word yet from potential operators themselves. One assumes that Lime and Bird will be the obvious two to start, in London, although neither may be in an expansion mood following painful lockdown-related layoffs recently. Bird has run the only escootershare in London and indeed the UK, so far – a small (and expensive – 25p/minute!) operation of around 15 bikes going between three hubs on the nominally private land of the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park in east London.
The government has today announced that they are fast-tracking making escooters, and by extension escootershare, legal, on UK roads from June. The planned four trial areas, which were announced a few months ago, have been expanded to cover the whole of the, UK, as the government shifts from a prescriptive, cautious approach, to allowing a mode of transport that could have substantial benefits to a population potentially avoiding public transport post-lockdown and roads that will not be able to take the anticipated increase in car volume:
E-scooter trials will also be brought forward from next year to next month to help encourage more people off public transport and onto greener alternatives. Originally set to take place in 4 Future Transport Zones, the trials of rental e-scooters – which will now be offered to all local areas across the country – will allow government to assess the benefits of e-scooters as well as their impact on public space, with the potential to see rental vehicles on UK roads as early as June.
The UK’s only active public escootershare service, Bird, which operated a small fleet of around 15 escooters between three hubs on technically private parkland in the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park in east London, abruptly shut down at the beginning of lockdown in late March.
Global escootershare firms, including Bird and Lime, have been increasingly frustatingly lobbying the government for legislation, over the last few years. But it has taken a looming transportation crisis in London and after cities, on the back of the Covid-19 pandemic, and a change of Transport Minister, to make it happen. Better late than never.
Bikesharp welcomes these extra micromobility options that soon could be on UK streets, and is also intrigued by the announcement of a “Bike tube” organised by TfL – improved central London bicycle routes that mirror the tube running beneath them.
An intriguing article from the Times (£), suggesting that eScooters, which are illegal to ride on public land in the UK, but are nonetheless quite widely used in the London commute and elsewhere, could be legalised and regulated, with them being coming under the same regulations as pedelecs – specifically, they can be used in places that bicycles can, as long as their maximum speed is 25km/h (15.5mph). A government consultation on these changes may be on the way soon, followed by urban trials and then possible legislation.
A small scale trial has been running in London’s Olympic Park, by Bird, using technically private land there that is part of the post-Olympic space.
This has the potential to open up the UK to the kind of fierce eScootershare competition seen in many Western cities outside the UK. However, by the time eScootershare gets here, the mode may have cooled off elsewhere -the industry is now moving into a period of consolidation, as investor money burns through and profits are elusive – particularly due to the short “shelf life” of the devices, on the mean streets of Paris, Washington DC and elsewhere.
Scooters, of course, aren’t “active transport” – the exercise benefits for the user are less – particularly as they can be used literately door to door – but they are certainly healthier for other cyclists and pedestrians, than the equivalent, car, taxi or bus usage.