Shared Micro-Mobility: E-Scooters Crowd the Streets of the United Kingdom

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4Q 2020 | IN-5950

Shared micro-mobility kicked off significantly in 2017 with Chinese vendors offering bike sharing services, and as time has gone on, other vehicles are being added to service operators’ fleets. The fleet expansion introduced market barriers, such as the key fact that e-scooters were illegal in the United Kingdom until July 2020, presenting a market entry barrier. For context, e-scooters were illegal due to being categorized as a vehicle requiring tax, insurance, and Ministry of Transport (MOT) test to be legally ridden on the roads; however, these regulations have now been amended.

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The United Kingdom Embraces the Shared E-Scooter with Open Streets


Like cities globally, the United Kingdom’s cities are now victim to the littering of e-scooters around the streets. There have been several articles since the increased popularity of shared e-scooters reporting the over-crowded streets of Paris, due to the dumping of the dockless shared vehicles. Within the United Kingdom, it was originally planned that a handful of major cities would participate in the trials since the legalization of the vehicle, though for context, only shared e-scooters are legal within the United Kingdom, privately owned e-scooters are not.

Though the initial plan was for major cities to participate in trials, those are now taking place throughout the country, including in small towns and counties that are not as well-known as cities like London, Manchester, and Liverpool, for example. Bird, Voi, and Neuron Mobility are three service operators either deploying or planning to deploy their scooters within the United Kingdom. Voi offers its services in Birmingham, Coventry, and the county of Northamptonshire. Bird is solely operating in London and Neuron Mobility has yet to enter the U.K. market, though it is making plans to do so.

Local Businesses Take the Opportunity by the Handle Bars


Local businesses have been given opportunities to get their hands into the market as well. Legalization within the United Kingdom has allowed British-headquartered Ginger to deploy its scooters in its home nation. The largest and most well-known service operators are headquartered in the United States (Bird and Lime) and are now rival competitors for Ginger. Ginger currently operates in five cities within the United Kingdom; notably, London is not one of those cities. Offering solely e-scooters as its only service, the legalization has enabled Ginger to establish its presence within the market; if all is successful, it may eventually be able to expand its marketable locations.

One of the key discussion points regarding micro-mobility is docked versus dockless infrastructures. It is debatable that both are considered desirable methods from a user’s perspective, though it is questionable whether or not either model fits into urban life. The docked method keeps the streets clean, while dockless causes streets to be littered with e-scooters. A docked model, however, can limit usage of the e-scooter, as it is required that users return the scooter to a nearby dock, whereas a dockless model enables complete flexibility and convenience for the user, as they can simply locate a nearby floating scooter and begin their journey.

Docked versus Dockless: Which Side is the Right Side?


Service operators really need to establish a middle ground model to keep regulators, governing bodies, and the general public happy, while still offering an easy-to-access service. Service operators can consider this new market as a “fresh slate,” whereby service operators can pick apart their operating models and try to re-establish themselves so that they are offering a street-friendly service that is still profitable.

Though it may sound simple, docked versus dockless is not the only point of consideration for service operators. Operators need to establish a model that also enables complete monetization of their assets, so they need to establish a method that enables scooters to be charged at all times. Docked infrastructures tend to offer charging capabilities; however, this does not monetize the asset at all times, as after one journey, for example, the battery may require charging. An alternative is offering a swappable battery model that enables fully charged batteries to be simply swapped for the dead battery, keeping the asset monetized while charging the old battery.

There are different business models that could potentially encourage usage while limiting the littering of streets with these greener vehicles, as that is ultimately the reason that shared electric mobility is being encouraged.

Integrating the use of other smart city technologies can increase the efficiency of locating shared mobility vehicles. For example, cameras that are integrated with smart street lighting can help educate operators on where the most significant pick-up and drop-off locations are for their vehicles; a project similar to this was trialed in Canada. This would ultimately enable operators to provide docking stations in the most popular pick-up and drop-off locations, which would minimize the complaints made by civilians.

Counter arguments, of course, suggest that a docking station would entail a station in which the electric batteries are charged at the time of docking, rather than a swappable battery model, which, of course, enables the vehicles to be monetized at all times; however, this would not be the case. Co-existing with the docking stations, swappable batteries would also be a viable charging model, which would not be; a battery station can quite simply be located nearby. Not only does this continue with the complete monetization of vehicles, but it would also decrease maintenance costs for operators, as their staff out swapping batteries would be able to locate all scooters at one given point.



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