Bird, Lime, Voi, Tier race to launch e-scooter trials in Britain

A man riding a Lime electric scooter in Berlin, Germany on June 21, 2019.

Thomas Trutschel | Photothek via Getty Images

Electric scooter companies are rushing to participate in scheduled UK tests after the test window has been advanced to next month, starting in 2021, following the coronavirus pandemic.

American companies Bird and Lime have confirmed to CNBC that they are in talks with several local authorities in the United Kingdom regarding the request for authorization to test their electric scooter rental services, as are European start-ups Voi and Tier.

As the UK begins to ease its lockdown, the government says it is taking steps to avoid a second wave of cases. The virus can be spread easily on public transport, so people are advised to avoid using trains and buses whenever possible. If everyone started to drive in their car again, the roads would quickly become blocked and pollution levels would increase. City of london banned cars entirely on the busiest roads to help manage the expected return of tens of thousands of workers.

Fredrik Hjelm, CEO and co-founder of Voi, headquartered in Sweden, said his company is recruiting a team in the UK to work with authorities on the deployment of electronic scooters.

“Right now, we have the opportunity to reinvent urban transportation and increase our use of electric vehicles, bicycles and electric scooters,” Hjelm told CNBC in a statement this week.

Voi said he had discussions with Transport for London and the London boroughs, as well as with Manchester, Salford, Bath, Teeside, Darlington, Hartlepool, Milton Keynes, Birmingham and Edinburgh.

Who is in the lead?

Lime said it could be beneficial in the race to put two-wheelers on the streets of Britain, as it already runs several popular electric bike rental programs across the country.

“We hope to be able to follow this model and partner with boroughs and local authorities to offer our electric scooters as soon as possible,” said Alan Clarke, director of political and government relations for Lime in the UK and Ireland. .

Many European countries have adopted electronic scooters, but they are still illegal on UK roads due to a law dating back to 1835. They are also prohibited on sidewalks.

In order to punish people who drive their own electric scooters, the police imposed fines and confiscated the electric scooters. However, a small birds test was held on private property in London’s Olympic Park. Bird argued that this pilot could place him in a good position to access the larger deployment of Britain.

Patrick Studener, Bird Region EMEA Manager, said: “We have been fortunate to have the only electric scooter driver in the UK in Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park. Over the past year and a half, we have had MPs and city officials come down to the park to see for themselves the benefits that scooters – and in particular Bird – can bring to UK cities “

“Following the government’s announcement on scooter testing, we have received dozens of inquiries from city officials who want to get their cities moving, congestion-free and emission-free while maintaining social distance. We are waiting with looking forward to new ministry guidelines for Explain how and when we can implement our service here. “

A consultation period on electric scooters was to take place next year across England – Portsmouth and Southampton, the West of England Combined Authority, Derby and Nottingham and the West Midlands.

But over the weekend, Transportation Secretary Grant Shapps said he was speeding up the consultation period until next month and extending it nationwide. If the trials are successful, the laws will likely be updated.

Shapps said it would be “accelerated testing of electronic scooters, advancing this program already underway next year until next month, and extending these trials from four local authorities to each region of the country that wants them in the goal of getting e-scooter hired operational programs in cities. “

The trials do not extend to private scooters at this stage.

Still the first days

The scooter sharing companies and local authorities CNBC spoke to said they were still awaiting government clarifications on the next steps. Iyma Atiq, communications manager for Birmingham City Council, said the Department of Transport has written to all local authorities to speed up the program.

“The Council will participate in information sessions with the DfT and will seek to work with supplier partners to define a test scheme that best fits our local environment and broader political objectives,” said Atiq. “Until we have more details, we are naturally unable to speak of specific potential operators.”

Although electric scooters and electric bikes are presented as a more pleasant way to get from A to B, they are not without problems. Some cities, like Paris, are struggling to cope with the large number of e-scooters that have been thrown into their streets by companies like Lime and Bird.

Questions were also asked about the relatively short lifespan of certain vehicles, as well as their safety.

Bird investor Martin Mignot, partner of venture capital firm Index Ventures, told CNBC that now is the time to rethink cities.

“We are at a crossroads,” he said. “Now is the time to make the roads safer and I hope that some of the companies we have invested in will be among them.”

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