Inside the Industry: How urban e-scooters are riding the zeitgeist


Lime, Bird, Flask, Vogo, Grin and Yellow, Skip, Spin… All are multi-million-dollar (or even billion-dollar) companies whose every move is being pored over by car makers desperately appraising what the future of transport actually means.

All are at the heart of the e-mobility revolution, itself a contradiction as it is underpinned by scooters and the bicycles – albeit powered by electricity rather than legs and feet.

The frenzy around these firms has been driven in part by fashion and disruption, because investors love a bit of both. They offer a chance to dismantle the status quo and make fast bucks – and anything that drives down emissions and congestion is also a positive.

Urban e-scooter schemes have caught the zeitgeist. This app-accessible mode of transport has been deemed by users to be cheaper than a cab, less effort than a bicycle and more convenient than a bus. Paris set itself up at the vanguard of the movement in 2018, then its legislators watched in awe and horror as 20,000 e-scooters took over its streets in a manner that one government official described as “anarchic”. Speeding, drink-riding and collisions were rife, plus there was the trip hazard of hastily discarded scooters.

Such was the popularity of the scheme that authorities had to backpedal somewhat, revoking rights of 12 operators and reissuing them to just three, each allowed to provide 5000 scooters as of this year. Best-case predictions suggest mass adoption will reduce traffic by 50% and pollution by 30%, but that remains a target rather than reality.

Momentum among suppliers is building. A market estimated to be worth £15bn today is expected to hit £30bn by 2030, but that feels conservative. In the UK private use remains illegal, but trials of subscription services are under way.

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Joining the fray, arguably less controversially, are e-bikes, where human effort is typically supplemented by a battery-powered electric boost. E-bikes are a pandemic success story: 3.7m e-bikes were sold in Europe in 2019, but that figure that rose 23% last year and is set to hit 10m a year by 2024 and 17m by 2030 – at that point a higher figure than new cars sold.

No wonder the car makers are watching closely, and it’s no coincidence that Toyota is remodelling itself as a mobility firm and Volkswagen is pushing itself as a digital one. The price point of e-scooters and bikes may be different but the message is clear: electrification, especially in cities, is set to change far more than how our cars are powered, striking to the heart of transport – and therefore society – itself.

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