No Scooters please, we’re British?

IMPLEMENTATION TEETHING PROBLEMS AND DIFFERING CONSUMER NEEDS MEANS THAT THE E-SCOOTER REVOLUTION MAY STRUGGLE TO CROSS THE ATLANTIC

One of Decidedly’s #BigIdeas2019 predictions is that hugely popular US ‘lastmile’ e-scooter solutions could make the jump across the Atlantic, helping to reduce reliance on cars and public transport systems. However, due to the growing backlash against these services in the USA – and the unique urban planning challenges that British cities present – the e-scooter revolution may be slower in coming than we expected.  

There’s been enormous demand stateside for lastmile transit services – recent investments value market leader Bird at over $2 billion. But their implementation has been divisive. Enthusiasm for e-scooters has been matched by public outrage from pedestrians at the spike in A&E admissions caused by collisions and piles of discarded scooters blocking roads and pavements, and clogging up parks and public spaces. 

Cities are now starting to act. Atlanta has begun imposing large fines on companies who fail to pick up their scooters dumped in public places. Nearby, Athens has banned Bird from operating entirely after the University of Georgia – based in the city – was forced to impound 1,100 scooters after Bird racked up over $500,000 in fines. New York – a $2 billion opportunity for providers – is attempting to legalise e-scooters. However, these attempts remain bogged down in the state legislature and will require extensive trials before full implementation. 

What does this mean for the e-scooter’s prospects in the UK?

These setbacks mean that prospects are mixed. Bird launched a trial of 50 scooters in London’s Olympic park at the end of 2018. Scooters remain illegal across the rest of the city, although Ministers are considering relaxing this ban. Urban logistics and commuter tastes are also vastly different on both sides of the Atlantic. So, expansion into the UK might be slower than expected for two key reasons: 

  • British cities experience higher concentrations of pedestrians than those in the USA. So, issues around collisions and dumping scooters are less likely to be tolerated by pedestrians and city authorities. Madrid banned e-scooters from its streets in December for these reasons. If services like Bird do launch in the UK, they’re likely to be constrained by the terminal system used by London’s Santander Cycles, removing their key USP of flexibility 
  • US cities are more car friendly than those in the UK. And American commuters are more used to driving short distances – the journeys that e-scooters are replacing. This need is far less prevalent in the UK, which may limit appeal

Despite this, there is still a potentially large market for e-scooter solutions in the UK – particularly in smaller, student heavy urban centres such as Leeds and Oxford. There is enormous growth potential in the USA if issues around dumping and collection can be resolved. The company that comes up with a solution to this problem – and brings hostile city and university authorities on board – will be best placed to jump start the lastmile transit revolution. The question remains – how?