Scoot over, cars. The future of urban mobility may be rolling on two vibrantly coloured electric wheels. Shared scooters, that are powered by electric motors, have taken the transport system in global cities for a spin in the past year. In the US alone, over 85000 e-scooters were available to rent by the end of 2018 in more than 100 cities. All e-scooters are discoverable and unlockable via an app, with individual rides from $1. Having launched in Santa Monica in September 2017, billion dollar startup company Bird have paved the way in shared electric scooters. Europe is now catching up. On 17th May 2019, Germany became the latest (and economically largest) European country to legalise electric scooter use on the streets. E-scooters are a faster and cheaper way to get you from A to B, without breaking a sweat.
You will not see the investor, Elmar Broscheit, commuting to work in a limousine in Berlin anytime soon. Commuting via e-scooter rides rather than expensive cars, is not only quick and emission-free, but it is also enjoyable. For him, it's twice as fun. Elmar invested in Tier, the most highly funded European start-up in this sector (£32.5m). The German e-scooter sharing company has been backed by the famous former Formula 1 world champion Nico Rosberg. Could investing in e-scooter sharing be the solution to large cities’ pollution problems? Emilie Hannezo from InMotion Ventures, the company providing the funding to improve the way we move, joins us in a conversation.
Have you always been environmentally conscious?
Elmar: "Since a young age, I’ve been raised in a way to care for the environment- switching off the lights when leaving a room, buying glass instead of plastic and taking public transport whenever possible. I still live by simple rules that everyone can implement in their everyday lives for less environmental impact. I met the Swedish Minister of Democracy and Culture Alice Bah Kuhnke in London last year. She had taken the train from Berlin to London and I wish I had done the same. ”
What is your investment criteria?
Elmar: "When investing I look at (a) a macro trend in the market, (b) the profitability of the business model, (c) the team. At a personal level, the money that I bring to the table is not significant – it’s about adding a unique value. The opportunity to invest in e-scooters was also fuelled by the start-up’s founding team, which I’ve worked with previously."
Has there been a surge in eco-conscious investments in mobility?
Elmar: "Startups try to solve the problems of societies as a whole. Fossil fuel powered mobility is a main driver of climate change and pollution. Considering the potential global impact of global warming, it is not surprising that a lot of technology companies are addressing this issue."
Emilie: “Almost every major city's transport strategy is strongly committed to promoting cleaner and shared modes of transportation. It is reflection on dealing with massive urbanisation, saturated public transportation networks, terrible air quality and high pollution in cities."
What are the future trends in mobility?
Emilie: “Through my work, I can observe autonomous vehicles technologies, electrification (charging infrastructure and services such as electric scooters), mobility data and services (carsharing and journey planning such as Zeelo).”
What makes a big city 'right' for e-scooter sharing?
Elmar: “A city that suffers from increasing pollution, congestion and has more than 100,000 inhabitants.”
Emilie agrees that the right density of population to make the service viable is crucial, and so is the road quality. “It’s great for cities that are looking for 'quick' solutions to implement, without investing millions into infrastructure.”
What are some of the challenges of the concept once it is implemented?
Elmar: “New forms of mobility always need time, as all road users must get used to it. At some point in the future, scooters will become a natural part of our mobility. Until then, everyone must learn to be considerate - scooter drivers as well as motorists, cyclists and pedestrians.”
Emilie: “Operationally, it’s important to ensure the scooters are parked well and don’t obstruct passages for pedestrians. Also, it's important to remove broken assets from the fleet in a timely manner, as they can be safety hazards.”
Tier’s director of communications, Bodo v. Braunmühl, explains how it works: “We collect our scooters every night. We have staff on the streets that reallocate misplaced scooters. And when our users finish their ride, our app shows them where they can park the scooter – and where they cannot.”
Can e-scooters improve a city’s transport system?
Emilie: “A benefit of e-scooter sharing is the increase in flexibility and convenience it offers. It is a move from fixed stations and physical infrastructure (Santander Bikes) to free-floating schemes with seamless smartphone access.”
Elmar: "If we take a look at London, based on its level of nitrogen dioxide, it is one of the cities with the highest air pollution in the world. This is caused mostly by car traffic and exhaust emissions. 20% of car-hailing rides are less than 3km. This 20% dramatically slows down the other 80%, further amplifying congestion and pollution. Cities have been looking for 'last mile' solutions for a long time. It is not a new trend that more and more bicycle lanes have been built. Electric scooters can absolutely serve as an add on to public transport. Tier’s bikes especially, produce zero local emissions, thus helping to reduce pollution in urban areas.”
Why are you using electric scooters?
Elmar: It is a lifestyle - the sensation of the ride can be a lot of fun. It is also practical. I use it to cover the final few hundred meters, from where public transport drops you off, to the end destination.
Our tip: Electric scooters are a fantastic way of reducing air pollution in cities, however, drivers must take care when riding near busy roads. Always wear a helmet and remain focused on your surroundings at all times.
Words: Tzvete Doncheva