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Top 6 learnings from Voi webinar, “How micro-mobility is shaping the cities of the future”

screen shot showing six video conference squares with the six webinar panellists

On 7 January, 2021, Voi hosted a webinar titled “How micro-mobility is shaping the cities of the future”, which aimed to identify lessons and best practices from Voi’s current U.K. e-scooter trials.

Moderated by Silviya Barrett, head of policy, research and projects at Campaign for Better Transport (a sustainable transport advocacy group in the U.K.), the panel consisted of:

  • Mehmet Ahmet, Transport Manager, Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority
  • Tim Bowles, Mayor of the West of England Combined Authority (South Gloucestershire, Bristol, and Bath)
  • Richard Corbett, Regional General Manager, U.K., Voi
  • Richard McKiernan, Manager, Traffic Management Unit/Avon & Somerset Constabulary
  • James Palmer, Mayor of Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority

The lively discussion focused on several important areas: sustainability; safety/regulation; operations/collaboration; and integration of user/community feedback.

“With the right safeguards in place, e-scooters could be a welcome addition to the sustainable travel options. That’s why I was thrilled to chair this informative discussion and hear so many success stories.”
—Silviya Barrett

Based on the webinar, we’ve identified the top learnings from the trials so far:

#1 E-scooters are here to stay and will play a significant role in how people move around in the future.

“We feel that the way that the Voi e-scooters … are a very safe, sensible way to give people choice … As part of a multifaceted integrated transport plan, I think these e-scooters are game-changing. I think they’re really exciting. I think they’re easy to use. I think that they will not disappear. I think they’ll be part of the fabric of life in the 21st century, and I look forward to that.”
—James Palmer

#2 Successful trials are built incrementally. Success is the result of collaboration and creating e-scooter services that are tailored to the operating region.

“It’s an evolutionary process … each service is hyper-local and bespoke. How we operate in Bristol and Bath is very different to how we operate in Cambridge — each topography, each transport system, each infrastructure is very different. You cannot create a cookie-cutter approach to transport. You have to work with local stakeholders to create something that really addresses the local transport problems.”
—Richard Corbett

“We were very cautious that we were introducing these scooters in an incremental, phased basis, so we were very cautious working with Voi about the number of scooters deployed in each city … We are expanding this responsibly in line with what demands are.”
—Tim Bowles

#3 Educating the public about the differences between shared and private e-scooters is essential to successful adoption of the service.

Shared trial e-scooters are highly regulated, whereas private scooters can travel at much higher speeds and are not covered by insurance. Private e-scooters are illegal to use in the U.K., except on private land. The public often conflates trial scooters with private ones because people are not aware of the difference, which can negatively influence public perception of the trials, but also create more problems for enforcement and safety. According to the Avon and Somerset Police Constabulary, the vast majority of anti-social behaviour is the result of private e-scooter use, about 80–90% compared to trial scooters.

“[Trial e-scooters] are a completely different option to the open-market scooters that we see whizzing along the roads on high speeds. I think that this is something that the government can learn from the trials and can use to implement legislation in the future.”
—James Palmer

People [who’ve faced fines and penalties] didn’t know that [riding private e-scooters] is illegal. It was a total ignorance of the law … They’d say, ‘When I bought it, nobody told me.’ You’ve got to look for it. If you are riding one, the main offence is driving without insurance, which gives us (the police) the power of seizure. These people were riding them with all the best intentions. They thought they were cutting down on pollution, cutting down on congestion, so that focused our response and approach … We were going to engage, explain, and educate.
—Richard McKiernan

#4 E-scooters encourage multi-modality and a marked shift away from carbon-heavy transportation, especially as the trials mature.

“It’s the knock-on effect of micro-mobility. There are e-scooters, there are e-bikes … that behaviour can encourage people to use other forms of transport as well because they’ve got a flavour of something different from the private car [after the pandemic].”
—Mehmet Ahmet

“We’re also learning how people use the scooters. It’s a living, breathing service … When we start to scale up the service, we see real modal shift. Then we’ll see the impact on air quality and congestion.”
—Richard Corbett

#5 The e-scooter trials spurred councils and police to precisely define and categorize e-scooters, especially for enforcement and education purposes.

When officers would record e-scooter infractions, they’d notice discrepancies in how e-scooters could be categorized, which meant that there were inaccuracies in the number of e-scooter reports. This led to an amending of the recording system, so there could be a consistent way to define and count e-scooter incidents going forward to give an accurate depiction of the trial’s success.

“Because e-scooters were [previously] unlawful, they didn’t exist in our recording systems. There’s no way to tick a box in a road collision report to say an e-scooter was involved. Recording it as property in our systems, having run some checks, showed officers using their own ways that they thought might be most appropriate, so we had some under vehicles, some under toys … We suddenly realised that our systems were not capable of recording instances … We have developed our approach, systems, and communication strategy so we’re all singing from the same hymn sheet.”
—Richard McKiernan

#6 E-scooters are not a panacea to all transportation woes, but cities see them as an integral solution to first- and last-mile transit that can decrease congestion and emissions and increase use of public transport.

“Two-thirds of our commutes in the region (WECA) are by car, but we know that about 40% of those commutes are less than two kilometres … One of the challenges to getting people to connect to public transport is often that first-/last-mile piece … We are not saying that this is a magic silver bullet, but we are saying that we have to provide that right mix of modes for people.”

—Tim Bowles