Cambridge calling as e-scooter trial announced

5 August 2020

All the latest on micromobility in the UK and across Europe.

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Cambridge joins Middlesbrough and Milton Keynes in confirming participation in the government’s e-scooter trials, with Swedish operator Voi in the hotseat. Cambridge also steals the headlines by opening a rather wonderful cycling-friendly roundabout. Elsewhere: Link’s DfT type approval, Teesside’s teething troubles and Spin’s sustainability strategy.

1: Voi wins Cambridge trial and three DfT model approvals

What: Voi has been selected as the sole supplier of shared electric scooters to Cambridge under a 12-month trial, while the Department for Transport has given the Swedish micromobility firm UK-wide approval for three of its e-scooter models.

Fees for the Cambridge trial have been set at £1 to unlock and 20p/min to ride, although there are daily and monthly subscriptions on offer too.

Voi’s latest e-scooter model, the Voiager 3X (or V3X), is among those approved for local authorities to specify; it includes swappable batteries, a lifespan of up to five years, a dual kickstand to improve stability when parked, and a screen to display useful information without having to open the smartphone app.

The e-scooter trial deal is part of a wider contract which may see the company also provide e-bikes across the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough region.

The scooters are expected to be available to users by September.

Why it matters: Voi’s UK entrance will be overseen by Richard Corbett. That’s the same Richard Corbett who pulled off the coup of introducing the Bird rental scheme at the Olympic Park back in 2018 and who, until earlier this year, was still heading up UK ops for the US company. That’s a lot of country-specific knowledge and contacts accumulated over the past couple of years, which may well prove decisive as Britain becomes a battleground for micromobility companies vying for trial contracts first and then – if all goes well – permanent operating licences. RR

2: The strongest Link?

What: An e-scooter model from US micromobility company Link has gained DfT approval for use in UK trials.

Why it matters: Link is new. Very new. But it has some serious hardware credentials in its corner.

The company is the love child resulting from combining the engineering know-how of Superpedestrian, spun out of America’s prestigious MIT and specialising in intelligent hardware for e-scooters, with the operational nous of 2007-founded micromobility operator Zagster; the latter entity was acquired by the former earlier this year.  

Link says its scooters will go twice as far on a single charge compared to industry norms, which reduces how often they will need recharging and therefore slashes operating costs. Further efficiencies can be made with predictive maintenance, thanks to clever on-board diagnostics. And Link also touts a longer scooter lifespan and more accurate geofencing.

While UK towns don’t have to foot the bill for the e-scooters (probably a good thing, as the unit cost for a Link scooter is likely to be comparatively hefty), it’s a reasonable assumption that a more robust scooter with more intelligent features and a longer lifespan will perform better for longer.

That could mean a better experience for users and a more reliable partner in Link. But will that be enough to win Link the lion’s share of the British market? RR

3: Teething trouble for Teesside

What: The Tees Valley e-scooter trial has been scaled back amidst difficulties, with a second location launch, in Hartlepool, apparently in doubt. As well as teenagers taking the scooters down a busy dual carriageway, it seems other underage riders have been charging around shopping centres on them.

Why it matters: It’s far from the dream start for Middlesbrough and micromobility provider Ginger.

How, when both the government and Ginger have clearly said only those with driving licences can hire the scooters, are younger users accessing them? How, when geofencing features enable scooters to be locked when outside their boundaries, are these scooters still functioning in such unsuitable places?

Let’s be in no doubt here – allowing any rider to access a dual carriageway is incredibly dangerous. It could only take one serious injury to bring the entire country’s trial schemes crashing to a halt.

We have asked Ginger several times for comment but not yet received any.

For the sake of this nascent mobility mode, Ginger needs to solve the problems fast or yield to a more experienced operator who can. Otherwise, the time may have come for the company whose slogan is “Go Ginger” to, well – go. RR

4: Britain’s first inclusive roundabout

What: A first-of-its-kind roundabout that prioritises pedestrians and cyclists has been opened in Cambridge. Features include a bright outer ring of red tarmac for cyclists, protected islands and zebra crossings on all arms for pedestrians and restricted exist and entry widths to slow motor vehicles.

Why it matters: Costs may have soared well beyond budget on the Fendon Road roundabout project but it’s hardly the next HS2, Crossrail or…well, insert any other large infrastructure project name here.

Along with Manchester’s CYCLOPS junction, British councils are finally beginning to get the bit between their teeth when it comes to imaginative, high-quality inclusive infrastructure. Now that the rest of the UK has been shown its possible, let’s see this become the norm rather than the exception.

Bravo, Cambridge. Bravo. RR

5: Spin’s planet-first policy aggressively targets carbon reduction

What: Removing more carbon than it produces, by 2025. That’s the ambitious pledge made by Spin.

The touchpoints of the company’s sustainability strategy include:

  1. Internal auditing to accurately measure carbon expenditure
  2. Using only hybrid and electric vehicles in its fleet by 2021 (in the UK; 2022 in the US and 2025 everywhere else)
  3. Recharging e-scooters with 100% renewable energy, with major shifts in 2021, completing the move by 2025
  4. Making sure average e-scooter lifespan reaches at least 24 months
  5. Better recycling and re-use operations to avoid landfill completely
  6. Employing staff rather than freelancers

Why it matters: As the market matures, micromobility companies are no longer able to stand out by simply having a fancy app and brightly-coloured scooters. Their sustainability credentials are coming into sharp focus on tenders and will become increasingly inspected by local authorities.

As the firm owned by a giant motor vehicle manufacturer, it’s perhaps even more vital for Spin to be seen to be carefully managing its environmental and societal footprints.

However, choosing hybrid fleet vehicles instead of fully-electric ones may not go far enough for some – and many of Spin’s rivals have already achieved other lifecycle goals on this list. RR

6: Bristol bets on for personal scooter hire

What: Bristol wants to launch its own e-scooter trial on 17 September. The contract being advertised for tender includes both a shared scooter system as well as a personal lease element.

Why it matters: We already know many councils have expressed interest in hosting electric scooter trials and the names are starting to emerge.

However, most trials are shaping up to be the straightforward shared model, whereas Bristol is looking into a personal lease option. This effectively would give riders their own scooter without contravening laws against use of privately-owned scooters on public roads. It may be a far more useful indicator as to what legalising private scooters would look like than the traditional share schemes. RR

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