In this post, I react to the article published at IntelligentTransport. There, the UK Country Manager of Spin, Steve Pyer, presents the possibilities of how shared e-scooters are going to help society with post-pandemic economic recovery.

Unsurprisingly, the e-scooters are in the article framed in the classical safe and personal mode of transport discourse allowing social-distance travel. As suggests the current transport behaviour research in reaction to covid-19, safety issues will be crucial as life will be getting back to normal. Thus, the shared micro-mobility sector uses this notion to promote their services as it is more actual than sustainability, which had been playing the prime before the covid-19 pandemic.

According to Steve Pyer, the e-scooters will help in three segments – new employment opportunities, spending in local businesses and supporting tourism.

1 million jobs?

New employment opportunities mean, in light of the original article, new job vacancies directly connected with the shared micro-mobility and electromobility sector and indirectly with improved accessibility of people from locations poorly integrated within the transport network, limiting them seeking a new job.

For the first, there exist only limited evidence suggesting the extent of new employment opportunities directly connected with shared-escooter companies. However, the Platform for Electro-mobility report indicates that only the electromobility sector will bring more than 1 million jobs. We have to, of course, take in mind that this number does not cover only the shared micro-mobility segment but also the car industry.

Larger labour market?

The new job opportunities relate here to the increased catchment area of public transport. In theory, it should enable more comprehensive access to bus, metro and train stations or connect places not integrated into the public transport network.

I think that this is a bit exaggerated. I agree that shared micro-mobility solutions diversify the transport portfolio in the given localities where they are available. However, whether it will improve the mobility portfolio of the transport poor boils down to how the shared e-scooter segment is integrated with transport and urban policies. And this is true also for supporting tourism or spending in local businesses, which according to Steve Pyer, will benefit from shared micro-mobility.

Conceptual VS ad-hoc

Yes, the shared e-scooters are already an evergreen in most European cities, as you could see here. However, the experiences with managing them differ significantly. It is not a coincidence that the day-to-day operations and long-term visions of a shared e-scooter presence are considered a serious challenge. It is important to say that the shared micro-mobility segment is aware of it, which raises the Micro-Mobility for Europe, a new association that aims to help with the development.

I’ve already mentioned here that Copenhagen has decided to terminate the operations of shared e-scooters as it was worsening the safety on the street of the danish capital. Another evidence of poor managerial practises documents Moran et al. (2020). In their investigation in Vienna, they have noticed that although the spatial availability of shared e-scooter is changing dynamically, there are no channels to share this information between the provider and the city.

Firstly, this is an issue as the city authorities do not know what is going on on the streets. Secondly, the users could be confused due to those changes. All this might worsen the attractivity of the shared micro-mobility solution for both the users and public authorities, as they might be perceived as less reliable. Luckily, the cities and micro-mobility operators are aware of that. In Netherlands (Amsterdam, Utrecht, Eindhoven, Rotterdam and The Hague), the work to establish a standard enabling a smooth exchange of data between cities and shared mobility operators is currently underway.

Unlike Vienna or Copenhagen, there are also good examples how public and private sector cooperates together. The first one is Paris, where various rules and incentives were launched to improve the parking ethics (e.g. parking points at the corner of the streets, vouchers or extra fees in case of good and wrong parking). The second example is Newcastle, where it is not only not allowed to use shared e-scooters between 11pm – 5am. And in addition to that, the city has also defined specific zones in attractive locations with rush nightlife. At those, it is no longer possible to start or finish the rental. All done to improve safety on the streets and prevent issues with e-scooters being perceived as dangerous.

The case of Newcastle is also important, as some of the rules were implemented before the launch of the service, while others were put in order in a reaction to newly open bars and restaurants after lockdown measures. It shows that not only the shared e-scooters operators could swiftly adapt to a new climate, but also the city can act likewise.

To be or not to be sustainable?

The various rules of using the playground – read urban space – significantly impact how shared e-scooters are used. Above, I’ve mentioned instruments being used to improve day-to-day operations. Those are important if the shared e-scooters should be attractive for tourists or help people reach their favourite destination and support the spending in local businesses. The city representatives should, and this might be just if not more important, also focus on a long term strategy.

The quality of the long-term strategy will ensure that the shared e-scooters will truly be the sustainable mode of transport for everyone. This is crucial as some of the shared e-scooter systems operate in “prominent” urban locations, increasing embedded inequalities between urban privileged and poor. In practice, the e-scooters shouldn’t be available only in the city centre and adjacent neighbourhoods but especially in poorly integrated locations with the current transport network. Integration with public transport into one ticket system and additional subsidies for those with limited transport options should be the standard if the operators want to translate the sustainable discourse into practice. Otherwise, it is all just a false simulacrum covering the one and only interest: profit.

We are currently witnessing that the initial hype of shared micro-mobility in many cities is slowly reaching its ends. New challenges are popping up, and the future of the safest and sustainable personal mode of transport is in the hand of the service providers and in the hands of public authorities. The private and public sector has to understand their needs and meet in the middle. If not, the shared e-scooter segment may be reaching towards the end.

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