In Europe, 2019 will be the year of the shared e-scooter. In several European cities an increasing amount of e-scooter and free-floating bike schemes were rolled out for the past 6 months.
But how should cities react to this disruptive mobility business? Is it a hype or is it the start of the great unbundling of transportation (as predicted by Horace Dediu)?
Fig.1 – In the 20th century the car bundled transportation (short to long distances, 1 to more passengers). Will the availability of new technologies in the 21st century enable a great unbundling of transportation? (c) Horace Dediu
Faster, easy & more expensive
At the start of spring, there are now between 3.000 and 3.500 free-floating e-scooters and bicycles in Brussels, operated by some 8 private service providers (Troty, Lime, Dott, Flash, Tier, Troty, Bird, Billy, Scooty…). The pricing of an e-scooter (€1 per trip + €0,15 per minute) is relatively expensive for people with their proper bike or public transport season ticket. But the trip speed and comfort is high.
The e-scooters are mostly used for 2 to 3 kilometer trips. We compared a random 3 kilometer trip in Brussels with different modes. Since walking takes half an hour and public transport operator MIVB doesn’t focus on very short trips (e.g. two bus stops), the shared e-bike seems to be a comfortable and fast alternative. On the other hand, the proper bike (or shared bike) is cheaper with a comparable speed.
Fig.2 – Shared e-scooters & e-bikes are rapidly becoming a competitor for public transport and walking (c) Matthias Van Wijnendaele
Brussels is hilly and the perception of non-cyclists is that cycling is not possible because of the inclinations. Therefore, e-bikes & e-scooters are game changers in the Brussels bike culture.
Fig. 3 – Both docked bike sharing systems and free floating e-scooters are looking for solutions for charging their vehicles. Villo! will launch a portable battery, while Lime works with juicers (c) Matthias Van Wijnendaele
Saving public space & less pollution
Cities in Europe are fighting since the late ’80 to gain public space on the car. Cities were transformed in favor of the car, squares became open air car parkings, tunnels and fly-overs were constructed. In Brussels, the modal share of bikes was less than 1% in the ’90. The result was poor living conditions and city flight.
The e-scooters are not a threat for public space, but one of the solutions for sustainable mobility as an alternative for the car. Allowing free floating micro-mobility in cities without an advanced cycling culture – as Brussels – will save public space on the longer term.
Complaints were recorded about wrongly parked e-scooters on small footpaths. However, there was no proof that the problem emerges more often than wrongly parked cars (which is more annoying). The real problem is the excess of car parking places, not the shared vehicle systems.
Since the e-scooters are still a new evolution in Brussels, data on road safety does not exist. Meanwhile, bike sharing systems have been proved to be very safe. Sensitization and monitoring on road safety by the public authority is planned.
Therefore, the Brussels parliament decided to become a welcoming city and adopted unanimously a new regulation for operators for shared dock-less fleets of micro-mobility (bikes, scooters, mopeds…). The new regulation entered into force on 1 February 2019 (already active operators can obtain a license until 1 September 2019).
Licensing system with no limit
The main purpose of the Brussels licensing system is to create a level playing field for companies and to impose standard rules (e.g. prohibition on combustion-engines) by the public authority. Investments in micro-mobility are welcome in Brussels, but providers must meet basic licensing & operating conditions to obtain a license.
An important operating condition for providers is the parking rule (controled by the Brussels regional public authority):
- Parking at small foot paths is not allowed (the Federal Road Code imposes 1m50 of free walking space has to be guaranteed). Voluntary drop-off zones will be created to sensitize users
- At certain locations, too high concentrations of parked vehicles are not allowed (dynamic NPZ)
- Some locations are prohibited for parking at all time (NPZ)
- Providers risk a €50 to €300 fee for each wrong parked vehicle 24h after a warning (in extreme circumstances the license can be suspended or deleted)
There is no limit on the number of permits that can be requested. Therefore, no “run on the bank” (e.g. Madrid) or “first come, first serve” problems were recorded.
Fig. 4 – Private car and bike ownership evolves towards shared systems unbundling transportation that are more public space friendly (c) Matthias Van Wijnendaele
The Brussels approach opts for a balanced framework empowering innovation and meeting the public interest such as saving public space. Comparable cities without advanced bicycle culture should welcome operators on certain basic conditions. They can safe public space and reduce car traffic & pollution. A coordinated approach on metropolitan level is needed to attract innovators. Meanwhile, European cities should work together on common standards, sharing good practices & protecting our city community values.
The regulation of shared micro-mobility services in Brussels fits in the global aim of modern transportation, reducing car traffic and saving public space. Other steps were the regulation of (free-floating) car-sharing and taxi services. The next step should be a regulatory framework for the Mobility as a Service concept. Therefore Brussels is adopting a new ambitious mobility plan, called Good Move.
The legal framework of shared micro-mobility in the Brussels Region was piloted by Matthias Van Wijnendaele & Floris Tack for the Brussels Mobility Minister
The full presentation: