Uber’s pilot scheme of launching Lime in Milton Keynes, UK, last month is only the latest in this year’s hot e-bike news. In April, the tech giant purchased JUMP, the first company to rent out bicycles with electric motors in DC. Both these companies, together with Santa Monica’s Bird and San Francisco’s Spin raised almost $1bn in funding just in a little over a year.
So what does it mean for the market and the future of transport?
On the one hand, e-bikes seem to be a trend that’s here to stay. Uber isn’t the only company to invest in the vehicles. This summer, Ford acquired Spin – a San Francisco scooter-sharing company – in order to meet the market needs. And even Uber’s competitor Lyft jumped on the bandwagon by offering e-scooters for rent across the States.
Indeed, Dr. Regina Clewlow of MIT even calls 2018 “the year of the scooter”, referring to the phenomenon as the “micro-mobility revolution”. Sounds… revolutionary. Perhaps even too revolutionary.
Are the cities ready for the micro-mobility revolution?
Despite the clear positive environmental impact of e-bikes, and the companies demonstrating the willingness to engage, not all are so optimistic. Companies like Mobike withdrew their e-scooters from Manchester, UK because they were being stolen and vandalized. Whilst Uber’s launch of JUMP e-bikes in San Diego, Ofo’s and Mobike’s vehicles disappeared from the city streets short time after the launch. And despite Uber’s support, Lime’s e-scooters have been banned in San Francisco. In addition, although it has ambitious plans for the UK launch, Lime is facing resistance from the country’s regulators.
Even transport academics disagree on whether a full-on transition to e-vehicles is ultimately a good thing. Dr. Clewlow believes that cities administrations should arm themselves with as much data as possible to ultimately redesign the cityscape to make it more accessible for clean vehicles. Whereas Professor William Riggs of the University of San Francisco believes the e-vehicles to be “disruptive” and that many cities are not ready for that kind of “disruption”.
Is it worth it?
Uber says yes. According to their report, the jump (so to speak) to e-bikes and scooters could reduce CO2 emissions by 184 tons per day in London alone. And if that’s true for a big city, there’s nothing to suggest that it can’t make a similar difference in smaller towns like Manchester.
However, successful integration of e-vehicles is only possible through a dialogue between the tech companies and the authorities. The success of Amsterdam, Tel Aviv, Berlin, and other cities where e-bikes are as normal as cars is a testament to that.
YouTube: Lime’s Smart Mobility Fleet
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Sources: Robin Chase (Wired) / Gwyn Topham (The Guardian) / Nick Harris-Fry (Coachmag) / Brittany Meiling (Govtech) / Thomas Barrett (Environment Journal) / John R. Quain, Stephen Edelstein (Digital Trends) / Regina Clewlow (Forbes) / Dr. Michael Naylor (Nzherald)
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