England & Wales, Scotland Transport and infrastructure

E-scooter trials: how councils can get the best out of their providers

As local authorities begin to think about e-scooter trials Zachary Wang, CEO and Co-Founder of Australian e-scooter provider Neuron Mobility, talks about the rollouts in Australia and possible lessons for the councils here.

With Covid-19 leading to unprecedented restrictions on the use of public transport, the British government has been looking to alternative travel methods to ensure people can move around safely and get back to work. The legalisation of shared e-scooters is a prime example of this, and local authorities across the country are now in conversation with providers. Many are looking to get e-scooters on the ground within weeks.

Britain has taken a watchful approach to e-scooters and has only recently brought forward and expanded trials that were slated for next year. However, in many other parts of the world they are already commonplace, meaning that local authorities have no shortage of lessons they can learn from the experiences of other towns and cities. In order to develop an e-scooter deployment strategy which leads to a smooth and prosperous rollout here, it is important that our councils look to best practice in similarly regulated markets.

One such regulated market is Australia, which saw the introduction of e-scooters in 2018 and where usage continues to grow. The key to Australia’s success has been in the partnerships councils have formed with providers. The city of Darwin, in Australia’s Northern Territory, is a good example. Darwin was one of the first Australian cities to come out of lockdown, and having e-scooters on the streets has been part of its post-lockdown recovery plan for business and the local economy, which it has delivered in partnership with Australia’s largest e-scooter operator Neuron.

This partnership has allowed the council in Darwin to tailor the rules of use specifically to the area through geofencing combined with the GPS technology embedded in the e-scooter. If a popular drop off point is somewhere problematic or likely to create clutter, the council can create a ‘no parking’ zone, which stops riders from leaving their e-scooter there. The same technology can also make ‘slow zones’ or ‘no go zones’. For example, a council might choose to apply a slow zone around a primary school which means riders are unable to ride above a set speed when they are in close proximity to it.

E-scooter providers also collect data which is valuable for their partnering council. GPS data and drop off points show where the most popular corridors are for e-scooter travel, and the most popular destinations, as well as timings and likely reasons for travelling. In Darwin for instance, Neuron was able to show that 40 per cent of all rides take place for leisure purposes in the evening. This equips the council with knowledge of their market, of how e-scooters are being used, and of where they are needed most, which in turn can help inform future strategy.

Potential concerns around e-scooters, the most common of which are fears over clutter, safety and speed, can be mitigated, but must be managed smartly, with joint working between council and provider to create bespoke solutions.

In Brisbane, for example, the Council was keen to increase helmet usage among riders, and sought Neuron’s help in making this possible. As a result, the world’s first app-controlled helmet lock was created. This ensures that a helmet is securely attached to every scooter and can only be unlocked by the app, preventing loose helmets being discarded or lost. Other initiatives developed in partnership include the ‘helmet selfie’, which provides riders with discounts if they send a picture of themselves wearing the helmet.

Another concern from councils in Australia has been how to educate riders to increase safety and compliance. Neuron developed the first voice-guided talking e-scooter which welcomes new riders and guides them through safety features. It offers warnings when an e-scooter is approaching a low-speed zone or the edge of the riding area, and instructions on how to park safely and return helmets when done. From our experience this is much more effective than a video on a website that relatively few people visit.

Many in the UK will have been unfamiliar with the technological advancements that have been made to the modern day e-scooter, but it is precisely this technology that will be the key to their success here. Local authorities and providers can work together to channel innovation, creating bespoke solutions for individual councils, and ultimately making e-scooters a success story in the UK.

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