While the European e-scooter industry understands Paris’ decision to ban shared vehicles, no such conversation is taking place in Berlin.
That says Natascha Spörle, head of public policy at ride-hailing and micro-mobility provider Bolt, who oversees Germany and the important Berlin market.
The counter-reaction to e-scooters is viewed “very curiously” by German cities, said Spörle.
“Paris has been the role model for German cities in recent years. They’ve all been looking to Paris before they’ve all been looking to Copenhagen, and in the last few years they’ve all been looking to Paris,” she said, referring to the French capital’s investment in cycling infrastructure and a move away from cars.
“On this particular issue, they don’t really want to do it like Paris [with a ban]. I’ve also spoken to a couple of cities who said we’re not going to do it like Paris.”
A relative newcomer to Berlin, Bolt is launching its e-scooters in 2021 after a change in federal regulation defined exactly what the vehicles are and how they can be used.
Many e-scooter rental companies have operated in European cities in recent years with varying degrees of success and freedom, but the operation has also drawn much criticism in relation to issues such as safety and parking.
These issues were at the heart of a referendum held in Paris last month that ultimately saw a relatively small number of voters cast their ballots, urging the company to flee their city. The e-scooter fleets of the three operators – Bolt is not one of them – will leave the city at the end of August.
“As I understand it, it’s also not possible because we have federal legislation, a referendum isn’t possible [in Berlin] or not legally,” Spörle continued.
Bolt operates in Berlin alongside competitors Voi, Tier and Lime. It doesn’t say how many e-scooters it has in its fleet, but the companies’ vehicles are never far away in the city center and surrounding neighborhoods.
Berlin authorities have tried to integrate the companies’ scooters into the wider public transport network.
BVG, the city’s largest public transport company, has launched the Jelbi app, which people can use to book tickets for public transport such as trams and trains, as well as rent e-scooters.
Spörle said this is an attempt to make micro-mobility more fluid using the city’s existing transport network.
Seamlessly integrating multiple services into one app is no easy feat that other cities have attempted but with varying degrees of success.
As cities across Europe grapple with the best way to regulate e-scooters, Berlin could provide a kind of framework to work from.
But that doesn’t mean that Berlin is immune to possible changes.
In Germany, the concept of “Verkehrswende”, which refers to a push towards more sustainable and environmentally friendly modes of transport, has gained momentum, but not without a push back from car-loving Germans.
E-scooters will feed into this debate when it comes to dealing with the congestion on the roads and the ever-present issues of safe parking.
Spörle said city authorities should approach regulation with limits on the number of e-scooters in a city, not the number of operators, to ensure there is health competition.
“[The industry] is still relatively young. We have a different economic environment than in the last two or three years. There just isn’t that much money left. I would suspect there will be some consolidation in the market over the next six to 12 months.”
This consolidation has already been observed in Berlin and more generally, e.g. B. the withdrawal of the embattled US e-scooter company Bird from the city in the course of its withdrawal.
“I would expect more operators to either leave or maybe join [in mergers] So I think it’s a very risky time from the city’s perspective to decide now which operator to operate in their city,” she said.
“That operator might not be there long or if they decide to have two operators and then one goes, suddenly they have a monopoly. We are such a young industry. We need competition at the moment.”
According to Spörle, Bolt expects its German e-scooter business to be profitable by the end of this year. She added that Bolt benefits from many differences from its e-scooter-only competitors. Bolt also operates ride-hailing and carsharing.
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