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Berlin becomes latest European city to launch electric scooters

Jill Petzinger
Jill Petzinger, Germany Correspondent, Yahoo Finance UK
A man passes by the Champs Elysees avenue in Paris on a Lime electric scooter. Credit: Reuters/Charles Platiau

California’s Lime said it received the official go-ahead to put its dockless electric scooters into the streets of Berlin, Germany, starting Tuesday.

Up to eight different e-scooter startups are vying for a piece of the action in Germany — including Berlin’s Tier Mobility, Circ, Voi from Sweden, and US scooter pioneers Lime and Bird. The introduction of e-scooters to the German capital leaves London as the only major European city where they are still illegal.

While they have been hailed as an ideal, eco-friendly last-mile option for crowded cities, many see them as a menace on the streets and pavements. The hashtag #scootersbehavingbadly on Twitter and Instagram is an endless stream of photos showing how badly people treat them and the crazy places they are abandoned.

Fears that Berlin will be swamped are unfounded, according to Julian Blessin, co-founder of Germany’s Tier Mobilty e-scooters.

“We would never flood a city as the bikesharers did — the Chinese bikesharers — it was not the best idea,” Blessin told Yahoo Finance UK.

He said Tier, which is now live in 22 cities and 10 countries, will start with a few hundred scooters in the city, and then ramp up according to demand. Tier started with 250 e-scooters in Vienna, and have expanded to 1,500, which is the cap in the Austrian capital. There won’t be a cap in Berlin.

Blessin said Tier has not experienced the negative backlash seen in the US, which he attributes to the fact that his people collect the scooters from the streets every night. They bring them to central warehouses to repair and recharge them overnight, before placing them around the city in time for the next day’s scooting.

“The big difference between an electric scooter and shared bike is that the bike is put on the street once and never touched again,” according to Blessin. He said city officials can call in complaints about badly parked scooters, and they will be picked up “within the hour.”

“It’s the only way that you can make sure that you have safe scooters on the street,” Blessin said.

He recommended wearing a helmet, and confirmed that he does too. Legally, riders don’t have to wear helmets in Germany, as the scooters have a top speed of just 20 kph (just over 12 mph).

There have already been a couple of fatal accidents involving e-scooters in Europe, as well at least 1,500 injuries and a few reported deaths in the US since their 2017 launch. In May, a man riding an e-scooter in Helsingborg, Sweden, died after being hit by a car, and a 25-year-old rider died in Paris in June after a collision with a lorry.

While users in Germany will be restricted to bike paths and banned from riding on pavement, Berlin’s incomplete, badly maintained bike-path infrastructure could force riders onto the streets alongside car traffic.

The country’s main cycle lobby and bicycle association, the Allgemeiner Deutscher Fahrrad club, said last month they were worried about the lack of infrastructure for the scooters.

On top of safety concerns, there are also accusations that e-scooters have too short a lifespan to be ecologically sound.

"When you place a vehicle on the street that dies after 30 days, we shouldn't talk about green technology. This is not a sustainable business," Lawrence Leuschner, CEO of Tier, told Forbes last month. Leuschner was referring to a Quartz report from April that found Bird scooters lasted less than a month before they were no longer usable.

Blessin told Yahoo Finance UK that the first generation of scooters — 99% of all e-scooters are made in China — had a much shorter lifespan, as they weren’t intended for sharing. He said Tier’s now-third generation of scooter should last for at least 12 months.

“The battery lasts longer than the scooter, and we will have swappable batteries, so we can easily change them, if the scooter would die because the frame breaks, you can use all the components,” Blessin said.

A 2019 study from Grand View Research predicts that the global electric-scooter market will be worth $42bn by 2030.