Paris was one of the first cities to welcome the idea of digital platforms providing electric scooters for hire, but the events that transpired after that decision has led the city to rethink its stand on e-scooter mobility. The trouble started with the proliferation of a dozen e-scooter companies within the city – choking its roads with a tsunami of e-bikes that took over promenades and parking lots.
In the wake of such disarray, the Parisian government is now planning to restrict licenses for the e-scooter firms operating in the city to just three, and looking to ban the rest. This has fanned an intense competition between incumbent companies, which are scrambling for market capitalization by running ad campaigns, improving their e-bike models and creating a better user experience.
In retrospect, alternate mobility is a concept that might have sounded like simple marketing jargon a decade ago. However, the steady push within urban societies to look at transport as a service and not hold on to a myopic view of transport as a privatized construct, led to the genesis of on-demand mobility-as-a-service (MaaS) – the fundamental concept of all e-scooter sharing businesses.
The definitive rise of on-demand MaaS in the urban transport scene came with the mainstream adoption of on-demand cab-hailing, brought to the fore by Uber Technologies Inc (NYSE: UBER). Traffic congestion and the need for transport services that do not add considerable carbon footprint to the roads birthed a business model that fused the gig economy with the electric scooter to create a niche that has now revolutionized short-distance transport in certain locations, especially among millennials.
However, cities that were among the early adopters of this form of alternate mobility are now taking a step back to make sense out of the chaos that e-scooters have created on their streets.
Pedestrians in urban spaces are now accustomed to seeing broken down and battery-drained e-bikes on sidewalks, a subject of irritation as they take up precious walking space. Several freak accidents and targeted vandalism of e-bikes have led to irate city officials banning e-scooters or coming down heavily on the industry with strict regulations.
It is now the turn of Paris to cut down on the e-bike excesses that plague its streets. The French government has drafted legislation that will consider e-scooters to be an "integral part of urban mobility." This creates an environment in which e-scooters can no longer flirt with hazy regulations and will have to abide by concrete rules that mandate the use of a helmet while riding, a fixed speed limit of 20 kph (12 mph), and a prohibition of riding them on the sidewalks.
To have a shot at lengthening their license, e-scooter companies will have to show the government that they are responsible players by fixing broken scooters and not discarding them at the slightest inconvenience. Paris has had huge problems with broken bikes being dumped into the River Seine, with the government employing dredging firms to fish out the cycles from the water. The city also wants the companies to treat its ‘gig economy' workers better, by providing decent wages for them to charge the scooters every night.
However, companies are constantly looking to cut their expenses and run a leaner business. The immediate need is to manufacture more rugged bikes that do not break down as often, even with rough usage. For instance, e-scooter startup Bird has introduced a new scooter model that comes with thicker wheels and sturdier frames to combat vandalism and to give users a more comfortable ride.
To avoid manhandling of e-scooters by workers who take them to charging stations, companies are also seeking skilled maintenance crews over gig economy contractors. Tier Mobility, a scooter startup, runs its own maintenance team that it claims cuts down scooter depreciation to €1.25 a day – a number that can be as high as €15 a day if done by unskilled contractors.
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