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Company say London e-scooter trial is not financially sustainable

Rental e-scooter firm Voi has warned it may be forced to withdraw from London’s streets as it has become “financially unsustainable” to operate in the capital.

In a letter requesting an urgent meeting with mayor Sadiq Khan, the company says e-scooters are too “heavily regulated” in London, and “cannot compete with largely unregulated rental e-bikes” provided by its competitors.

Voi CEO Fredrik Hjelm says in his letter that if the situation does not change, as well as considering removing its 1,700 scooters from London, the firm could alternatively be forced to invest in and deploy 20,000 of its own e-bikes across the capital.

Issues cited by the company include the “insufficient” number of parking spots for the scooters, and the fact that only nine out of London’s 33 local authorities have permitted the scooters to be used in their areas.

Rental e-scooters are currently being provided in towns and cities across the UK as a part of a trial launched by the Department for Transport (DfT), which has been ongoing since 2020. Privately-owned e-scooters remain illegal to use in public spaces.

In London, the trial is being overseen by Transport for London (TfL), with Lime and Voi as the two companies participating. A third operator, Dott, withdrew its scooters in March this year, saying – similarly to Voi – that “the rapid and unregulated rise of e-bikes has left the e-scooter service unable to compete”.

Dott had withdrawn its e-bikes from London some months previously, arguing that the failure to regulate them in the same way as e-scooters “made no sense” and was bad for business.

Voi removing its scooters from London would leave Lime as the capital’s sole e-scooter operator.

In his letter to the mayor, Mr Hjelm says e-scooters and e-bikes are “crucial to reduce dependency on cars” and can also play “a major role in improving London’s air quality”.

But he says that of the more than 100 towns and cities Voi operates in across Europe, London is the “lowest performing” due to the uneven playing field on which e-scooters and e-bikes compete with one another.

Unlike e-scooters, e-bikes are not classed as “motor vehicles” under UK road traffic laws, meaning they are not part of any Government trial and enjoy relative freedom as a result.

Mr Hjelm said Voi was struggling to compete against the “rapid rise of e-bikes”, which have “few restrictions or regulations about where they can be ridden or parked”.

The lack of parking spaces is a particular issue for the scooters in London, as Mr Hjelm says the average walking time to reach one in the capital is six minutes.

Research suggests that if potential riders have to walk further than two or three minutes, they are far less likely to bother renting an e-scooter or e-bike and will instead use another mode of transport.

Mr Hjelm also complained that in London, e-scooter speeds have been capped at 12.5mph, when the DfT has set a limit nationally of 15.5mph.

Similarly, the scooters are only able to be used by those 18 or older in London, while the DfT has said it has no issue with 16 or 17-year-olds using them, provided they hold a provisional or full driving licence.

The fact that two thirds of London’s local authorities do not currently allow the scooters to be used has also created a “patchwork operating area” which is “severely limiting where people can ride”, Mr Hjelm added.

He told the mayor: “As things stand, it is financially unsustainable to continue operating in the city.

“If we are not able to work with TfL to improve the situation, we are faced with just two options: 1. We withdraw from the city, effectively signalling the failure and end of the TfL-led e-scooter scheme, and creating an effective monopoly for a single operator. 2. This summer, we invest in and deploy 20,000 e-bikes across London.

“I hope you can use your influence working alongside the Government after [the general election on] July 4 to improve the situation, and I would welcome the opportunity to discuss further and share experiences from Europe.”

A TfL spokesperson said: “The capital’s trial of rental e-scooters has been carefully designed to ensure the high safety and operating standards that London needs, which includes controlled parking in designated bays. This model doesn’t currently apply to dockless e-bikes in the same way, but discussions are ongoing with regards to long-term improvements to e-bike parking.

“Rental e-scooters in London operate as part of the national government trial, which allows boroughs to opt in or out of the scheme, and means that the mayor and TfL have no powers to roll out a pan-London scheme.

“In the absence of Government legislation, we are working with London Councils to better coordinate rental e-scooters, and dockless e-bikes, to ensure they are safer for all road users, and provide the best possible service for customers.”

Mr Hjelm’s letter to the mayor comes after a report last week warned that e-bikes in the capital are themselves in need of a more consistent set of policies across different boroughs and operators.

The report – authored by the consultancy Steer and commissioned by Lime – said more dedicated parking bays should be provided for the bikes, along with a simplified set of rules over where they can be parked outside of those bays.

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