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Manager Magazin: Permission granted for electric scooters in Germany

Column from Patrick Setzer on how e-scooters will change Germany's cities this summer.


Original article published on manager magazin in German here


A column by Patrick Setzer


The regulation on the legitimacy of electric scooters in Germany is signed and will regulate the driving of small electric vehicles nationwide this summer. For small routes, which were previously covered on foot, now a new breed of small electrically powered vehicles are offered.

From early summer onwards those scooters will be available as sharing services, as we already know from cars or bicycles. We all will be able to borrow them from street corners in almost every major German city starting in June. The benefits are obvious - but there are a few things to keep in mind when it comes to cityscape and security.

It took almost five years to develop the small electric vehicles regulation (eKFV) in Germany and this week was finally signed by Federal Minister of Transport Andreas Scheuer. While in Vienna, Paris, London and other major cities the scooters have already arrived in the cityscape, it was still considered whether helmet duty, handlebar, insurance license plate or drivers license requirement are adequate regulations for electrically powered scooters and skateboards. This has now been decided and will be presented to the European Commission and the Federal Council with the expected approval as next step, so that the way for the new vehicles is clear for the summer.


What does the e-scooter regulation look like in detail?

In many countries, the policy was based on a Silicon Valley attitude paving the way quickly for e-micro-vehicles. One consequence was that scooters overwhelmingly overcrowded the cities and authorities had to counteract quickly.

At the political level speed limits (now a maximum of 20 km/h), compulsory insurance (will be introduced, since the Ministry of the view street car in the event of an accident must be identifiable) or license requirement (this has now been repealed) in connection with small electric vehicles discussed.

Considering that electric bikes are allowed to drive faster, but are not subject to compulsory insurance, the result is interesting. The subject areas discussed in connection with electric scooters and electric skateboards, which would mean that you should not take e-scooters in public transport is not easy for non-politicians to understand. It should actually be clear that a requirement that excludes public transport passes by today urban needs. As you can see, the disruption of the automotive sector is not only affecting corporations, but also giving local politicians a chance to use agile trial-and-error solutions.


E-scooter unicorns and other start-ups scrape the hooves

The number of start-ups that start with e-scooters in early summer will surprise many. With the launch of Bird, Flash, Hive, Lime, Spin, Animal, Voi, Wind and others are plenty of start-ups in the starting blocks. The product quality differs particularly in the digital range of the offer, because most use the same former American hardware manufacturer Segway Ninebot, which was taken over in 2015 by the Chinese company Xiaomi.

If the characteristics of products are the same, the price decides. This price was set by Bird and Lime, the first-movers from California, with a $ 1 per-ride activation fee plus 15 to 20 cents a minute. With a purchase price of under $ 300 for the scooter, sometimes ten trips a day per scooter and the fact that the scooters themselves are used as a billboard in the street, which is why only low marketing costs come on top, the scooter pays off in the best case in the first month. These are constellations that venture capital funds love, which is why Bird, faster than any start-up, has managed to achieve billions in valuation in less than a year, becoming a unicorn.

It remains to be seen whether end customers will always rent an e-scooter at these low purchase prices for their daily journey to the subway. Sonner or later the first of the above-mentioned start-ups will switch its business model to economies of scale and will tick the activation fee. Then the hockey stick business planning gets a small dent and unicorns become Haflinger horses. Never mind, they can also gallop pretty well.


Now the cities are being disrupted

In German cities, mobility service providers from the US and Asia have left scorched earth. In Munich, for example, the bankruptcy of the bike-sharing service Obike from Singapore left around 7,000 bikes overnight. As a result, the city was literally littered with scrap bikes in rivers, parks or trees.

The Ride-Hailing service Uber has also caused resistance in most countries across Europe. With the American way of ignoring European rules and, if necessary, with filled pockets and commissioned lawyers attack cities, lobbies and associations, Uber has proved himself a coroner and is partly now seen as enemy. In Paris, the city is formally overrun by the scooter movement. Seven e-scooter providers are already active here and the city does not find it easy to control the tens of thousands of scooters. The now initiated movement "Charter of Good Behavior" for "Trotinettes", as the scooters are called in France, is an elegant idea, but rigidly restrictive rules need to follow.

Even in the US, Bird and Lime have already had to give up their favors to the city councils, as they have paid little attention to the local effects of their services and have partly been abruptly shut down at times. On Instagram you can quickly get an idea of ​​how scooters are treated under the account "Scootersbehavingbadly". If the German cities do not prepare for the roller tide in the next few weeks, an Obike scrap scenario with scooters will repeat itself.


The conscious urbanite of tomorrow walks or drives with scooters to the subway

The "General German Bicycle Club" (ADFC) fears in a statement "total chaos" on the urban bike paths and stands exactly for the attitude that one may not put on the day. Preserving one's own assets and writing the most unlikely negative scenario at the top of his mind certainly does not contribute to the positive shaping of future mobility. An analysis from the US last November shows that in cities that have introduced bicycle-sharing services, bus usage has fallen by 1.8 percent per year, while the use of public rail transport has increased in parallel. This contrasts with ride-hailing services such as Uber or Lyft, which help convert around 1.5 percent of public transport a year from public transport to taxi-like services with internal combustion engines and ensure that cities such as New York or Chicago get even more traffic and air problems than they already have. Here, in addition to small electric vehicles, ride pooling services such as BlaBlaCar for long-distance trips or Clevershuttle, which implement a similar concept within cities with an electric fleet, are good approaches.

Those who do not want to be counted among the group of "climate-afflicted climate offenders" named by the Federal Environmental Agency should prefer shared mobility solutions in conjunction with public transport and trains and accept little comfort disadvantages. For those who navigate through the city with two tons of steel powered by an internal combustion engine to transport an average 65-kilogram human from A to B are not responsible in the sense of Greta Thunberg.


Four approaches to micro mobility

1. "Just ship it": Fast iterative approaches instead of years of reflection based on theoretical information. To stay competitive, this is true for businesses, but also for our politicians. Investing in studies cost time and money. And the results are usually far from the real customer requirement.

2. "Ask for forgiveness later" is not an attitude: Uber's way of overriding regulations and laws and leaving the public out of sight has not proven to be successful. If startups have an early eye on all parties of the mobility ecosystem, they will have a long-term advantage.

3. "Disruption testing" also applies to cities: recognizing the change early and swiftly implementing regulations and limits for small electrical vehicles ensures that we will not experience a second Obike tragedy in Germany.

4. "Digital transformation" begins with us citizens themselves. Finger pointing on others is easy. To go even new ways and to leave the comfort zone are both opportunity and task.


Patrick Setzer is the founder of digital entry GmbH and a member of the opinion makers of manager-magazin.de. Nevertheless, this column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial staff of the manager magazin.