Brexit ‘puts brakes on UK launch of e-scooters’ – BBC News

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Brexit ‘puts brakes on UK launch of e-scooters’ – BBC News

Child with e-scootersImage copyright
Getty Images

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E-scooters have been launching all over the world

Brexit is delaying the potential launch of public-use electric scooters in the UK, says Sweden’s Voi Technology, which claims Britain risks being left behind.

Fredrik Hjelm, co-founder and chief executive of the shared e-scooter firm, said he has held talks with the UK government about changing regulation.

It is currently illegal in the UK to ride them on public roads or pavements.

But Mr Hjelm said: “What we hear and feel is that Brexit is a big reason why things are moving so slowly.”

He added: “We don’t have any high hopes of getting this through before Brexit, which I think is sad, because most other European countries have been quite quick in adapting and trying to find a good regulatory framework.”

Voi Technology is one of a growing number of businesses which have launched e-scooters in cities throughout Europe, the US and Asia.

The company, which has only been operating since 2018, announced this week that it had raised $85m (£66m) from private investors.

Its first funding round a year ago attracted $50m from the likes of Jeff Wilke, chief executive of Amazon’s global consumer business, and Justin Mateen, co-founder of dating app Tinder.

Many of these companies are vying to be the first to launch shared e-scooters – which can travel at speeds in excess of 30mph – in London.

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Voi Technology

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Voi Technology’s co-founder and chief executive, Fredrik Hjelm

US firm Bird established the first legal electric scooter route in the UK this year at London’s Olympic Park. It was able to do so because it is on private land.

However, e-scooters are not without controversy. They have been involved in a number of traffic accidents, some of which have resulted in fatalities.

Television presenter Emily Hartridge was riding an electric scooter when she was killed in a collision with a lorry in south London in July.

France announced last month it was introducing rules to ensure e-scooters are only used by people aged 12 and upwards. The two-wheelers will also no longer be allowed on pavements there.

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A pedestrian steps over Voi’s e-scooters in Paris

France’s junior Transport Minister, Jean-Baptiste Djebbari, said the new rules would encourage “more responsible use… and restore a sense of tranquillity for pedestrians, in particular the most vulnerable: the elderly, children and handicapped people”.

Most recently, Singapore banned scooters from all pavements and footpaths. From January, those caught breaking the rules can be fined and jailed for up to three months.

Mr Hjelm said Voi is doing “everything we can” to ensure its e-scooters are safe by “developing safer products, better brakes [and] better warning systems”.

“But in the end, we are in the hands of users in the same way that a car rental company in the hands of their users, that they are driving the car in a safe and responsible way,” he said.

However, people who rent cars have driving licences after taking lessons and passing a test, whereas people who use e-scooters need no such qualifications.

Profitable

Despite launching as recently as 2018 – when it generated sales of between $1.5m and $2m – Voi is expected to report revenues in the “tens of millions of dollars” for this current financial year, said Mr Hjelm.

He also forecasts that Voi, which is present in 38 cities across 10 European countries, will make a pre-tax profit by 2021-22.

The company was set up by Mr Hjelm and Douglas Stark – the two met when they served as intelligence officers in Sweden’s military – along with programmers Adam Jafer and Filip Lindvall.

People who want to use Voi’s e-scooters download the company’s app, scan a barcode on the vehicle they want to ride and off they go.

Once they are done, users tell the app their ride is over and take a photo to show that the e-scooter is parked in an orderly manner.

One of the problems that France has faced by embracing the shared e-scooter is that many have been dumped or discarded, because unlike many shared bicycles for public use, they do not use a docking station.

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Getty Images

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An e-scooter belonging to US firm Lime is fished out of the sea in Marseille

Mr Hjelm said: “In the beginning, when we were going into the market, we lost more scooters when people are curious. They thought they could privatise them.”

Mr Hjelm said that while there are disadvantages to using a traditional docking system – “The dock station can be full and you have to go to another station that is not that convenient” – he says Voi is moving towards a “hybrid system” with a mix of physical and virtual docks.

Fortunately, the number of e-scooters being “privatised” has fallen and Mr Hjelm said that Voi has street teams in cities who “make sure everything is in good order and parked in a nice way “.

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