31 July 2019
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As congestion in cities rises, existing transportation can no longer keep up with growing populations. In 2018, UK drivers lost an average of 178 hours a year due to congestion, costing an average of £1,317 per driver. As a result, micromobility solutions are gaining popularity in cities around the world, as people seek alternative methods of transportation in a new era of future mobility.   

Starting over a decade ago as a micromobility solution intended to cover the last mile of one’s trip, bike sharing has now moved into the new age of future mobility. The hype around e-scooters, originating from tech cities in the US like San Francisco, has reached European shores. Over the last year, micromobility providers started to appear all over Europe, with some cities seeing not one or two but four or more different providers swamping the streets with their rides. While diversity and choice certainly furthers rapid adoption, how many providers are simply too many? In San Francisco for example, this oversupply lead to new legislation requiring scooter companies to obtain a license. Only two such licenses were subsequently issued.

The situation in Europe

In a bid to combat growing urban transportation demands, many European cities have begun to introduce e-scooters. In Germany, law makers recently voted to allow e-scooters to take to the streets, with rides already appearing in the inner cities of Munich and Hamburg. While many welcome this decision, German cycling association, ADFC, believes there to be a lack of infrastructure, highlighting cyclists will now require additional space.

Meanwhile, France recently hardened its stance against e-scooters following a multitude of e-scooter related accidents, and one death. The Ministries of the Interior and Transport outlined new rules to come into force in September 2019, including limiting e-scooters to a speed of 25 kilometres per hour and banning their use on pavements. With the list of safety concerns growing, regulatory reviews in other countries are also increasingly likely.

Furthermore, the swift introduction of e-scooters in Europe not only raises safety concerns, but has also potentially come at the expense of brands building and protecting their core intellectual property (IP), as they are still not legal in key European markets, such as the Netherlands and the UK.

Is this business model sustainable?

With multiple providers swamping Europe, Tony Ho, Vice-President of Global Business Development at Segway-Ninebot, says “The standalone business model, I think it is questionable whether it’s self-sustainable”. From a user perspective, too many different providers certainly isn’t ideal either, each requiring a dedicated app with individual registration and submission of payment details. A more centralized solution would clearly be favourable, if only for data privacy reasons. Uber and Lyft are already providing e-scooters from within their apps. In Europe, ShareNow, the shared mobility consortium of BMW, Daimler and myTaxi, is planning to introduce their Lisbon experiment “Hive” across Europe, presumably also from within their app ShareNow. The coming months certainly will be exciting times and it remains to be seen, which company can secure the biggest market share with the most reliable, simple, user friendly, and most private of solutions.

Despite an increasing amount of contenders entering the market, it is still early days for micromobility. Further regulations are likely as we continue to adapt to the introduction of transportation alternatives such as e-scooters, while the business model is also yet to proven sustainable. What is clear is that this area of future mobility is becoming an increasingly exciting space, and does not look to be slowing down. 

Christoph is a Partner and Patent Attorney at Mewburn Ellis. He handles original patent drafting and prosecution at the EPO and DPMA (German Patent and Trade Mark Office), principally in the engineering sector. Christoph regularly represents clients in opposition and appeal proceedings, as well as nullity and litigation proceedings before German courts. He advises clients on all matters of IP strategy and portfolio management, including Employee’s Inventions in Germany. Christoph also handles design matters. He is spearheading our dedicated team of future mobility experts.

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