Having our VOIce heard at COP26

Nov 12, 2021

Matthew Pencharz, Head of Policy, UKI & the Netherlands, shares his experiences of a week at COP26, in Glasgow. 

Our aim at Voi may be to tread lightly when it comes to carbon but, at COP26 we made sure that we had a heavy foothold, and also left a strong impression. With our firm belief that micromobility has an important role to play in decarbonising and decongesting our towns and cities – to make them fit for living – we had an opportunity to share this message at several events over the week.

Pledging to be climate positive

First things first, we laid our cards on the table at the beginning of the week, when our CEO and co-founder, Fredrik Hjelm, announced that we are pledging to be climate positive by 2030. Climate positive means going a step further than carbon neutral, by saving more greenhouse gas emissions than we are generating. Fredrik made it clear that we are going to achieve this without carbon offsetting, but by working with our supply chain and cities to drive modal shift away from cars.

The transport dialogue is still stuck

Taking steps forward is what we do at Voi and yet, at COP26 it felt as if, certainly in much of the transport dialogue, that many are still stuck. In both public and private sectors, the big bells and whistles are still being attached to one misguided solution: to simply swap all the internal combustion engine (ICEs) vehicles for battery electric vehicles (BEVs).

For example, I attended an event where the waste and recycling issues arising from BEVs were discussed, as well as some of the technical solutions. While interesting and some of the innovations very exciting – surely the point is to get more people out of cars? To walk, cycle, take an e-bike, e-scooter or other light electric vehicle. The transport sector must now support, promote and show sustainable alternatives to, for example, using a Tesla which may only transport one person. What’s more, the data proves this to be the case.

The role of gender equality in decarbonising transport at COP26

The importance of data was a subject that came out strongly at a panel on ‘The role of gender equality in decarbonising transport’, where Fredrik Hjelm was one of several distinguished guests. Hosted by the International Forum of Transport (ITF), we were able to show that Voi is data driven and we are confident that we are ahead of the game on this front. We also concur with Mary Crass, ITF’s Head of Institutional Relations and Summit, who moderated the event. She said, “Women are the principal vectors of sustainable mobility and we aren’t taking that into consideration in the data. Ministries, authorities at all levels, operators and manufacturers need this other 50% of the population.”

As all the panellists pointed out, the reality is that our transport systems have historically been largely designed by men, for men, and indeed for and by male engineers. Fredrik spoke about Voi’s drive to foster gender equity in its service but also to value it within the company culture itself. Indeed, we have committed to a roadmap for inclusivity and equity in the micromobility sector to address this. However, COP26 served as a motivator to keep these issues on the table when it comes to sustainability.

Climate law and governance at COP26

I also attended a panel on Climate Law and Governance, discussing which regulatory frameworks best accelerate the adoption of new sustainable, safe, affordable and equitable forms of transport. It was uplifting to hear the message that pounds through the heart of Voi day and night, now being heard loudly at COP – that urban transport must be decarbonised rapidly so that it can contribute to all countries’ Nationally Determined Contribution, as agreed through the UN system.

Again, at Voi we have the data to drive this governmental and policy change. I believe that micromobility operators should be tendered by cities to prevent a ‘race to the bottom’ which, in itself, is totally unsustainable and risks leading to irresponsible practices in the industry. For cities to decarbonise rapidly, they must issue tenders and embrace responsible operators, giving the latter enough certainty to invest in the infrastructure required to deliver a world class transport experience. This is how we will tempt people from their cars, be they Teslas or Toyotas, BEVs or SUVs. 

For cities to meet their own targets and pledges, they must allow micromobility providers to have the scale and parking density that they need. These should also be informed by data -not anecdotes – and, in addition, they should enforce dynamic caps on the numbers of vehicles depending on demand and usage.

The data we shared at COP26

Given that this was the UK’s turn to host the Conference of Parties (COP), we were not shy in presenting the UK’s data, as well as that of our markets throughout Europe. The UK government has, for example, a target that some 50% of urban journeys should be completed by active modes by 2030. At the moment, in London, nearly a third of journeys are under 2km and another third are between 2-5km. While not all of these can be completed by walking, cycling and e-scooting, clearly a huge amount of them can.

If Voi’s figures are anything to go by, micromobility can help meet not only this target but also consumer demand for sustainable, accessible transport. In just over three years, Voi’s riders have completed 70m rides across 11 countries in 70 towns and cities. In addition, our riders tell us that, across all our markets, 15.4% of those trips would otherwise have been taken by a car and over 47% of users combine micromobility with public transport. Our data shows that the modal shift is happening – not just to BEVs but also to VOIs.

Cross-sectoral collaboration for equitable net-zero transport

We were also honoured to host a panel at COP26, entitled ‘Cross-sectoral collaboration for equitable net-zero transport’. Distinguished guests on this panel were: Karen Vancluysen, Secretary General of the Polis Network of Cities; Barbara Stoll, Director of the Clean Cities Campaign; Lucy Yu, CEO of the Centre for Net Zero; Sarah Badoux, Voi’s Head of Sustainability; and Simon Schäfer-Stradowski, MD of the Institute for Climate Protection, Energy and Mobility.

During this vibrant session, the panel agreed that there is a hierarchy of active transport modes and that e-scooters are a real driver of modal shift away from cars. In Paris, for example, the adoption rate of shared e-scooters was four times as fast as shared bikes, which debunks the myth that micromobility is just a fad. It also illustrates the tremendous potential of this new mode to transform how we move around cities. In addition, the panel recognised the political challenges that city leaders have in driving change, with our guests promulgating the need for carrots and sticks, as well as consulting with communities. 

Another important cross-sectoral issue that was discussed by this panel was inclusivity. In the UK, for example, the use of e-scooters mirrors the ethnic makeup of a town or city, whereas urban cyclists are still predominantly white, male and affluent. Again, data is key to building not only our own roadmap to inclusive, sustainable transport at Voi, but can also serve towns and cities to help inform their own diversity, equity and inclusivity policies and practices.

From the Industrial Revolution to a transport revolution

I was also delighted to be given an opportunity to attend and speak at a dinner hosted by political leaders of England’s North West region, representing almost five million people, including the City of Liverpool where we operate. Voi heard about the region’s commitment to delivering a just transition to net-zero, and to a sustainable economy that creates jobs and wealth. England’s North West was a driving force of the Industrial Revolution and it was clear that they are committed to driving the next, clean industrial revolution. I was proud to tell them how, in just over a year, Voi has become an integral part of Liverpool’s transport infrastructure, displacing over 660,000 car journeys.

Raising a glass to COP26

This is the first COP where Voi has had a major presence and, given that we are only three years old, it was very exciting to have a seat at the table. We learned about some of the innovations ongoing in our sector and potential partnerships that will ensure micromobility becomes embedded in urban transport systems.

With emissions from transport continuing to increase, we came away feeling reassured in the knowledge that Voi and micromobility have a vital role to play in enabling a safe, affordable and just transition to net-zero. And, with the right policies and regulations coming from national, regional and local governments, I have no doubt that our company’s 70 million net-zero rides, in just over three years, is just the beginning. That was something that we all certainly felt a need to raise a glass of Scotch to before we said farewell to COP26. Some may take the high road, and others the low road. But at Voi, we shall always take the green road. 

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