Re-tendering UK e-scooter trials: reflections from Voi on how to get it right

Dec 14, 2023

UK e-scooter trials have now been running for over three years. In November 2023, instead of announcing long-trailed legislation to firmly embed micromobility into our transport system, the government once again extended them until May 2026. Some councils and regional authorities – who manage their local e-scooter trials – are reviewing current contracts, determining whether to extend terms with existing providers or issue tenders for new contracts.

A journalist reporting on the transition to a new micromobility operator in the West of England recently stated, “if it ain’t broke, why fix it”? We have been tagged in numerous social media posts asking us to go back to Bristol, where until a change in operators in October, we built and ran one of the most successful e-scooter schemes in Europe. On social media and in news reports our ex-riders were complaining about a lack of hop-on hop-off scooters on the streets, no long-term rental scooters, a lack of parking availability and also asking questions about the e-bikes and cargo bikes, which were promised in the new contract but by the beginning of December had still failed to materialise.

This led us to reflect on how local authorities and micromobility operators should work together to ensure that any change of operator is as seamless as possible, and that crucially, disruption in service to riders is minimised. The success of the trials means that people are relying on them to get to work, to education, for business appointments, to go to the shops and for leisure. If there is a break in service – with either no scooters for several months or far fewer scooters – then these riders are forced to find another source of transport. Sadly, we’ve seen reports on social media that some opt to start using cars again.

Drawing on our experience of the transitions we’ve been involved in this year in the UK, including starting operations in London, Cheltenham and Gloucester. These are our thoughts about best practice.

Good design of contracts is essential

Councils should not see e-scooters as short-term cash cows and remember that we are the only form of sustainable  transport not to receive public subsidy or capital investment.  We invest in warehouses, people and hardware; it’s a capital intensive industry, operating on low margins. To be financially sustainable we need contracts to be financially sustainable; this means blind auction revenue share bids should be avoided. We can’t run schemes at a loss and demanding  revenue shares put services at risk. This approach could lead to operators going out of business, councils having to re-procure and citizens losing a transport option they’ve come to rely on.

There must be verification that operators can deliver on promises

We are always happy for local authorities to visit one of our warehouses to see how they’re run, check our robust health and safety and watch our mechanics at work, as well as to try out our e-scooters and e-bikes. We can demonstrate and explain what it takes to run a financially sustainable and responsible service. That way they will see that we’re able to deliver on our promises and ensure corners are not cut. 

Collaboration is key

It is in everyone’s interests to make sure contracts work for everyone – riders, councils, operators, and the population at large. The best way to make this happen is for operators to work closely with local authorities who know their communities inside out and to listen to feedback from riders and other road users or pedestrians who share roads and paths with our vehicles.

*Matthew Pencharz is Head of Public Policy for Voi UK, Ireland and France. He’s happy to engage in further conversation with local authorities seeking to tender for micromobility services in this region.

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