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Trends

Social distancing: a COVID conundrum for commuters or a dawning for e-scooters?

A transport revolution is underway that could see e-scooters alleviate the pressure on public transport during COVID-19. But first, cities need location insights to plan their scooter-sharing schemes effectively.

As countries around the world ease back COVID-19 lockdown restrictions, people are left with a dilemma. How do they commute while maintaining social distancing?

For many, the obvious answer is to walk, drive or cycle. But e-scooters are emerging as a popular choice: they're quick, nimble and emissions free, and can help cities ease their pollution and congestion problems, too.

Governments are coming around to the advantages of  e-scooters as a way to ease the burden on public transport systems that have severely limited capacities due to social distancing measures.

In South Korea, scooter ridership is up 14% over recent weeks says ride-sharing platform Lime. And just last month, New York State legalized e-scooters, joining several other major US metropolitan cities including Los Angeles, Chicago and San Francisco.

Germany, France, Austria and Switzerland are some of the European countries where  e-scooters are legal and a popular alternative to taking the bus or walking.

Both Estonia and the UK will soon follow suit, with plans to legalize e-scooters for use on public roads. The UK government is currently reviewing the law and has brought forward a trial that was due to start in 2021 to next month. It has also ear-marked £250m to improve cycle lanes, where e-scooters would also be allowed to be ridden.

As Edmund King, President of the AA, told Driving.co.uk, "Electrified micro-mobility has the ability to revolutionize inner-city transport and last mile delivery capabilities". He also says safety should be the number one priority: currently there is no legislation about wearing helmets when riding e-scooters.

Waiting in the wings is a host of electric scooter rental companies ready to service this burgeoning market including US-based Lime and Bird and European start-ups Tier Mobility and Voi. Many scooter-sharing services have been severely disrupted by COVID-19, with fewer people using them during lockdown. This could be the break some companies have been looking for.

Patrick Studener, head of EMEA at Bird, told CNBC: “Following the (UK) government's announcement on scooter trials, we've had dozens of inquiries from city officials who want to get their cities moving again; congestion and emission-free, while maintaining social distancing."

Planning e-scooters as part of the public transport mix is difficult. First, there's the question of where to place the docks – or whether to have docks at all (find out the difference between docked and dockless scooters.)

Dockless hire schemes are great for convenience but can lead to e-scooters being abandoned on pavements, as the city of Paris knows only too well. But docked schemes need to be carefully planned to make sure they are in a hot spot or beside train stations or other transport hubs where people can hop on a scooter as part of a multi-modal journey.

Location technology from HERE can help you understand the best spot for e-scooter docks by analyzing historical and real-time mobility patterns using data from vehicles, traffic sensors and mobile devices.

As Dominique Bonte, vice president at ABI Research, writes in Automotive World: “Micromobility operators need to adopt a range of advanced technologies."

She says that understanding where to place your e-scooter ride-sharing docks is crucial and companies need "AI-based real-time location data analytics to improve spatial intelligence and understand demand-response patterns to optimize redistribution and recharging efficiencies."

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