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The electric scooter rental firm Voi is set to more than treble the size of its UK fleet, as it expands to 16 towns and cities and bids for a London launch.
The Swedish startup has clocked up almost 250,000 rides in just three months since it first launched in Britain, according to figures shared exclusively with Yahoo Finance UK.
It reports strong demand in its first six towns and cities, Northampton, Birmingham, Liverpool, Cambridge, Bath, and Bristol.
The company has struck deals with local authorities to expand in 10 more areas, saying it makes it the UK’s leading operator. It is also currently bidding to secure one of three contracts from London transport and council chiefs to operate in the capital from early next year.
The latest plans for a 220% increase in e-scooters would take its UK fleet to 4,000 by the end of the year. It has also launched in Berlin, Munich, Copenhagen, Helsinki and Oslo since launching in Stockholm in 2018.
It comes amid fierce competition in the growing electric scooter and bike market across Europe, with major rivals including Bird, Bold, Lime, Neuron and Tier. The pandemic saw leading firms including Voi partially suspend operations earlier this year, and Uber sold its Jump e-scooter and e-bike business to Lime.
But the race to grow is back on, with Estonian e-bike and e-scooter firm Bolt announcing plans to launch in 100 cities in 2021 and German rival Tier raising $250m (£190m) in November to speed up expansion.
Despite rising numbers on Britain’s streets, riding a privately-owned e-scooter remains illegal except on private land.
But local authorities have been allowed to launch 12-month trials of rental e-scooters since July, with scooters from licensed operators allowed on roads and cycle lanes but not pavements. Riders need at least a provisional car, motorbike or moped licence, and a 15.5mph speed limit applies.
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“We are seeing that in the cities where they are offered, e-scooters are fast becoming essential to many people,” said Richard Corbett, Voi’s regional general manager in the UK.
Corbett acknowledged it was a “very competitive market,” and said the company had been talking to investors about raising more capital to invest in new and existing locations.
He added: “Experience gives us an advantage over other players who have not operated here at scale. Other authorities can see how well our operations are working on the ground and can talk to other councillors about the trials, which helps them to make their decisions.”
The regional manager also emphasised safety was the company’s “number one priority,” pointing to collaboration with councils and police to “encourage responsible riding.”
The company reports its ‘RideLikeVoila’ road safety test has been used almost half a million times, and its scooters are capped at the relevant local limit.
A report by MPs in October highlighted concerns over “dangerous and antisocial” e-scooter use on pavements, as well as the “street clutter” and serious problems for disabled people of discarded e-scooters. There are also questions over the environmental or health benefits if some journeys replace walking, cycling and some forms of public transport use rather than car or taxi trips.
MPs on the transport select committee backed legalisation of private e-scooters, but only alongside rigorous enforcement over pavement use.
“The illegal status of private e-scooters does make it harder for us to educate riders about responsible behaviour,” said Corbett.
He said wider private ownership would not be bad news for rental operators, highlighting the ease of leaving e-scooters at your destination and superior quality of rental models. “There is a long-term shift in favour of subscription services or renting rather than owning, particularly amongst younger age groups,” he added.
“We are seeing many authorities use these as a way to promote active travel, reduce overcrowding on buses and trains during the coronavirus crisis and cut car usage, to help create a better environment and improve health and well-being.”