Most cities by now have seen a rapid adoption of shared bikes and scooters – and if not, they will soon enough. With cities pressed to solve rising concerns around air quality and congestion using low emission and congestion charging zones, micromobility providers are beginning to emerge as a powerful alternative to the current public transit mix – especially as the COVID-19 crisis widely impacts the transportation sector. We recently caught up with Sebastian Schlebusch, Head of Market Development at Dott, who has followed his passion for the last 10 years to establish micromobility systems across the globe. Currently a well-established service in Europe, we wanted to find out the benefits this can bring to other cities and the UK and how micromobility can aid the challenge of decarbonisation and to explore his positive future vision for travel in our cities.
In his previous years, before joining Dott, Sebastian was responsible for international expansion at nextbike and latterly JUMP working in the EMEA region where he spent a considerable amount of time with different city stakeholders to implement and set up bike sharing schemes in various cities (including Glasgow and Milton Keynes). Having spent the last 10 years in similar roles, Sebastian recognised that micromobility is ultimately where his passion lies and is “super excited that it is flourishing around the globe and making a massive contribution to the way people move around in a city.”
Dott a trusted and reliable partner from day one
From day one, Dott quickly began to set the benchmark for other providers and were constantly raising the bar, whether by introducing swappable batteries, or simply being the first to commit to 100% renewable energy and high social standards; they were certainly creating movement in a responsible way – “The Dott Way.” Sebastian defines the company’s fundamental principles as “caring about our cities, people and our planet. We are providing rides for all, by design: we want to ensure that we are creating a service that works for everyone, everywhere and we are here to invest in the long term.” It may not have the largest footprint by international standards, but Dott carefully selects its cities based on the ability to make a difference and are currently operating in a total of 16 cities.
The two main elements that Dott invests in to mitigate any negative impacts on the environment and cities, are:
- Careful deployment in each city, investing in local staff and infrastructure
- Transparency and collaboration with city partners and stakeholders
- 100% green energy for charging all bikes and scooters
- 100% in-house operations team for better reliability and social responsibility
- Applying highest standard of working conditions and being open and transparent about it
- Switching to 100% electric vehicles and, where possible, relying on cargo bikes and electric trailers to carry out service operations to minimise carbon footprint
Benefits of shared mobility for users
With micromobility a relative newcomer to other more traditional ways of travelling around our cities, users can be curious about how an ebike or escooter can work for them. Therefore, we asked Sebastian about the benefits of shared mobility for users. He is quick to highlight the immense potential of shared mobility services, including:
- Good accessibility and useability – the service is accessible and available 24/7 and operators aim to provide the services ubiquitously within city areas
- High quality assurance and reliability – ensuring users shouldn’t walk longer than 150 metres to the nearest scooter and by implementing a dense network of parking bays for electric scooters and bikes so that on average, a parking bay is available within 100 metres. (Dott’s experience in Paris, 2019 highlights the positive impact of these measures).
- Robust safety measures – micromobility is a great way of travelling socially distant and operators are ensuring the service is not only COVID safe, but risks of touching vehicles are also minimised. Introducing copper tapes on handlebars and regularly disinfecting vehicles is of high importance to assure user safety.
Benefits of shared mobility for a city
Switching to a city perspective, we ask Sebastian on what he deems to be the advantages for a city that hasn’t yet adopted a micromobility scheme.
- Creating options for car owners – research suggests that those who were asked “what type of mode would you have used instead of your last escooter trip?” 25% of those said either private car or taxi. Therefore, there is a potential to shift people out of using private cars.
- This is only the beginning. We’re a catalyst for a ‘car free city’ by providing more options and enabling more multimodal trips.
- Providing more convenient access – public transport modes lack adequate connectivity and often require two or three changes to complete their journey. Micromobility presents more flexible journeys for up to 5km in the city, creating a better mobility solution.
We were intrigued to find out what lessons and experiences Sebastian can share with us in terms of how the world of micromobility has evolved over the past few years and what Dott has learnt from these changes. Sebastian was evidently disheartened by the massive disruption caused by the venture capital influx from the Far East companies such as Ofo and Mobike in 2017/18. These companies flooded European cities with lack of product knowledge and the lack of suitable regulation caught the cities by complete surprise, with the aftermath of the development still felt in the industry today. Consequently, this has given rise to concerns from policy makers around micromobility, due to this initially negative experience.
Nonetheless, without this influx of capital and impactful experience on the city, Sebastian acknowledges that micromobility wouldn’t have moved as fast as it has over the last few years towards a more sustainable implementation. “It initiated the pressure for cities like Paris and London to act faster and appreciate its true potential. Without these issues arising in the first instance, we wouldn’t see two and a half thousand shared e-scooter parking bays in Paris today.” Sebastian takes pride in Dott’s founding principle which was built around European sustainability values and deviating from companies or products that don’t provide the right approaches or practices.
How can micromobility help with decarbonisation of transport?
Decarbonising urban transport is now a central focus of global, national and city climate plans. Cities must reduce pollution, congestion and noise while meeting the mobility demands of a growing population and economy. Sebastian refers back to the potential mode shift for car users who are riding with Dott, (25% have responded positively and replaced a private car trip with an escooter). The availability and optionality of different modes means even if you don’t own a car now, there is a strong incentive not to be tempted to buy one in the future, hence spending your money more wisely.
“Decarbonising economic activities is the backbone of our company mission and within our underlying DNA. We are the first company in the sector to operate 100% renewable energies and the first one to run 100% on electric vehicles. From day one, we have remained carbon free operationally and our ambitious goal by 2025 is to reduce emissions to less than 20g/km CO2 from both production and company levels – that’s lower than public transport.”
New modes such as escooters are challenging existing regulations and one primary concern is safety. Sebastian notes there’s strong evidence and data from when escooters were first introduced in 2017/18 that indicate an increase in accidents was due to the lack of practical user experience and hardware dysfunctionality. Road users were unexpectedly forced to share the road with smaller wheel vehicles which also caused disruption and lack of road space, leading to huge safety concerns. Taking this into account, the industry took a stance to correct this and head towards a positive trajectory.
“The OECD ITF report released in February 2020, indicated a positive trend and a reduction in the amount of accidents. Drawing analysis from the company’s data and the (US) report, we can see a clear reduction in accidents and a zero-fatality rate for last year. Our internal 2020 accident data also shows a 65% lower number of accidents/ Mio trip compared to the US 2019 data from OECD.” Sebastian confidentially assures us that to maintain this downward trend and ensure the safety of users, Dott implements a variety of measures such as providing robust and reliable hardware and in-house operations and to convey stronger awareness around safer roads and routes through the app and online safety training courses. Ultimately, it boils down to working proactively with the government and city stakeholders to improve overall infrastructure quality for micromobility users.
It would be remiss not to ask Sebastian about how the pandemic has affected micromobility services. “Expectedly, the positive impact the services can bring as an industry are rather limited as we continue through the winter lockdown. However, the results from the first lockdown (March 2020 onwards) imply we have rebounded like never before and this is not only for Dott but for the entire industry. People have started to change their mobility patterns and there’s a real chance for us to become a complimentary form of mass transit.”
What does the future of micromobility look like in the long and short term?
“In six months’ time, we will all be happy to call COVID history”, Sebastian sarcastically jokes. But more seriously, he truly appreciates the working flexibility and virtual check-ins he can conduct with his team and clients no matter which corner of the world he is in. “It has freed up more of our time, allowing a shift in different usage patterns and bringing more focus to leisure driven activities such as cycling. Escooters and bikes are perfect for that.”
Delving more into the future and looking ahead into 2030, Sebastian has a vision for major cities in Europe to have actions in place to move cars outside of the city, so there is an overall reduction of private cars. He hopes to see a rise in micromobility demand that will be complemented by a fleet of shared cars. “At the end of the decade, may we be closer to obtaining 100% autonomous vehicle availability and be operating at a larger scale. Being bookable across one united platform with an integrated wallet with different services around it would be the dream, but essentially, we need to think about who will be operating these services.”
It’s hard to determine whether we will travel more or less in the future years to come, however Sebastian concludes, “we will travel more for leisure and less for business.” Only time will tell but shared micromobility services look set to become a permanent positive addition to our streetscape.