In May when I was in Singapore for an assignment, I chanced upon two Dutch tourists using e-scooters to navigate around Orchard Road. After some drinks with them, I decided to try the e-scooter, a Neuron, myself – for the first time. It was quite a revelation – not only was it easy to control, it was very smooth-riding, fun and exhilarating to glide past pedestrians. It felt safe too. Certainly, in my view, it was one of the best transportation modes for cities with wide sidewalks.
Text by Jan Yong
It would seem Singapore isn’t the only city with a moderately thriving e-scooter sharing scene. In the US, currently, it’s at the same early stage as when bicycle sharing first started – with a few major players negotiating permit requirements with the regulators in each state plus, loads of funding being poured into this new industry.
“Each scooter is projected to earn roughly double what it costs to maintain and charge, and they will be able to pay off what it costs to buy each scooter in just 10 to 14 days,” claim the fund raisers who consist of Bird, Lime, Skip and Spin. Established ride-sharing players like Uber, Lyft, and Alibaba- backed Ofo have also jumped into the bandwagon.
It’s expected that most of the US cities where permits for e-scooter sharing is sought will cap both the number of players as well as the number of e-scooters for each player.
Growth has been especially strong in the first few months of scooters being on the ground in cities like San Francisco, Santa Monica and Washington, D.C. while New York, Boston and Chicago can also expect to see e-scooters on the ground if legislation allows it.
But as in any business – challenges abound. In this case, a page can be taken from the bicycle sharing business which is seeing some regulatory hurdles in some jurisdictions, due in part to the operators’ failure in controlling users’ behaviour.
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It is foreseeable that a stricter regulatory landscape and increasing competition will hurt the bottom-line of these new start-ups. Established companies such as Uber, Lyft and Ofo with their deep pockets could also undercut each other leading to a pricing war. In the ride-sharing business, only a handful can survive. The smaller ones will either go out of business or be bought out by the big boys.
Where do most of these scooters come from? Uber, Lyft and Ofo are reportedly using Ninebot, a Chinese manufacturer – at least initially before they develop their own or customise them. In an ironic twist (amid the tension of trade war between the US and China), Beijing-based bike-sharing giant Ofo believes that the US can eventually be its largest market.
In Singapore, Asian Property Review talks to Zachary Wang, founder of Neuron Mobility, about its prospects and challenges. 1. What inspired the e-scooter idea?
Scooter has been around for at least 100 years, it started as a play thing for children to roam the streets of urban areas in Europe and the US. In the late 1990s, the scooter began to evolve from a play thing to a portable transport by youngster in Japan to travel around the cities and at the turn of the century, the electrification of scooters began to take shape. Over the decades, the electric-scooter evolved from a play thing into a personal mobility device for short journey travel and commuting.
What inspired us to build and operate Neuron shared scooters services is that we share the Singapore government’s vision to make Singapore a ‘car-lite’ city, and make walking, cycling and riding real alternatives as first and last-mile solutions, which is one of the biggest and most challenging transportation problems in urban areas.
With the expanding network of bike and shared paths across the island, our e-scooter sharing provides an effortless, easy and convenient way for people to commute, travel, work and play… and it’s green.
Besides, riding electric scooter is fun and a delightful way to experience travel in cities.
2. There are already bike-sharing services that offer the first and last mile connectivity. Is e-scooter rather redundant in that sense?
Electric scooter is a much easier way to move around as compared to bicycles. It requires much less effort for people to travel especially for people to commute to work or to the MRT station in office-attire (minus the sweat). And what we found is that our e-scooters are exceptionally popular among tourists and also delivery riders. It comes back to what our e-scooters have to offer users – convenience, easy to use and fun!
3. This is particularly so in the recent case of oBike’s termination in Singapore, allegedly due to regulatory issues. Do you foresee e-scooters facing the same problem?
Talk about bike parking indiscriminately, this happens when the operator does not put in place the necessary control in its fleet management.
We see this problem from the start with bike- sharing services and we learnt from them what NOT to do. Going dockless does not mean going messy!
Neuron is the first and only company in the world that operates a combination of dockless stations and docked stations with charging capabilities. All of our stations are equipped with Geo-fencing technology and we are able to track the location of all Neuron scooters. For example, when a user decides to complete a trip and decides to park the scooter outside of the Neuron dockless station, the user will not be able to “end” the trip and the trip billing will continue to run, followed by a penalty.
Also we designed our docked stations to be modular for scalability purpose. This allows us to be flexible when deploying new stations or moving docks around from one location to another, based on demand- and keeping each of our stations neat and tidy. 4. Who are the ones most likely to use the e-scooter?
We get a good mix of users depending on the locations we have deployed. For example, a lot of short distance trip riders and commuters from Science Park 1 and One North. We are quite popular with tourists in the downtown area, and also last-mile delivery riders. 5. What about the innocent pedestrians injured or even killed by these e-scooters as reported in the news? What sort of penalty should be meted out to the user? How to reduce the number of such accidents?
Safety is our priority and we take every possible measure to ensure that our scooters are safe to operate and pedestrian-friendly, as we share the pathways with other users – from pedestrians to cyclists. The scooters come with active safety systems like beeper (horn), LED front and rear light, brake light and speed limiter to ensure high visibility for both rider and path users at all times.
Neuron scooters have an inbuilt GPS and VCU (Vehicle Control Unit) that capture data such as distance, speed and location of the rider. The data is uploaded real-time to our cloud-based server, so we can know which rider is not behaving.
Another feature we incorporated in our app is the safety briefing video. This is for newbies and first timers using Neuron scooters. The video will brief users on the do’s & don’ts when riding a scooter, and a user guide to how to operate our scooter safely.
We are also developing active safety features such as adaptive lighting systems and video logs to improve the user experience when using Neuron e-scooter.
We limit our scooters to a maximum speed of 15km/h on shared paths and 25km/h on bike paths.
Neuron’s e-scooter is fully compliant with the Land Transport Authority’s (LTA) regulation on the speed limit and weight limit of the e-scooter to reduce possible impact.
We hear reports of e-scooter related accidents – these are due to the following factors: 1. Modified scooters that are non-compliant with LTA specifications and 2. reckless riders.
A scooter travelling at high speed on the road or highway is definitely a modified unit and no rider in their right mind would do so with a speed-limited scooter.
So what we are doing here is to set the safety standards for our e-scooters and make this mode of transportation for all to use in a responsible manner. 6. Is it a good idea to allow e-scooters to share the same pathways as pedestrian?
Yes. Our speed-limited scooter travels the same speed as a shared bicycle; it is easy to handle even at slow speeds of 3-5km/h, which is the speed of walking, and it’s relatively lightweight! Pathways near key transport nodes are usually crowded especially during peak hours, so riders can still cruise along at walking speed or dismount and push if it’s too crowded.
However, the pathways further away are usually very underutilized; this creates multi- usage for walking, riding and cycling. We are part of the solution to solve city congestion problem and promote the adoption of public transportation for commuters! But of course the safety education is very important for the riders to use the pathways responsibly and have a pedestrian-first mindset, which we are working with the relevant authorities and channels to make it happen. 7. What about parking issues, theft/damage and abandonment by users (same issue as bike-sharing)?
Our scooters, dockless stations and charging stations are equipped with tamper-proof GPS, telematics (long- distance transmission of computerized information) and security system. 8. Do you have any proposals to resolve the current challenges of e-scooters?
The current problem with e-scooter is mainly from either illegal modification of scooters to make it either too heavy or too fast. We welcome LTA’s regulation to limit the speed and weight of the scooters. It sends a clear message of zero tolerance for illegal scooters, which is good for us. Our entire fleet of scooters complies with government regulations.
9. What are the ideal conditions for e-scooters to be successfully implemented? Which countries in the world or cities have shown successful implementation of e-scooters?
The ideal conditions would be cities with high population density with an extensive network of pathways, connectors and parking facilities. However, cities and countries are regulating mobility service providers such as ride-sharing and bike-sharing. Shared scooter falls into the same category and we would need to acquire the rights to operate in a city or country.
We are witnessing phenomenal growth in urbanization – cities around the world are looking at ways and means to reduce traffic congestion and air pollution. Governments are investing in public transportation network, infrastructure, and shared paths to encourage people to use alternative mode of transport instead of privately-owned vehicles.
E-scooters are gaining traction as a last-mile transportation in many cities especially in the US over the last couple of months. The adoption rate of using scooter as a mobility device has been very encouraging. In the near future, scooters will be safer, easier to ride and convenient. Hence, we foresee more people opting to ride scooters as a means to get around.
10.How many e-scooter companies are there in Singapore and do you think the number will increase giving rise to a more competitive environment?
Last I checked, there are 3 main operators. The market is still in its infancy stage with teething issues. Once the kinks are ironed out, we will expect the e-scooter market to take off and with that, come more operators and definitely more competition. Bear in mind the personal mobility space is a trillion dollar market, so there will be a lot of room for growth.
11. Where are your e-scooters made and how much do users have to compensate if they lose or damage the scooter?
There are many e-scooters available in the market today. From the inception of our shared services, we have been on a learning curve to source for scooters that are robust and durable to meet the demand of users, and at the same time comply with LTA requirements.
We have a comprehensive end-to-end insurance coverage for riders, public liability and assets. However, compensation of loss or damage to assets due to user’s negligence will be based on management discretion.