In April, Paris held a referendum to settle the scooter debate once and for all. Despite the poor voter turnout (no digital voting), citizens voted overwhelmingly in favour of banning shared scooters in the city, coming into effect on 1st September. For people in the shared mobility industry, it came as a bit of a shock—or perhaps a reality check. It highlighted that there are still several problems that need to be solved with dockless scooters, despite the amazing progress that has been made to make services safer.
Over the summer, Dott, Lime & TIER have been slowly removing their scooters from the French capital to comply with the September deadline, but what comes next?
In this article, we will discuss:
- The immediate impact of the ban
- Bikes, bikes and more bikes: Paris’ new mobility landscape
- Will operating just bikes be financially viable?
- Has the perspective of scooters in Europe shifted?
1. The immediate impact of the ban
Impact on operators
15,000 scooters in Paris were responsible for approximately 16 million trips over the course of 2022. The largest impact for operators will be felt by the shortfall in revenue that will be experienced in 2023 (and beyond) caused by the ban.
Fluctuo estimates that the operators will miss out on an estimated €12m of scooter revenue between September-December, with a shortfall in the region of €38m for the whole of 2024.
Despite best efforts to shift employees towards the dockless bike side of the business, it also means lay-offs for the three operators and, presumably, closing some of the warehouses used for maintenance, battery charging and repairs.
The vehicles that have been removed from the streets will be redistributed between many other markets, such as London (Lime), Tel-Aviv (Dott) and Berlin (TIER). It is also possible that TIER will redistribute some of these scooters to other schemes in the Paris region, such as Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines or Sartrouville.
Impact on users
450,000 monthly scooter users will now have to find an alternative way to get around. Going forward, these trips will have to be made by foot, by bike or moped, by public transport, by private scooter, or even by car.
With the Rugby World Cup coming up this month, and the Olympics next year, the incredibly successful Vélib’ bike system is behind schedule in terms of expected capacity. Adding capacity for a docked system is not simple: when new bikes are added, more stations also need to be introduced to respect the ratio between bikes and available docks. This will surely become a problem over the next few months as Vélib’ picks up more excess demand from ex-scooter users turning to bikes.
6T published a report that stated that if scooters weren’t available, then 30% of users would have used public transport. We’ll find out soon enough.
2. Bikes, bikes & more bikes: Paris' new mobility landscape
Dott, Lime & TIER grow bike fleets
It’s worth noting that Dott, Lime and TIER all run their own bike services in Paris too, and they have been ramping these up over the last 12 months. TIER had around 2,000 active bikes this time last year, and now have close to 3,500. Dott have grown their fleet from 2,700 to 5,000 and Lime from 7,000 in August 2022 to 10,000 today.
With the Vélib’ system, Paris now offers users close to 40,000 shared bikes.
What happens to Mandatory Parking Zones for scooters?
To ensure that scooters were parked properly, 2,500 parking spaces totalling a surface area of 22,500m2 were dedicated to shared scooter parking. Now these zones are being converted into:
- Shared bike parking for the same operators
- Private bike parking (bike racks)
- Open/green spaces to make the city greener
3. Will operating just bikes financially viable?
Paris was one of, if not the most profitable scooter sharing markets in the world. It is dense, has lots of tourism and an abundance of commuters that like to travel by scooter. Trips per scooter per day would regularly exceed 3, and could reach 6 on good days.
Is it possible to be profitable with just bikes?
In short, yes it is. Dockless bikes can reach similar figures in terms of trips per vehicle per day, but perhaps not quite as high as scooters–especially considering the presence of Vélib’. The challenge is that bikes are more expensive and have higher operational costs: they require more maintenance, are larger/heavier, so rebalancing requires more effort.
Mobility expert Alex Pazuchanics believes that in some markets, “e-scooters can serve as a bit of a cross-subsidy for e-bikes”. Perhaps Paris was no different: the three operators used scooters as a way of funding (in-part) their bike services.
Competition - Vélib’
At first glance, it seems obvious that the hugely popular Vélib’ will ensure that the dockless bikes won’t survive.
With scooters gone, the three operators have less to offer. As a multimodal service, Dott, Lime and TIER had a crucial point of differentiation from Vélib’, which does not offer scooters. Now they all offer the same mode, the subsidised Vélib’ scheme will become a fierce (and more direct) competitor to the other operator’s dockless schemes. Naturally, the public Vélib’ is much cheaper.
However, there is still a lot of room for dockless bikes:
- They are more attractive and accessible (sign-up process, onboarding, payment) to tourists than the Vélib’ scheme. Tourists are also (usually) less price-sensitive than locals.
- During peak tourist seasons (e.g. summer for events like the Rugby World Cup or the Olympics) there is a strong market potential for dockless bikes.
- The three companies operate a higher quality service than Vélib’. For example, when there is a huge surge of demand for Vélib’ one week (where bike trips exceed 200,000 trips per day across the 19,000-strong bike fleet), many bikes in the following days are out of service or need repairs. Less price-sensitive locals are likely to turn to dockless bikes as they have experienced vandalism or bike availability issues when using the Vélib’ service.
Can all three companies establish market share for just bikes?
The competition between the three companies will also be significant.
Including Vélib’, there are 4 bike operators in Paris with a combined fleet of nearly 40,000 bikes. Dott and TIER are using similar bike models from OKAI and Segway, Lime are using their internally-developed electric bike.
The question we must ask ourselves is: will there be sufficient demand for the 20,000 dockless bikes that all 3 companies will be able to acquire sufficient market share? Or will one (or more) of the operators, which charge more than Vélib’, be squeezed out due to a lack of demand for these dockless bikes?
It will surely come down to the following factors:
- Overcoming parking issues
- Minimizing maintenance costs
- Optimizing vehicle drop-offs and deployment locations
““One interesting concept to consider for the future is whether a deal can be made between the public bike sharing service and the private dockless schemes, where Vélib' stations could be upgraded to accommodate dockless bikes to improve fleet uptime for the dockless operators, to improve revenue from existing infrastructure for the docked bike operator, and increase availability for the user. If this upgrade can be made, the benefits are threefold - and it all comes from optimizing existing infrastructure.
– Julien Chamussy, CEO of Fluctuo
4. Has the perspective of scooters in Europe shifted?
With such a high-profile event in one of the cities that has led the way in terms of mobility, there was a risk that the Paris vote would destabilise the scooter market across Europe.
So far, there have been no aftershocks in the market. Today, the largest cities in Europe to ban scooters are Barcelona and Amsterdam (scooters are banned across the Netherlands). London has just renewed the scooter trials for another term, meaning that scooter services will continue to operate until the end of 2024 at the very earliest. The other example is Brussels, where a tender has been announced to significantly reduce the number of scooters allowed in the city.
It seems as though scooters will continue to be considered as a central part of the mobility offer in cities across Europe.
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