Ross Ringham has worked in micromobility, e-mobility and decarbonisation for 20 years. His experience with mobility journalism led him to cities across the world, and inspired him to found Zag Daily in pursuit of a publication that cuts through negative spin to focus on the facts. He was headhunted to lead Superpedestrian's entry into Europe as director of communications. Today, he's busy with his photographic and film-making company, Spacesuit Media, which specialises in e-mobility subjects.
Fluctuo: What changes do you expect to see in the shared mobility industry?
What we’ve seen so far is that micromobility not only has an important role to play in our futures, but there is an insatiable appetite for it. People and businesses like that the vehicles are cheap to buy, run, and maintain, easy to store, there’s no road tax, and they don't generate any tailpipe emissions. Plus, they’re fun, which I think we often forget. The fact it’s fun–people enjoy it–is one of the reasons it will continue to be popular.
“The fundamental aspect that really needs to change is how we use space in cities.”
It’s a big challenge, and is a conversation that leads to a lot of tension and friction. In the UK at the moment, we have a housing crisis. The issue is that the UK is pretty small and available land isn't abundant. Think of all the land given over to car parks, to wider roads built for cars (not cyclists or pedestrians), and how it could be more effectively used. If micromobility is allowed to flourish, car dependency will reduce, and cities will reclaim vast swathes of land that could be used more productively, such as for affordable housing, or green spaces. But, I think that conversation can inspire a lot of conflict, so maybe as the relationship with micromobility continues to develop, it could be a conversation for the future.
Are there any cities in particular that are implementing changes you talked about?
In London we’re starting to see the fruits of our labour. London now has more bikes than cars. Cycling participation has increased because investments have been made and space has been allocated to bikes in the city, making people feel safer and more empowered to start riding. I think it will be a familiar progression for other forms of micromobility as cities get more comfortable with their similarities. Even just thinking about where they are going to park, where they go on the roads, and potential pinch points for interactions between modes. It’s encouraging that it feels like a long time ago that we were questioning how cities were going to manage it, whereas now we have realised a lot of the lessons have already been learned.
I think all cities are coming to the realisation that the newer forms of shared mobility aren’t all that different to a classic bike share model. I remember when e-scooter programs began in the UK, there was some concern that there would be an abundance of new lessons to learn and a long process ahead. But certainly in the UK in the last couple of years, we have learned that the challenges (such as parking, infrastructure, fleet management and logistics) are actually very similar to bike share, which has resulted in the cities feeling more confident in managing shared and private micromobility vehicles.
In terms of cities that are implementing these changes well, I think it is often the cities such as Stockholm, Paris, Vienna and Nottingham who have historically invested in cycling and other ways of getting around. Unfortunately, the norm is the complete opposite across Europe and the UK.
“It will be the cities that are wedded to using private cars that will have issues integrating new modes.”
What are your predictions for the future of shared scooters?
I'm surprised that we haven't seen this sooner, but I think that cities will catch on to the fact that you can run shared scooters in the same way as a city bike program: have a public transport provider run it for you. It could be incredibly lucrative if done correctly. I think maybe that is how cities will end up proceeding with shared scooters: taking them in-house, and even operating them in tandem with their public bike systems.
I spoke to the founder of Beryl, Phil Ellis, a couple of years ago when scooters were starting to debut in the UK. Beryl had developed a really interesting pricing model that put this tandem idea into effect: they realised that you don't really need to market scooters, as soon as you make them available, people start using them– even if they are your most expensive option. So, what Beryl did was subsidise their bike share scheme using the profit made on the scooters, making cycling an even more affordable option for users. It’s a clever system, and I’m expecting cities to tap into it.
I don’t think that this is where Paris is going anytime soon, but if we take them as an example, who have the very successful Vélib, they could make the scheme even more accessible by throwing in a city-owned scooter system. That way, they could reduce the public subsidy needed to run the bike share scheme with the profits from the scooters. Basically, it’s a win-win and could be a logical end game for them and other cities.
Why did the Paris vote send shockwaves through the industry?
What’s interesting about Paris is that it’s not a new take– we’ve seen it elsewhere. Scooters are easy to bash, and shared scooter companies are easy targets.
It's undeniable that, in the past, some shared scooter operators have not been proactive enough in addressing city concerns. There also remain several big, unfulfilled promises: audible warning devices for scooters, for example, or transparent data on vehicle lifespans, battery safety standards and environmental performance. But, despite the substance behind these claims,
“The industry is improving every day, and I’m confident the issues that inspired the Paris vote will be addressed.”
I think it sent so many shockwaves through the industry because Paris is seen as a pioneer in transforming the way people get around. The city has been making real headway in tackling the car addiction, and micromobility– when used correctly– really is an asset. However, it’s highlighted that there is a learning curve to creating a scheme that functions in a city, and I think the situation has given us lessons to draw on.
Personally, what I’m hoping comes from the situation is that city leaders, governments, media and people in general begin to distinguish between the shared mobility industry as a whole, scooter companies, and the scooters themselves. There wasn't that definition in Paris, it’s obvious that they were all lumped together, which is common in all cities. All scooter companies are also considered one and the same, which is a real shame for the companies who have earned a good reputation. What I hope is that we can move away from this viewpoint, but I’m sure that will come with time and maturity when people understand them a little better.
In the Paris vote, only 7% of the voting population actually participated. A lot of the concerns people have are valid and need to be properly acknowledged and acted upon, especially when there are so many who benefit from shared e-scooter schemes.
For example, I was heavily-involved in the well-loved and popular Nottingham program after Superpedestrian acquired Wind in the UK. There were people who didn't like how the scheme had been communicated by the operator prior to our involvement. To address their concerns, we ran community safety events introducing the upgraded e-scooters we brought, and worked with Scoot Fit to reach safe riding behaviour– free of charge– to a wide range of people.
On the first morning, three guys in their late seventies arrived on scooters. They told me, ‘well, we don't want to drive everywhere, but we can’t walk or bike anywhere really either, and scooters are the middle ground we’re looking for.’ So, the reputation of shared scooters could be something totally different to how they're often portrayed in mainstream media. Zag Daily is a part of that, and as scooters mature as a transport mode, as the newness fades, they will become just another everyday part of the fabric of our cities.
How would you answer the concerns that people raise about their environmental impact?
It’s a difficult one. Personally, I think environmental advocates have been pretty hard on scooters in terms of their recyclability and lifespan. Their points do have some merit, but driving an e-scooter is not going to contribute to local air pollution, and it’s got to be better than having those journeys be taken by car.
In an ideal world, walking everywhere is the perfect solution. However, not all cities are set up for that, not all people are capable of that, and not everyone wants to walk everywhere. Scooters present a second option which isn't driving a private car 5 minutes down the road, but doesn’t require the same level of physical aptitude as riding a bike.
“The goal is to make travel convenient and accessible, but without high levels of pollution.”
So whilst electric vehicles are not a complete solution to climate change issues, reducing the issue is the first step, and making sure that we’re integrating transport solutions that are accessible for everyone in the long run.
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