Paul Van Merrienboer is the co-founder of Check, a shared mobility service which initially provided mopeds in the Netherlands, but is now diversifying into other modes as well. Paul has extensive experience in the industry, having previously worked at car sharing operator Greenwheels.
Fluctuo: You have a lot of experience in the shared mobility industry. Where does this interest come from?
Paul: With almost 10 years in the industry, I think what really drives me is creating a ‘super-visible product’ which involves working on both software and hardware.
More specifically, choosing to work with mopeds at Check comes from the fact that I was born and raised in the Netherlands. Mopeds are completely ingrained in the culture: the city’s infrastructure really supports the mode and everyone knows how to drive on two wheels.
What experience have you gained from your previous work in the industry?
Through my work at Greenwheels, I have gained a lot of experience. Plus, Check’s other co-founder, Marco, was head of Uber in the Netherlands, so the company has a good mix of industry knowledge.
One key learning that we’ve implemented with Check is to work super closely with cities, making sure to have a product that works for both the users and the municipalities.
"We also prioritize being a financially sustainable company - we need to be neurotically focused on unit economics."
If something doesn't work, we stop it and if it works, we upscale it. That’s how we operate.
It was also very important for us to design our own platform. For companies that started years before us, their main aim was to just grow rapidly into the market, so they preferred to use other platforms to get a quicker start. We thought that if we wanted to be in this game for the long run, we needed to own our own platform.
The moped sharing industry is currently seeing a lot of change. Can you tell us more about how the new helmet regulations in the Netherlands are affecting you?
In the Netherlands, you have two types of mopeds: one that goes at 25 km/h and one that goes at 45 km/h. In the past, it was only compulsory for helmets to be worn on the faster ones, but now regulations have changed and drivers need to wear them for both. Previously, mopeds used to be super convenient, as the low speed vehicles could drive on bike lanes as well, but now, users who break this rule can receive high fines.
This is influencing our business model because it’s an expensive change and fewer people want to put a helmet on, putting the moped sharing business model under a lot of pressure. However, in Amsterdam, the helmet permit has been around for 4 years, so I’m pretty confident business will eventually recover.
What are the biggest challenges that mopeds are currently facing in the shared mobility market?
The funding climate is totally different now – with increased interest rates, operators really need to prove to investors that they can make money.
"Companies that are not able to have a financially viable outlook will simply not survive."
This doesn’t just affect moped operators but the shared mobility market as a whole, which is reflected in fleet numbers. There’s a shake-out going on. I don’t think mopeds can work just anywhere; these issues arise when operators scale their product in the wrong city.
Read more about the latest developments in the moped industry in our latest European Shared Mobility Index. 👇
What makes a city the right city for operators to launch in?
We learned a lot from our experience in Düsseldorf. We put mopeds out into the city, but we saw that the demand was just not high enough. I think in some cities like Amsterdam, mopeds really are a core product, but in other cities they’re much more niche. This experience made us realize that if we go abroad, we should instead expand to more services like cars. It’s all about understanding the balance between cars, public transport and shared mobility based on that specific city’s infrastructure and culture.
Often, a city has multiple operators for bike and scooter services that co-exist. Does this translate to mopeds too?
In the end, mobility is all about reliability. The only question that matters is: am I able to get a vehicle whenever I want? That’s what’s key. The organization of public transport is really important; in the Netherlands, public transport is really well organized, and the country prioritizes getting rid of private cars.
Tenders are in place to govern the demand and supply. In Amsterdam, we are only providing 500 mopeds along with another 500 from Felyx. It’s basically undersupplied, but because of that the demand is sky-high. If the market was open, then there’d be 10 moped suppliers, like in Barcelona, and no one would make any money.
I think in smaller cities, however, it’s good to have multiple active operators, to improve the reliability of the product category. For example, we’re operating in some cities where we are the only operator, but I think it would actually be healthier for the industry if there were multiple competitors. There needs to be a balance, so tenders are a positive development.
Are there any changes you’d like to see in the industry with how municipalities treat and handle operators?
Cities need to take tenders seriously and really look for the right player.
In the end, both operators and cities want to get rid of private cars. There is only one way of doing that: the shared mobility industry needs to work closely with public transport, bringing them together to create a much more seamless,functional and efficient service. It’s important for municipalities to make private vehicles less attractive, and make shared mobility and public transport more attractive. This will bring more money to the sector, so it can grow.
"Operators need the municipalities on their side."
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