Business Insight

TECH: Watch out for more electric on our streets and avenues

We could see e-scooters for hire on the streets of Belfast in the not too distant future.

THERE have been a number of trends this year that will shape business opportunities into 2021 and beyond.

Amongst them is the move away from people being crammed into public transport. Another is the desire for people to spend more time outdoors.

And then there's the increasing move towards climate change reduction which will likely be a major theme in the coming year.

Some think these trends will further propel the growth of the e-scooter rental market, meaning that we could see e-scooters for hire on Royal Avenue and other local streets in the not too distant future.

It may have escaped your attention given everything else that has been going on, but July saw e-scooters for hire finally made legal to ride on UK roads.

The UK was actually one of the last countries to legalise this form of micro-mobility, with countries across Europe, the US and Australia full of start-ups in various attempts at providing an on-demand scooter system. From Bird to Lime, Tier and Voi, wherever you look in cities like Copenhagen, Berlin and LA, bright-coloured scooters are prevalent.

Ireland has its own e-scooter rental start-up. Zipp Mobility, founded by 24-year-old Charlie Gleeson in 2019, is headquartered at the Centre for New Ventures and Entrepreneurs at University College Dublin.

In June Zipp Mobility closed a €300,000 seed investment round and expanded its team to target the UK e-scooter market. It positions itself as a solution to the ‘last mile' problem, acting as the link between public transport stops and a commuter's final destination.

Indeed, more broadly, investors continue to flood electric scooter startups with cash in spite of the pandemic, with Sweden's Voi recently raising $160 million.

Founded in 2018, Voi offers scooter rental services across more than 45 cities in 11 European countries from its base in Stockholm. Riders can unlock and rent a Voi scooter by scanning a QR code on the vehicle with an app. Users are charged a fixed base rate for unlocking the scooter and are then charged by the minute for usage with the cost depending on the city.

Its new funding comes hot on the heels of Japanese investing giant SoftBank's investment into German scooter rival Tier as part of a $250 million round.

As well as e-scooters, we will likely start to see a real shift towards electric cars. The UK government recently announced the goal of banning the sale of internal combustion engine cars by 2030 and hybrids by 2035.

Last week, we also heard that the UK's competition regulator is investigating electric vehicle charging to work out how to tackle “range anxiety”, seen as one of the key factors holding back the move away from fossil fuel cars.

The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) said it wanted to build consumer trust in the availability of electric car charging as well as address any competition issues. Building an extensive network of public charging infrastructure across the UK is seen as one of the main factors preventing quicker uptake of electric cars to meet the government's goal.

The number of electric cars sold in the UK was increasing rapidly even before the internal combustion engine ban on was brought forward from 2040 to 2030. Sales rose by 169 per cent in the year to October compared with the previous year to reach 75,000. The number of public charging points has also increased but only to 20,500.

Northern Ireland had the lowest number of public electric charging points in the UK, with only 16.8 per 100,000 people, according to Guardian analysis of Zap Map data which shows charging points across the UK published by the Department for Transport.

This is something that will certainly have to change in the next few years and 2021 could be a catalyst for that. Watch out for more electric car charging points and e-scooter rental points springing up.

Patrick McAliskey is co-founder of Novosco in Belfast, which was last year acquired by Cancom in Munich

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