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Why we can be optimistic about the future of shared transport

Beryl CEO Phil Ellis evaluates where shared mobility currently stands and sets out what’s needed from local and national authorities going forward.

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Author: Phil Ellis, CEO and Co-Founder, Beryl

It’s true that it was a disappointing end to 2023 for the shared sustainable transport industry. 

In the UK, Nottingham e-scooter trial operators, Superpedestrian, halted their operations, while Cardiff’s Nextbike scheme succumbed to vandalism. Elsewhere, there were problems for several major operators. Bird filed for bankruptcy, Tier announced 140 redundancies before merging with Dott and, formerly Helbiz, was delisted from the Nasdaq stock exchange.

The trend is not limited to micromobility, there are similar stories in the global car sharing industry, and even EV manufacturers.

However, the other striking trend is that there are multiple successful companies emerging in each sector and there are excellent mobility and sustainability outcomes being achieved as well.

So, we retain an optimistic outlook for the rest of 2024 and beyond. 

Demand doesn’t lie 

Many of our existing schemes have also grown, expanding to new areas and surpassing major ridership milestones. For example, we surpassed one million journeys and three million kilometres ridden in Norwich, replaced more than two million kilometres of private vehicle journeys across Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole and clocked up more than a million kilometres ridden in Watford.

We’ve expanded our operations significantly this year, providing services in some of the UK’s major urban environments such as Leeds and Birmingham. 

We’ve also broken new ground with successful e-bike sharing schemes across rural areas and small towns across Cornwall, a model that opens up micromobility services to a long tail outside of the big cities.

Public appetite for flexible, low-cost, sustainable transport is there. People are using our services in greater numbers than ever before, allowing us to prevent over 200 tonnes of carbon emissions during the past year alone. 

Our riders are also adopting more positive long-term habits in the way they use our bikes and e-scooters. Our 2023 Rider Report also showed how micromobility is becoming increasingly complementary and beneficial to more established mass transit modes, such as rail and light rail. When commuting, 31% of our riders said they used our bikes and e-scooters to connect with other transport modes, compared to 27% in 2022. 

That’s the first time we’ve ever seen part commuting become more popular than full commuting. What this shows is that, when planned correctly and delivered in consultation with people and in partnership with cities, shared transport schemes can dovetail with existing infrastructure and offer a genuinely sustainable and flexible alternative. 

Manchester – investing in the right solutions 

When problems do occur, as they do in any industry, they can often be solved with a well planned out, coordinated approach. Back in the summer, a spate of thefts and persistent vandalism resulted in problems with bike availability for Manchester’s Bee Bike scheme. 

Working with Transport for Greater Manchester and Greater Manchester Police, we developed a robust joined up plan that allowed us to work together to stem the problems and build the number of bikes on the street back up. 

The scheme is now ready to grow again and we can look forward to some exciting announcements in the early part of 2024. 

National legislation – the key to unlocking potential

However, operators need the right legislative and financial frameworks to continue to deliver on the huge potential of shared active travel modes. The recent King’s Speech in November – which failed to deliver or promise any new e-scooter legislation – was a real blow to UK operators. 

Our trial schemes in Birmingham, Bournemouth/Poole, Norwich and the Isle of Wight have shown over a period of time that the demand for e-scooters is there. People want to use them and do so because they offer so many benefits that are complementary to other forms of sustainable transport. 

Clear legislation will make them even more accessible to a greater number of people, further boosting their popularity and normalising their presence on our roads. That, in turn, will amplify calls for better infrastructure that will improve both safety and the perception of safety.

The nettle needs grasping. 

Why towns and cities need to embrace shared sustainable transport

Without shared sustainable transport, people will naturally revert to private vehicles, which would be disastrous for our towns and cities on so many levels. 

Local authorities must avoid this by delivering the appropriate support and not fall into the trap of placing unrealistically high financial burdens on operators. Whether it’s via flexible allocation of capital funding or means such as sponsorship or grants, it’s vital they support the deployment of schemes and enable them to flourish. 

Ultimately, that is the only way we are going to get people out of their cars, increase activity levels, cut congestion and start improving the quality of the air we all breathe. 

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