Companies that rent out electric scooters hope more driver training can smooth the ride for their customers—and for their businesses.
Tier Mobility GmbH,
Ford Motor Co.
’s Spin and Lime, whose legal name is Neutron Holdings Inc., have in recent months introduced or expanded their proprietary e-scooter schools to reduce accidents and encourage nervous new riders. They also want to shift the way people perceive their scooter experience.
“Wherever scooters are introduced in places around the world, there’s always the danger that people will view them as something that’s more like a toy or a leisure activity,” said Alan Clarke, Lime’s director of policy and government affairs in the U.K. “This training really goes a long way to emphasizing that these scooters are a serious transport mode, and teaches people to think about safety when they’re riding.”
E-scooter startups are competing for riders and contracts with cities at the end of a difficult financial year. International urban shutdowns driven by the coronavirus pandemic undermined demand for scooter rentals, and losses led to layoffs at Bird Rides Inc. and Lime earlier this year. Some firms in the micro-mobility sector, which consulting firm McKinsey & Co. predicts could grow in the U.S. to $300 billion by 2030, already ran on heavy losses pre-pandemic. Widespread urban uptake has been slowed in part by critics who say e-scooters are dangerous, particularly when ridden without a helmet.
Nevertheless, investors have continued to back e-scooter companies, and more lawmakers are letting providers deploy their e-scooters in cities across the world.
E-scooter schools could help temper city authorities’ lingering safety concerns, said David Zipper, visiting fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School’s Taubman Center for State and Local Government.
“Governments like education programs,” he said, “so these classes are one of many types of services or add-ons that cities may smile upon when they are reviewing what are very competitive tenders to provide e-scooter sharing systems.”
Tier hopes its Ride Safe School will help prove the company’s responsibility credentials, said Fred Jones, Tier’s general manager of the U.K. and Ireland.
“Hopefully, we will show that we can deliver much safer outcomes, and that these can be traced back to the investment we put into rider education,” Mr. Jones said.
In-person training programs let people get used to driving, braking and balancing on an e-scooter with the guidance of an instructor in a traffic-free environment, like a parking lot; some take new riders onto roads and cycle lanes. Digital training experiences take e-scooter riders through a series of modules featuring video, text and imagery, on subjects like how to plan journeys, where to legally ride and park, and how to check if an e-scooter is roadworthy.
Lime, a San Francisco-based shared electric-vehicle company, in May 2019 introduced its riding school, First Ride Academy, to teach new riders about the basics of e-scooters.
The company in September moved its classes online in response to social-distancing recommendations; it has held two digital versions of the course in the U.S. and plans to expand the format across the 120 cities in which it operates next year, a spokesman said.
Lime added a basic safety quiz to its website in October, the spokesman added, but has gone one step further in the U.K., where it last week introduced a multi-module, digital training experience developed alongside British roadside-assistance provider AA. Tier, a Berlin-based micro-mobility company, has launched a similar program with the AA.
While most cities do not require riders to take a course or pass a test in order to ride an e-scooter, Lime and Tier are providing a few incentives to encourage participation in their new training experiences. Tier offers a free 15-minute ride to those that take part in the training. Lime offers three free rides and a helmet to those who pass the final test.
The companies said they also track down users who have been reported for unsafe driving to local authorities or the provider’s customer services, and require them to take the virtual class and pass their test before the riders can use their e-scooters again.
Spin will only let users in its seven U.K. pilot programs unlock its e-scooters after they have completed a new virtual pre-ride training session and passed a safety quiz, a spokeswoman said. First-time Bird users can similarly only unlock its e-scooters after passing an in-app safety quiz, the company said.
But some people actively want to learn more about e-scooters before riding them on the road, said Mr. Jones, the Tier executive.
Research conducted by the company found women and older people in particular are more cautious about stepping onto an e-scooter for the first time, according to Mr. Jones. Tier hopes its riding schools will build up their confidence and get them riding regularly, he said.
Write to Katie Deighton at email@example.com
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