STOCKHOLM — Sweden’s $1 billion e-scooter pioneer Voi has a new policy minefield to navigate — in its hometown.
Stockholm’s lawmakers have said that by February 1 the number of e-scooters in the city must be halved from around 23,000 to 12,000 and split equally among eight operators — including Voi — meaning each company can rent out a maximum of 1,500 machines. Voi said it had 6,209 scooters in the city of 1.5 million people last summer.
The crackdown on e-scooter numbers is the latest step in a patchy Europe-wide trend that has seen urban policymakers who initially embraced them partially reverse course.
In 2020, Paris cut the number of operators to three and the number of scooters to 15,000, and in late 2021, it reduced speed limits in some central areas. Copenhagen banned e-scooters in 2020 before allowing them back last fall under tighter rules, especially on parking.
Stockholm Vice Mayor for Traffic Daniel Helldén, who has been pushing the cut to e-scooter numbers in his city, said residents had grown tired of sidewalks blocked by abandoned two-wheelers.
“The situation has become too chaotic,” Helldén said. “Last summer, we had places where you couldn’t get to where you were going … Stockholmers couldn’t accept the disorder.”
A recent survey of 1,380 Stockholmers showed 57 percent were negative about e-scooters versus 50 percent a year earlier.
From next month, e-scooter operators in Stockholm — which will also include U.S-based Lime and Bird, Germany’s Tier and Dutch rival Dott — will also have to follow new parking rules. If they don’t, they could be banned from the city after a review of their performance in July.
A spokesperson for Voi, Kristina Nilsson, said that cutting the number of scooters in the city so drastically “will not be ideal for the customer experience” as it might be harder for people to find a machine and they might need to download eight apps to ensure they can access the one they find.
Still, she said Voi intended to “muddle through.”
“We will do our utmost to make things work, so that the people of Stockholm are happy with us,” Nilsson said. “Stockholm is our home turf, so of course it is important.”
Voi launched its e-scooters onto the streets of Stockholm in 2018 around the same time as early movers like Lime were transplanting their U.S-developed pay-to-ride model to their first European market of Paris.
Over the next year, cities that allowed e-scooters saw an explosion of operators, and along with a sharp rise in rides, a spike in problems.
As well as complaints over blocked sidewalks, citizens from Oslo to Marseille objected to battered machines being thrown into waterways and the perceived short lifespans of early scooter models.
A spate of accidents, including the death of a tourist in Paris after being hit by a scooter, damaged e-scooters’ reputation further and hastened a policy reckoning.
In Stockholm, the regime until now has been relatively lax. On a recent weekday in the city’s historic old town, three e-scooters could be seen dumped in a snow drift and one partially blocked a wheelchair access ramp to a public building.
Still, following recent statements about the coming crackdown emanating from city hall, some remedial work is being done. Along the waterfront, a figure could be seen picking up scooters and ensuring they didn’t block walkways or bike paths.
Voi’s Nilsson said her company wanted to be “part of the solution” on parking and had teamed up with peers to install racks.
She welcomed a plan recently proposed by Vice Mayor Helldén to run a tendering process next January which would likely award concessions to run e-scooters in the city to a smaller number of operators which should mean each can deploy more scooters.
When a similar model was deployed in Paris, Voi lost out to Lime, Tier and Dott, but Nilsson said Voi had a strong track record of winning tenders across Europe and would be in a good position in its home city.
“It is a risk, but overall we feel that the industry wins by having an orderly approach,” she said.
Not everyone is onboard with Stockholm’s plan. Four scooter operators — not including Voi — complained to the Swedish administrative court when Helldén first proposed the idea to cut scooter numbers in November. They argued the legal foundations to make such a move were shaky.
The case remains open, but the city council will enforce the new regime from February 1 irrespective, Helldén said.
City policymakers across Europe will likely watch developments in the Swedish capital with interest as they plot their own ways forward.
Investors will also be keeping their eye on things.
Voi and its peers have attracted hundreds of millions of dollars in financing over the past three years and are now working to turn a profit. Voi’s most recent funding round equated to a company valuation of over $1 billion.
Despite early problems, Helldén said he believes that with the right policy regime, e-scooters can have a bright future in Stockholm and other cities.
“For many people, electric scooters make their everyday life more efficient,” he said. “So they have a function and people use them, but the trick is to make sure they don’t get in the way of people who aren’t using them.”
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