Published on July 22nd, 2018 | by Jacek Fior0
Wrocław — Polish Shenzhen
July 22nd, 2018 by Jacek Fior
There seems to be some kind of attachment I feel towards Shenzhen as I have already used it as benchmark (high one!) for some Polish activities related to e-mobility. Yet again, let me use it to praise one of my favourite cities — that is Wrocław in Poland.
As Shenzhen became a symbol of transformation into more sustainable transport (with 16,000 e-buses being the most talked about e-mobility news, right after Tesla Model 3 frenzy 🙂 ), I enjoy watching Wrocław walk a similar path, keeping all in proportion, of course. It has been attracting investment into electric carsharing, electric scooter-sharing, and now also electric river boats. Let alone the fact that LG Chem is building a huge EV battery plant on the edge of Wrocław and Volvo is now manufacturing 30 e-buses for Göteborg in its Wrocław plant.
Let’s start with Vozilla – that is the only electric carsharing system in Poland and the only carsharing system to actually do it in partnership with the city, increasing its chances of success by a factor of 10 if not more. Carsharing came to Poland quite recently, and only through local Polish operators such as Traficar or 4Mobility. Large OEMs were not interested, it seems, and we had to take the challenge ourselves.
To be honest, I was part of a small team of enthusiasts who were dreaming of starting our own e-carsharing in Poland. We had it all — knowledge, experience, great team, projections, ideas, etc. The only thing we did not have was €3,000,000. 🙂 So much the more, I can appreciate the efforts of those who had it all plus financial assets, as e-carsharing is such a great financial risk.
Wrocław is by far a leader here, with a fleet of 200 EVs (180 Nissan Leafs and 20 eNV200s). I daresay it is not only a leader in Poland but globally — apart from Paris’s Autolib (to close down soon), very few operators decide to be 100% electric. The response in Wrocław has been overwhelming and the company can boast 30,000 users and more than a million kilometers after 6 months on the market. I will not go into its financial figures – the system needs time to start making money and I hope it will.
The fact is, we are seeing a top example of EV experimentation in Poland – it turned out people love EVs, they aren’t afraid of driving one, and the electric transporters simply make the city a better place. What helps as well are notable privileges the city offers — free parking, use of bus lanes, access to zones closed to ICE traffic, etc.
We can now see more stats about Vozilla thanks to an excellent effort from a software company PGS Software, which collected Vozilla fleet data from its map from the moment the program was launched. It’s in English now so you can enjoy the content and interpre freely. It is great research data and it may deserve a separate entry here on CleanTechnica soon. All we can do today is wish Vozilla a smooth transition from being successful operationally to being successful financially.
Soon after Vozilla, the city attracted two scooter-sharing programs, GoScooter and Blinkee. Both programs use electric scooters and both, again, are Polish startups with serious potential for growth. If you have tried electric scooters, you understand the excitement I felt riding one through the city. It feels great, acceleration is as fun as in an electric car (or more fun, as you can actually feel the wind on your face and mosquitoes in your teeth), and passing cars in traffic congestion adds massive satisfaction.
Funny that two years ago we organized a Cleantech Revolution Tour conference in Wrocław and we offered test rides in Nissan Leafs and Nissan e-NV200s — quite a novelty in Poland at the time. But guess what — most people preferred to ride electric scooters that we had also invited. There is some unquestionable charm in scooters in general, and electric ones make the experience so much better.
Anyway, Wrocław wonderfully complements transportation options of bikesharing (of course) and e-carsharing (not so obvious in Poland) with scooter-sharing, a combo that is not so easy to find around the world.
GoScooter was started by an adventurous entrepreneur from Wrocław and I am lucky to know Piotr from his other business endeavors. As we enjoyed breakfast in Wrocław’s historic centre one day, I asked him where the idea came from and what the future holds. Piotr works in the real estate business and he has a network of apartments for short-term rent, such as AirBnb, which he calls apartment-sharing. With his IT background and “sharing” business, he decided to go further and start his own scooter-sharing company. Bold move as it was, it looks like they are in a good way to succeed.
The Wrocław program is developing as planned, with most hiccups connected with vandalism and the human factor in general. As Piotr said, there are things people do with scooters he had never dreamed of, and stealing smartphone holders is just one of the minor mishaps. Despite difficulties, other locations in Poland are about to be launched soon and the team will need to grow to manage it all – the app, marketing, and nighttime battery swapping all need more growth.
As if that was not enough people in Wrocław went another step forward. If I have not mentioned it before, the city lies upon the Odra River and a few smaller rivers and boasts 100 bridges and more than 30 footbridges. Its network of waterways encompasses the Old Town offering spectacular views. Now, listen to this, after you have taken a ride in an electric car and an electric scooter, you can jump on a solar powered electric catamaran boat, Solliner, operated by CityBoats! How about that! They are beautiful, they are quiet, and they are zero-emission. I took my wife plus my sister with her husband for a surprise cruise and we absolutely loved it. Let alone the views, it was the boat that really fascinated me (unlike my companions, who simply enjoyed the trip).
The skipper was super friendly and helpful and I even got to hold the steering wheel to see how easy it was to sail the boat. It is powered with a Torqeedo motor (2.0kW or 4.0kW) and two batteries you can charge from a regular 230V socket. The thing is, you may not need the socket charging that much, as you get energy straight from the roof, which holds 1.1kW of solar PV panels.
Okay, the maximum speed of 12 km/h may not give you a thrill — it’s not a speed boat 🙂 — but it serves its goal. The manufacturer, Green Dream Boats, says it can travel 5000 km without charging under favourable weather conditions. The range at night is estimated at 100 km (16 hours – meaning you will be almost fine even during Polar Nights).
If you are worried about low bridges in your area, Solliner’s roof is easily lowered so that you can go almost anywhere, or can simply lower it to protect your passengers from the rain. Another morning coffee and I could learn much more from Maciej, who owns CityBoats, and is of course a Wrocław guy!
As with GoScooter, CityBoats is not Maciej’s primary business. (But who knows in the future?) He got to love the idea of electric boats when he bought one together with his lake house, somehow accidentally. From idea to operation, things moved quite quickly and CityBoats kicked off in Wrocław in July 2017 in the middle of the season. Even with little marketing at the time, it quickly built its position on the market. This year, after good promotional efforts over winter time, it is a fully fledged cruise operator with new locations being launched and prepared in Cracow, Lisbon, and Prague.
The key to the success is location, Maciej says, so if you have a good spot for a few Silliners, get in touch with CityBoats now! You may be in for a great business opportunity (can’t stop thinking about it myself). As Maciej is friends with the owner of Green Dream Boats, he also shared with me the story of the company’s name, which used to be … Tesla21! I think Green Dream Boats and how & why its name was changed deserves a separate article, and I hope to get more info about it soon. In the meantime, enjoy the CityBoats and GDB websites to read more.
You may have read about Oslo, Amsterdam, or Copenhagen as zero-emission leaders. I am not saying they do not deserve credit for paving the way for others. Nevertheless, Wrocław is doing a lot in a more challenging market with lower general awareness and less state support. Living in the area and watching it develop gives me some hope we will not stay behind in the rEVolution.
And we are facing a threat of a huge influx of unwanted diesels from Germany. That may be a tempting, cheap option for many Poles. The more good electric examples we have and great user experiences to share, the better chances of fending off old diesel dominance here in Poland.
Come, visit, experience Wrocław – “the meeting place.” Your positive stories will inspire Polish people to do even better and maybe attract new entrepreneurs to explore electric opportunities in Wrocław and other Polish cities.
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