The Autonomy conference in Paris is special in that it features diverse panels of experts focused on everything from electric cars to electric scooters and bikes to electric aviation to city planning. A group discussion moderated by CleanTechnica Director Zachary Shahan considered how cities and governments around the world could promote, support, and protect two-wheelers in the city.
Are Two Wheels Better than Four?
That was the title of the session, Zach started out by asking the panelists to introduce themselves and also explain why their work is more important than everyone else’s, or something like that.
Albane Siramy from Ujet: “Ujet is a high-tech company. We’re at the crossroad of cleantech, connectivity, [and] advanced materials in the field of urban mobility.” She explained that a key target is contributing to positive change in the city. An important key, she thinks, is to provide the unique electric scooter solution Ujet provides, which is very different from what existed in the market before.
— Ujet News (@UjetNews) October 19, 2017
— albane siramy (@albane_siramy) October 9, 2017
Jerome Valentin of CycleEurope explained that CycleEurope designs, makes, and distributes bike and e-bikes. The company is located in France and employs a factory of 200 people. He continues, “if we were not here, you would not have seen stereos and mail in your box in France, because we are supplying all the e-bikes for the French Post.”
Emmanuel Gombault, Directeur des Groupements, de l’Outre-Mer et des Dom-Tom, Allianz France: “And thank you for the mail we have received. … I’m especially working in covering and establishing new tailor-made products for mobility firms.” He explained that Allianz France insures drivers but that they want to be at the origin or development of a two-wheel revolution in the country.
Joseph Constanty, Niu’s International Director (who we interviewed at his booth): “We’re the largest smart scooter company in the world. We’ve shipped about 330,000 scooters in the past two years, primarily in China. All of our scooters are connected, so we have tons of data coming back from our providers.
“I don’t think that two wheels or scooters, in general, will change the world, but we are all sitting here on this panel as part of a much larger solution that needs to fix a very big important problem, which is urban transportation congestion, and I think that companies that are sitting on this panel can actually begin to convince cities and governments globally. We can actually be a part of something very big and it may take not as much time as people think it should take.”
Zachary Shahan as moderator returns, “So, in a previous life, my graduate degree was focused on city planning, and especially bicycle planning — and how to get people to bike, especially what forms of infrastructure work for that. I somehow migrated to cleantech blogging and now especially focus on electric car blogging. I get this pushback from time to time of bike advocates saying electric cars are bad as well — because they’re cars, they’re bad for cities. They [also] take a lot to produce. And it’s very true.” He then talks about his previous work promoting bicycling and walking professionally. He remembers it’s very hard to convince people of the tremendous benefits of bicycling or using scooters. He ends:
“So, from your perspective, what’s the key thing? What are some of the key ways you can convince humans to just leave the car at home or not go to the car dealership and actually bike or use scooters? We already know the answer — two wheels are better than four, but why can’t … how do we get more people to use two wheels? …”
Albane responds: “I think it is different, different things. One is related to what Joe said. It’s a lot of raising awareness. We have to be much more vocal, much more visible, and demonstrating, showing the benefits that we’re providing — it’s a complementary solution.”
Zach: “And how do you have to show them? How do you get them in front of people’s face? Not just traditional advertising, I assume, but also other means, right?”
Albane agrees. “Yeah, I think it’s different channel segments. As you say, it will be traditional marketing, but it’s also being vocal through the media, also having a conversation with the governments, with local authorities.” Albane explains that actually may be a key role. Another point she makes is on the consumer side of it: “I think, um, easiness is key. It has to be easy. It has to be user-friendly, and electric scooters, electric bikes I think are by definition.”
She explains that is what Ujet is trying to achieve — have a scooter that is extremely easy to maneuver. “It’s lightweight, it’s foldable, it’s highly connected, it’s user-friendly.”
Zach interjects: “But then you do have the common issue of people feeling unsafe getting on two wheels in a city, biking around the fast moving larger vehicles, you have the challenge of people not wanting to bike in certain climates or temperatures or get sweaty. … I think there are ways to overcome this, but I think probably you have ideas on — on how you get people to open their minds to bicycling instead of just driving places.”
CycleEurope’s Jerome responds: “The first statement that I would make is that I don’t believe there is a choice between one, two, three, or four means.” He explains that choices are made depending on the usage, depending on what is it that you’re going to do, and adds that the market’s growth started just a handful of years ago.
Get Them in the Seat! Electric Bikes, Electric Scooters, & Electric Car — Story is the Same
Zach jumps in: “We can say the electric bike market has sort of exploded in the past several years in Europe, in the US and China.”
Jerone of CycleEurope continues that actually getting people to try an e-bike has made the difference. “But the moment you tried it, you have a sort of emotion that actually is a sense of pleasure and then you end up — you say, well why didn’t I try it before?”
Zach asks him, “So you’re saying it was a very focused policy within the shops of pushing people to get on the bike quickly and try it?”
Jerome continues that they made a very special price for trail e-bikes. “So the shops/stores have started to actually have and developed these trial bike.”
If you go to most of their shops, the people can use a trial e-bike. Then he acknowledged, “They actually, they do a few kilometers because they really love it and then they buy it.”
He notes that trying is the key to adopting, and that is very important in terms of conviction. “You can explain in many ways what is an e-bike, but the best is a demonstration”
Zach notes as well, “The funny thing — that’s exactly the experience people have gotten from the electric car market as well. People will think of barriers all day long. You get them behind a wheel and you get them in a car and all of the sudden they’re like, ‘Wow, this is great!’ When I first drove electric cars after covering them for a couple of years, I wrote an article ‘Missed Messaging‘ — like, holy bloody hell! You know, just focus on how much fun they are.”
In China, It’s Respectability, Breaking Negative Stigmas
Niu’s Joseph Constanty: “China has a massive scale when it comes to two wheels, especially around scooters and especially around electric.” In fact, 26 million electric scooters are sold every year in China. That said, he highlighted that they mostly use lead-acid batteries and Niu became the first to really offer lithium-ion battery scooters. “Our scooters were two, three, and sometimes more expensive than the traditional electric scooters that are on the market.”
Joseph explains that Niu’s scooters also provide a certain class and premium appeal that attract customers in a way cheaper scooters don’t. “Most of our customers had disposable income and were using iPhones and Androids and these types of devices.” He said the Niu e-scooters were beautifully designed and performed very well, so Niu was able to step into this market and be able to sell over 300,000 units almost from day one. It was because Niu created a product that that consumer wanted. There was an untapped demand because no one else was creating the product or the service for the fully connected, beautiful device.
He points to what’s happening in Europe and believes that just like in China, there’s a large mass of customers that are untapped that are looking for a higher quality, more respectable product.
“There’s not a negative stigma attached to it and this is not just for two wheels, this is for public transportation at large. It is that we need to get rid of this negative stigma and get people out of their own cars. …”
Zach agrees: “As we like to think we’re rational organisms, we’re not that rational a lot of times. We’re very emotional. We’re attracted to things that look pretty and that seem cool, and you guys have focused very clearly on this kind of Apple style or Tesla style kind of design and feel and marketing and everything that seems to be working really well for you.”
It is noted that another key of the development is a nice and a very quick way for the consumer to find where the scooter is. There should be a high number of two-wheelers available in the city, because if the consumer has to walk 20 minutes, that’s too long to find one.
Complementary Solutions For Urban Environments: Public Transportation, Walking, Bikes, E-bikes, E-scooters
Albane responds, “Yeah, um, to me these are complementary solutions. You can ride a bike one day, you can ride an electric scooter another day, depending on your needs, depending on where you go, how far you go — so, again, it’s complementary. One is not against another — these are different solutions for a different purpose, for different needs. … One day you may decide to actually take your bike. It’s a sunny day, you don’t have a long ride, then go for a bike. Another day, it’s a completely different need that you have and then it’s an electric scooter. So, again, it’s not one against another, it’s complementary, so I don’t see any issue here at all.”
Joseph Constante: “So, to speak very directly to your question, living in China, I live in the future of mobility. I can say that because, on any given day, I will ride a MoBike or a MoFo to my office, because it’s one kilometer away from my apartment. For afternoon meetings, I’ll be in an Uber to get across town. To a very far meeting, I’ll get on the metro. And then to get back to my home at night, I’ll probably take another Uber. So, using multiple modes — when I grab lunch, I’m probably walking. …
“Hopefully, we’re not going to be owning our own cars and not really going to be owning our own bikes or scooters 10 or 15 years from now. It’s going to take a transition point at least in the urban setting now — move out to other locations that are going to change.”
Albane jumps in: “And actually, if I can build on what you just said Joe, I think integration is key. It’s a multi-modal approach. It’s transportation, but all the solutions have to be readily integrated in order that it works efficiently for everybody and according to the different needs of the day.”
A Day Without Cars … or Not
Jerome for CycleEurope in France agrees, “Yes, I just want to make a comment on this because I’d like to share an experience. Two weeks ago, we had in Paris a day without a car. I’m living in the 17th district of Paris, okay? I woke up and then went to buy my piece of bread for breakfast, and then I decided that I would just go and see what’s happening.
“I went to the street at 11 o’clock in the morning which was the time at which it was supposed to start. And what I saw … I saw many cars. And I said to myself, what is this day without a car? What is it? What does it mean?
“And then I started to observe the cars and they were almost as many cars as on a daily basis. It was Sunday morning and it was VTC taxis, delivery cars, and so on and so forth. And I just thought, that is just stupid. Because we’re trying to make a day where we can see how Paris looks without the car and actually it doesn’t change. And the problem, I think, is the association of the different modes of transport.”
It’s Not Easy — Otherwise, We Would Have Done It Already
Jerome continues, pointing out that many, many, many years ago we created pavement. Now, he thinks we have to find the right way of dividing the pavement. It’s not easy because, otherwise, we would have done it. So, we need to work on how to divide this street, and where we evolve in order to bring about the most efficient mobility.
Zach responds: “There’s various models that promote the shift away from gas cars, from pollution. There’s ultra-low emissions zones; there’s shrinking road space and adding more bike paths, bike lanes, walking space; there’s day without cars; there’s a broad variety of solutions.”
One Policy Wish
Zach’s final question: “What would be if you had one wish for a city? Let’s say Paris, because we’re here. What would your wish, what would your one policy wish be that they implement to help transport overall, not just your electric scooter companies or bike but to help transport overall in the city?”
Jerome responds: “I just want to start, because I have one precise idea. I am convinced of something very strongly. Of course, I talk about the bikes, ladies and gentlemen, but that’s what it is, that’s my job, you know? And I can tell you, in Paris, you know, that we have Vélib, so we have made 700 stations available within Paris.”
He notes that, personally, his vision is secured bike sharing, not free-floating, “Okay, so for me, the only one starting things is a secured parking place for the two wheels, because this is much more important than the lane, because in order to justify the lane, you need to have cyclists. If you do not have cyclists, you cannot justify it. And today the feedback that we have in our 800 stores for not buying any sophisticated bikes is ‘I cannot park it safely.’ So that’s my answer — safe parking in Paris.”
Emmanuel Gombault from Allianz France insurance sees it differently. “I don’t totally agree with my colleague. I think that fixed parking places are not always the solution, and in order to have more flexibility, free-floating [is better].” He mentions that his company has noticed electric vehicles globally have less theft. People who want to steal a car, they are afraid to due to electricity potentially running out. “I think that the best is being able to park it correctly, but free-floating can be very efficient too.” He makes the point that with free-floating it is easier to park down from the flat in the street.
Joseph Constanty says both are needed. The biggest problem he has globally is parking his scooter in a legitimate area meant for parking. A simple mistake can cost $500 for a ticket. Cities need to promote free-floating parking via additional parking spaces, he argued. Joseph goes deeper:
“So, here’s the irony and most people probably don’t know this, but in the city of Paris, there are 120,000 registered petrol scooters in the city, there are 60,000 spots for parking in the city for scooters, so that means every day there are 60,000 scooters which are illegally parked in this city. (Which means tickets and other sources of revenue for the city.)”
The panelists explain that, if they want to solve some problems, they need to remove some car parking spaces from the road or add some scooter parking spaces in the garages that make it easier to be able to park these scooters and these bicycles.
The panel also talked about consistency across policies in cities — as well as the complementary forms of transit.
The panel rounded out the discussion by talking challenges with insurance and the complexity of addressing new insurance models for multi-modal transit solutions. They also touched on e-scooter delivery and coming car bans planned in cities like Paris, which was to rid the urban centers of not only air pollution but congestion.
There was much more in the panel discussion. This was not the whole session. But hopefully it was a helpful summary of top points for the many of you who prefer to read than watch a video.