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Cities wary of e-scooter risks, prioritise bike schemes

Companies look to expand their services to more locations in Finland, with a particular focus on student cities.

Sähköpotkulautailija Helsingissä.
E-scooters have become a common sight on the streets of Finland's bigger cities. Image: Laura Ukkonen / Lehtikuva

Companies offering rentable electric scooters on the streets of Finland's biggest cities are seeking to expand their operations, with new locations already identified and at least one launch campaign planned for the autumn.

However, authorities in several cities retain certain reservations about the new modes of transport.

While the provision of electric mobility supports climate action goals, local authorities are concerned about the safety of the scooters. Over the course of the summer they have been following the experiences of e-scooter users in each of the urban areas where the rentals are available as they consider the benefits and risks involved.

E-scooters are currently available for rental on the streets of Helsinki, Espoo, Turku and Tampere.

Cities concerned about safety

Enthusiasm for expanding the e-scooter businesses is evident from the number of cities being contacted by operators, with coastal locations known for their students proving to be a particular draw for e-scooter companies.

Vaasa and Oulu on the west coast have both reported receiving preliminary inquiries from several companies, while the city of Kotka along Finland's south coast also informed Yle that it was contacted by an interested party in the spring. None of the municipalities was willing to divulge the names of the e-scooter operators, however.

Story continues after photo.

Turkoosi sähköpotkulauta kyljellään nurmikolla.
Cities are concerned that e-scooters will be left lying around, causing obstructions. Image: Antti Eintola / Yle

Samocat Sharing cooperates with Helsinki Region Transport to provide e-scooters and docking stations in Espoo. project manager Tuomas Korhonen described the role of the city as a partner in the provision of e-scooter rentals.

"There must be a suitable infrastructure for scooters, such as clear lanes, docking stations and enough space for driving," Korhonen explained.

Officials from Lappeenranta in eastern Finland said they suspect that infrastructure is where the potential danger lies. There, the city centre sits atop a hill while the harbour area, Hiekkalinna and Myllysaari Family Parks as well as popular beaches are located at the bottom of the hill. Steep hills can cause problems.

Safety concerns were also raised in the municipalities of Seinäjoki, Vaasa and Kuopio, where the practical challenges were thought to be similar to those in Helsinki: injuries to riders and scooters discarded on the streets.

"The relationship between pedestrians, cyclists and cars is a big topic of discussion in Joensuu. If the electric scooter is introduced as a new mode of transport, then it will bring its own security challenges," city engineer Ari Varonen predicted.

City bike schemes take priority over e-scooters

A number of cities are launching bike rental schemes this summer, such as Joensuu and Lappeenranta, while others are preparing or trialing such schemes.

"First we want to see how the bike scheme trial goes. Then we can look at how the electric scooter might fit in here,” said Joensuu city engineer Varonen.

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Yu Guo Easybikelta ja Ari Varonen Joensuun kaupungilta.
Joensuu city engineer Ari Varonen trials a city bike with Easybike representative Yu Guo. Image: Pauliina Tolvanen/ Yle

Officials in Oulu also plan to focus on the development of a city bike system, and said there has not been much time to think about electric scooters. The bikes will be introduced to the city in August. The Central Finland city of Jyväskylä aims to introduce a similar city bike scheme in the summer of 2020.

The bicycles introduced in Kuopio in the spring have been a positive experience for the city and therefore electric scooters are also considered suitable for the downtown area.

Operators looking for partner cities

There are currently three companies that rent e-scooters in Finland; Sweden's VOI, Germany's TIER and the Finnish start-up HOOP. In addition to these three, Samocat Sharing, which provides and maintains scooter docking stations, also has a presence in Finland.

VOI operates in Helsinki, Turku and Tampere, and the company is looking at opportunities elsewhere.

"We are constantly exploring opportunities to expand the availability of scooters in Finland, but there are no new cities to announce right now," VOI's communications consultant Niko Haikala told Yle by email.

Finnish start-up HOOP currently rents electric scooters in Helsinki, but the company is looking for local partners to start operations in new cities, both in Finland and abroad.

"Smaller cities are part of our domestic growth plan, but probably not until spring 2020," Khalifa Laaksonen, Chairman of RideHoop's Board of Directors, told Yle.

Story continues after photo.

kadunviereen pysäköityjä sähköpotkulautoja
E-scooters on the streets of Helsinki. Image: Antti Lähteenmäki / Yle

Samocat Sharing revealed that it has had preliminary discussions with entrepreneurs and individuals in the eastern city of Joensuu.

"In the autumn, we will launch an awareness campaign in the bigger cities telling about our operations," said project manager Korhonen.

German company TIER, which began operating in Espoo in early July, was the only company not willing to reveal its current expansion plans.

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