Consumer demand for privately owned e-scooters will outstrip rental in 2021

By Jez Williman, CEO of D-Fly Group and founder of the Dragonfly Hyperscooter

The sudden need for socially distanced ways to travel saw e-scooter rental schemes accelerate throughout 2020. While the rental models have been understandably basic, the trials have been invaluable in forging the way for more widespread acceptance of e-scooters in general.

Thanks to the lessons that the trials have taught us, we’re now much closer to those clear, cohesive rules that will allow private scooters on public roads. With that, it’s looking very, very likely that we’ll see a surge in consumer demand for more premium models in the months ahead.

Not only have rental scooters been rudimentary but, to borrow a fitting analogy from the distinguished IBM engineer Andy Stanford-Clark, e-scooters are like toothbrushes: everyone knows they need one, and nobody wants to use anyone else’s.

Given the choice, why wouldn’t you choose to level up? Whether you’re a discerning consumer or a large corporate keen to cut emissions with privately held fleets, it’s clear that your own personal e-scooter can be a vastly more attractive, enjoyable and ever-ready way to move than its rental counterparts, and with good reason. A Boris Bike can’t compete with a Pinarello, and why should it? The same applies to e-scooters – you’re not going to put the very best of design, technology and engineering on something that’s going to be left on the street.

2021 will be the year the penny drops on cost too. If you’re planning to use them regularly, rental scooters really aren’t a cheap way to move. With most schemes charging an upfront fee to unlock a vehicle, followed by a cost per minute to ride, it soon adds up, particularly when rental becomes part of a daily commute.

Having your own e-scooter quickly checks out cheaper – oftentimes cheaper than an Oyster – and with even premium vendors offering finance options, private models are more accessible now than ever.

And here’s how private owners can get ahead in the last sprint toward legalisation: practice. When it comes to protecting yourself and those around you, practice is vital. But who’s going to hire a rental scooter to practise? You’re more likely to hire one when you’re in a rush to get from A to B and it’s more appealing than walking.

So I’d urge e-scooter owners to get ahead on safety by practising the basics before riding out in public. For instance, it’s well worth practising what happens on a slope. Your speed will reduce and you need to be prepared for that, ready for when you have other road users around you.

Be aware too that if you are using a rental e-scooter then you’re likely going to struggle with a major design problem: the steering tiller is too narrow. You can’t ride safely with one hand and there are going to be moments when you’ll need to. This fleeting freedom of movement enables you to glance behind you and even make eye contact with another road user before a manoeuvre.

A wide range of vision and connection with others increases your safety. But it’s only possible if the vehicle you’re riding has been designed to allow this, otherwise, your steering will be very uneasy and most likely offline.

I witnessed this recently in London. A rental scooter rider looked over his right shoulder to continue around one of London’s large park centre circles. In doing so, the rider took one hand off the narrow bar, which reacted as you might expect and started to steer to the right. The rider almost turned into the bike that was already on his shoulder preparing to turn left.

The rider panicked and made a quick correction. In making a correction, he locked up the front wheel altogether and both him and his scooter were sent sprawling across the road. Fortunately, no one was seriously hurt and no property was seriously damaged. But not everyone’s so lucky and this particular issue is a regular one with rental scooters, causing prangs a plenty.  

So in the not too distant future, I can see the UK Government making it a legal obligation for all e-scooter riders to have insurance covering both themselves and third parties. The courts are already making a fine example of those who are way too experimental with what their new transport can do for them, and those simply lacking in moral fibre (drink riders, speed freaks, thieves).

It’s quite the game changer when a pedestrian gets injured, another vehicle gets damaged or you need to cover the costs of your own or another road user’s salary while they recover from an accident.

As private ownership and corporate fleets are becoming an inevitability, it’s very, very likely that we’ll see a lot of new regulations appear in tandem. Riders will need compulsory training, not the optional sessions we’re seeing now. We’ll also likely see new standards introduced for how visible and audible e-scooters are to other road users, along with MOT-style tests to check they continue to meet road safety and environmental standards over time.

That will be a tense experience for anyone with a low spec model, I’m sure. Safety’s been paramount in designing the Dragonfly Hyperscooter. Not just the highest-spec, most technology-advanced e-scooter in the world, it’s also loaded with safety features that just aren’t available with any other model.

We’ve added automotive-grade headlights and turn signals, high visibility top lights with pavement projection lasers and onboard acoustics for pedestrian awareness and audible navigation. Three- and four-wheel options with an ultra-low centre of gravity offer a super stable, easy ride.

It has front brakes, rear brakes and suspension on every puncture-proof tyre, and anti-rollback. One-handed left or right operation is enabled by a specially designed steering tiller. Nothing’s been left to chance here when it comes to the safety of the rider and other road users, and we’ll soon see that echoed in legislation.

So I’d urge anyone planning to buy an e-scooter right now to make a preemptive strike. As well as good-looking and mind-blowingly fantastic to drive, choose the very best and most robust model for safety, agility and longevity. All of these qualities combined are going to serve you very, very well in 2021 – the year consumer demand for private ownership will outstrip rental by a country mile.

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