A year is a long time in mobility – what can the cycle industry expect from the blossoming e-bike and e-scooter industry in the next 12 months? Rebecca Bland looks ahead
This piece first appeared in the January edition of BikeBiz magazine – get your free subscription here
The past few years have seen an exponential rise in both the adoption and growth of micromobility. With the pandemic, Brexit, and now the cost of living crisis, there’s never been a more obvious time for consumers to ditch the car for shorter journeys and adopt a more active way of travelling. But what trends are we likely to see in 2023?
Perhaps there will be a further movement towards more active travel, with rising fuel prices and train travel uncertainties forcing people to alter the way they get about. Equally, these cost rises have a knock-on effect on businesses, who often rely heavily on petrol and diesel delivery fleets.
Lisa Conibear, the global commercial director of Zoomo, believes this will be what pushes businesses to consider electric bikes and cargo bikes as viable options. “We are currently seeing this appetite beyond just grocery, food and parcel, with plumbing, real estate and health care companies all expressing interest. They all want to understand how they can integrate e-bikes into their operations. One example is a plumbing company we’re in discussions with.
“Currently each technician drives a van around London, their vans are typically only 20% full of tools and parts. Many of those tools and parts are often only used as required, they are carried around just in case. We are talking about supplying this company with a fleet of e-bikes, supplemented by a cargo bike which would carry all the tools and parts for a catchment area.
“The technician uses an e-bike to move efficiently through the city to their site. When the technician assesses what tools they need, they call the cargo bike who delivers it. These kinds of moves could save businesses of all shapes and sizes thousands per month in insurance, parking fines, time gained and fuel costs. Importantly, moves like this will also have a significant positive impact on our environment.”
Beyond this, Conibear spoke of the growth of micro-fulfilment centres and the role e-bikes could play in these. “Customers will continue to want home delivery and shorter delivery time frames will become the expectation. In 2020, parcel delivery grew by 32% in the UK and 9% in 2021.
“We expect to see a similar trajectory through 2022 and 2023. This means that delivery companies will need to be innovative in how they can handle the increase in volumes and expectations to deliver faster. Microfulfilment centres, e-bikes and cargo bikes, as well as utilising high street stores for online order fulfilment are all strategies that will be pursued.”
Interestingly, this adoption of cargo bikes for businesses isn’t necessarily being reflected in more rural areas, as Tristan Allen, partner at Fully Charged Silverstone, explained. “It seems to me that business owners are reluctant or have proved to be reluctant to buy into cargo bikes. They really don’t seem to have made sense of the commercials yet. They also haven’t seen enough of them being used to be able to understand what they can do for them.
“The councils are now saying, ‘here are some bikes, we’ll lend them to people, let’s get people seeing them and we’ll demonstrate their effectiveness and then we may get some traction’. But the business community in my experience, in my part of the world where we have market towns and small conurbations, cargo bikes are really not taking off.”
However, consumer purchasing of e-cargo bikes for school runs and similar day-to-day trips are likely to continue growing, particularly for those employees who can take advantage of cycle-to-work schemes, where they may find themselves being in a position of affording a pretty decent e-bike and at best, a good alternative to a motorised vehicle.
Other alternatives to cars include e-scooters, which have gained traction this year. The UK Government has indicated that privately-owned e-scooters could be made legal for use on public roads at some point in 2023, but progress has been slow, and the implications of this major decision remain unclear.
Ross Ringham, a consultant specialising in micromobility, shared his thoughts on what we may see in 2023 in this burgeoning industry. “I think there are three or four sharing companies that have promised this year is the year they finally bring pavement detection technologies.
“Superpedestrian has said theirs will arrive this year, I think Lime has said the same. I believe they’ve been testing it already in London but I think it’s due to arrive this year. Bird has something as well I think, which they’ve either already been testing or are about to start doing so in the UK. So as a trend, I think we should be expecting to see something like that this year.”
While this categorically is a good thing, there are of course nuances to understanding why people ride on the pavement in the first place. Is it because of a lack of safe infrastructure or a lack of education for riders? Additionally, it’s important to remember that e-scooters are currently restricted to pilot areas, including parts of London, Birmingham, and Bristol, among others. Some of these tenders are up for grabs this year but Ringham doesn’t believe we will see a change in providers, in London at least.
“Do I expect to see three new companies supplying e-scooters in London? Not really. I think the three companies that are there have done a good job, and given the fragile nature of the tech sector at the moment, I don’t think there’s anyone else that could come in and do that job because it requires a huge amount of investment on behalf of those companies. There’s a lot of money involved, and at the moment, I’m not sure that the rewards are there financially because of the way it’s structured.”
Perhaps in 2023, we’ll see a more unified approach to e-bike and e-scooter sharing schemes across London and beyond, but with different councils requiring different ways of working, it may be a longer-term idea. Essentially, the biggest thing we’re likely (or hoping) to see is sustained growth in terms of the adoption of more active ways of travelling.
The nuances of the what, where and how will likely depend on the consumer’s location and situation, but I think it’s safe to say there will be more bikes and scooters in their various forms on our roads.