Written evidence submitted by Helbiz inc





  1. Helbiz, Inc is a global company with a strong Italian heritage that is dedicated to facilitating travel via micromobility technologies, in particular utilising electric scooters and electrically assisted bikes.  Our devices are now or will soon be in use in 8 cities in the United States and 18 cities in Europe; we are the market leader in e-scooter rental schemes in Italy.  As a company we are proud to be making our contribution to allowing people to get to work and to leisure opportunities in a sustainable, accessible and convenient way.


  1. Our rapid growth has been fuelled by our management philosophy which prioritises and values a positive rider experience and community impact above all.  Helbiz delivers a bespoke solution depending on the needs of the areas in which we operate, but we are consistent in many core aspects of our offer.  For example, we seek always to offer the latest and most reliable devices to our customers, and to do so at the most affordable price.  We also go to great lengths to immerse ourselves in the cities in which we operate, employing local city managers and other staff who truly understand the communities in which they operate.  We focus too on engaging with riders to ensure that they travel safely for themselves and responsibly towards others.  As a result, we have built strong relationships with the municipalities in which we operate.


  1. One of the main lessons we have learned from our experience to date is the importance of starting relatively small and scaling up over time, taking into account the local context and building trust by demonstrating our capability.  The early days of e-scooter rental schemes, which saw cities being overwhelmed by huge numbers of devices and competing operators, illustrate the value of this gradualist approach.  We therefore strongly welcome the decision of the UK Government to proceed with a number of trials of e-scooters in the first instance.  We believe that the approach adopted is the best way to encourage a successful deployment of this technology in the UK.


  1. We also welcome the interest of the Transport Select Committee in this matter and are grateful for the opportunity to submit this written evidence.  In this document we will consider both the opportunities and the risks associated with e-scooters and explain how Helbiz can overcome them to deliver this exciting new transport mode to the UK.



The benefits of e-scooters


  1. E-scooters are a highly flexible transport mode that can provide vital first-mile and last-mile connectivity for people who do not wish to walk.  As such they supplement other modes such as buses, metro rail and heavy rail.  But they also provide a valuable alternative to those public transport options and also buses for residents who do not want to use them.  In the aftermath of the current outbreak of coronavirus we believe that both of these points will be significant.


  1. In cities such as Arlington, Virginia, we have sought to work closely with the existing local transportation network , complementing infrastructure such as the Arlington Transit (ART) buses and the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) metro regional rail and bus system.  Our devices bring more residents within easy reach of public transport, and thus encourage its use.  As a result, e-scooters can play a significant role in reducing the usage of private cars for journeys to work or to leisure opportunities.  For residents in areas very poorly served by public transport they can open up completely new journey opportunities, potentially leading to improved economic opportunities for those people.


  1. One specific advantage of e-scooters over other options and over cars is that they maximise the use of existing rights of way, rather than requiring new infrastructure to be built.  Whether they are parked or in use, our e-scooters require a substantially smaller footprint than motor vehicles, allowing greater mobility on less public space dedicated to roadways. This in turn allows for the creation of new pedestrian and bicycle pathways and wider pavements, whilst freeing up more space for streetscape enhancements on the pavements, thus helping to promote walking too.


  1. Moreover, when compared to taxis and minicabs, e-scooters provide a much more efficient way of completing journeys, and significantly reduce traffic congestion from primarily single-passenger taxi and minicab rides, as well as eliminating the chaos that these services often cause at the curb for pick-up and drop-off operations.  In the same space that one taxi occupies while parked Helbiz can place up to 10 of our e-scooters. This is also a significantly more efficient use of the public space.


  1. Another benefit of e-scooters will become increasingly apparent as people start to travel again after coronavirus.  It seems clear that passengers may be unwilling or unable to use modes such as buses and metro rail because of worries about social distancing.  Alternatives will be needed.  We expect commuters and others to find single-rider e-scooters that allow them to remain in the open air to be an attractive alternative way to travel, as the Government has acknowledged.


  1. E-scooters deliver all of these benefits whilst also significantly reducing carbon emissions.  Their power is derived from a battery, and with governments all over the world encouraging more and more low carbon generation already ‘clean and green’ e-scooters are becoming increasingly so.  And as well as reducing emissions overall e-scooters also contribute to improved air quality in urban areas.


  1. In addition to enhanced journey options, reduced congestion, improved public realm and more walking, lower emissions and better air quality, e-scooter rental schemes bring other benefits. Most obviously, such projects create new jobs: on average, each time Helbiz starts operations in a new city we will hire up to 50 people in roles ranging from engineering to marketing.  Unlike some of our competitors we hire employees on permanent contracts and do not rely on the use of gig-workers or crowd-sourced work.  This also means that we have greater control over the service delivered, ensuring that it is of high quality for our customers and the community alike.


  1. Rental schemes also generate data that is of interest and use to local authorities as they plan better ways to live, work and move around in urban areas.  We would normally expect to share some of these analytics with transport officials for use in their work.


  1. In short, there are very major benefits to e-scooters and to rental schemes, and we expect their relevance to grow in future.  However, we are aware of some of the concerns and criticisms that exist about both the technology and specifically rental schemes.  It is to these points that we now turn.



Overcoming concerns about e-scooters


  1. We are aware that various concerns have been expressed in the UK about e-scooters in general, and about rental schemes in particular.  Many of the same issues have been raised in other places in which we operate, and as a responsible provider Helbiz has taken considerable steps to address and resolve them.


Safety of e-scooters


  1. E-scooters are generally a very safe, flexible, and enjoyable way of travelling.  However, no mode of transport is without risk and there have been a small number of accidents across the world.  It is of course important that the likelihood of injuries either of riders or other people is kept to a minimum, and from our experience there are a number of measures that can taken to do so.


  1. First, we strongly recommend that e-scooters are only permitted on roads, cycleways and in shared spaces, where pedestrians and some traffic is allowed to mix.  In simple terms e-scooters should be treated in the same way as bicycles, and for the same reasons: pedestrians move more slowly and unpredictably, which would make riding on the pavement dangerous.


  1. Second, the speed of e-scooters should be limited to protect both the rider and those around them.  It is generally accepted around the world that an acceptable maximum speed is 25 km per hour (15.5 miles per hour).  Our assumption is that the UK will adopt the same approach.  We assume too that the UK will require devices to meet minimum standards when it comes to roadworthiness and vehicle fabrication.


  1. Third, riders of e-scooters should be grown up enough to take responsibility for their actions.  In the case of rental schemes there is also a financial transaction involved.  Therefore, we believe that a minimum age restriction is appropriate.  In many cases we have been required to limit usage to over 18s, which can be achieved via an age verification requirement in our app.


  1. Fourth, although we do not believe that wearing a helmet should be compulsory (provided e-scooters are speed-limited), riders should be strongly encouraged to wear them.  At the same time, whilst riders should not have to pass a test or hold a licence, they should be encouraged to learn about riding before they take off on their own.  At Helbiz we regard promoting safe riding as a key part of our role, and it is a signature element of our community engagement activity that we promote helmets and hold public events to teach people how to ride safely.


  1. Taken together, these measures significantly cut the risk of accidents occurring whilst using e-scooters.  We would expect these requirements to be included either in national regulations or in the standards required by locally regulated e-scooter rental schemes.


Street clutter and other issues with e-scooter rental schemes


  1. As we have mentioned, Helbiz operates in a number of cities in five countries around the world.  This has allowed us to learn considerable lessons from the problems that arose during the first phase of dockless rental schemes for e-scooters, and the measures now being taken by local authorities to ensure that such issues do not occur again.  We hope that it will be useful to the Committee if we share this knowledge.


  1. There is no question that allowing rental companies to operate without any restrictions does cause considerable public concern about street clutter as e-scooters are left in large numbers, sometimes laying across the pavement.  As well as being unsightly, this clutter can be difficult or even dangerous for pedestrians to navigate, especially if they have small children or are visually impaired or disabled.  We therefore expect local authorities regulating rental schemes to limit the number of operators and devices as well as the times and areas in which they can be used.  Such restrictions can easily be achieved via various forms of technology, including geofencing.


  1. Another issue is where e-scooters are left at the end of each journey, and in what position.  Here technology can help, since the location of each device should always be known, and the app can prevent the journey being ended if it is not in the right place.  Rider education and community engagement is also important, and we include relevant messaging within our app, at our events, and in marketing literature.  But at Helbiz we go further, requiring riders to take and upload a photograph of their device at the end of each rental, showing that it is upright and in a safe location.  We would expect to work with local licencing authorities to make sure that we do all we can to reduce street clutter and ensure that e-scooters rental schemes add to and do not detract from local communities.


  1. An approach we have adopted in other cities is to utilise our app’s location and geofencing technologies to promote and incentivise the use of ‘corrals’ for parking.  We do this by educating riders via the app and at our community events to use corrals in high-density areas which are frequently trafficked by pedestrians and cyclists, reducing the risk of improperly parked e-scooters causing an obstruction.  We are also use technology to avoid the problem of devices being vandalised and thrown into waterways be geofencing the area directly alongside bodies of water (up to 50 feet from shoreline) and preventing parking in these areas.


  1. It is of course important to enforce the rules we have set out for the safe and responsible use of our devices.  Riders are subject to escalating warnings and penalties, notified to them in-app and via email, that might include a 30-day ban and a fine of $50 for a third offence, and a permanent ban for subsequent breaches.  We have found that the combination of educating users and calling out and penalising any transgressions has been highly successful in ensuring that our e-scooter rental schemes are well-regarded by the communities in which they operate.


Social inclusion


  1. Concerns have been expressed in the UK, just as they are in other places, about the affordability of micro-mobility schemes in general and e-scooters in particular.  It has been suggested that less affluent consumers will be unable to afford to buy or rent the devices and so e-scooters will exacerbate social inclusion not promote it. 


  1. We believe that Helbiz e-scooters should be accessible to everyone.  One major reason for this is that access to affordable, reliable transportation options can be a critical ladder to opportunity for people on low incomes, or those seeking jobs, educational opportunities, and new skills. In the United States we stand apart from the field of our competitors by offering our e-bikes and e-scooters at the lowest cost to ride in the industry.  Our pricing model typically includes a small fixed charge for every hire and then a lower than typical rate per unit of time, which means that we encourage longer journeys.  This can be particularly helpful to residents who live in places that are poorly served by other transport options and depend on our devices to get around.


  1. Moreover, we offer special access programmes to especially vulnerable customers.  In Arlington, Virginia, for example, we offer unlimited free rides of less than 30 minutes to local people whose incomes are significantly below the Federal poverty line.  This programme is designed to ensure that our neighbours who are most in need, and who most often have the fewest mobility options, have equal access to our micro-mobility services.


  1. We also typically follow a policy of ‘equitable deployment’, under which we pledge to deploy a certain proportion of our devices in less-advantaged areas.  We also both market the service in such communities and hold engagements events there, informing potential riders of the access programmes available to them whilst also promoting safe riding.  It would be standard practice for us to partner with community groups and charities to make sure residents know about what is on offer to them in our access programmes and to help with enrolment and utilisation.


  1. Another group we try to assist comprises individuals with special transportation needs.  Helbiz aims to be an option for everyone over the age of 18 who can safely use our devices.  However, for obvious reasons electric scooters cannot always be an option for some people with different physical abilities, but the addition of our devices to the transportation network tends to help everyone’s mobility by decreasing vehicle congestion and creating more space for pedestrians, as we have mentioned.


  1. Finally, a related aspect of social inclusion is to ensure that our devices do not get in the way of disabled users of pedestrian rights of way.  All Helbiz e-scooters and bikes can and often do feature contact information, including our company name, website, phone number, and other key information on a sticker that is highly visible. We also typically have our customer service number, email address, website, company name, and UIN on the device in Braille.  This helps visually impaired residents to easily report improperly parked or damaged devices.


Community engagement


  1. We have already mentioned that Helbiz favours extensive community engagement activities intended both to drive up interest in utilising e-scooters as a cleaner and more flexible mode of transport, and to ensure that riders are informed about riding safely and responsibly.  We also view our customer service team as a critical component of the service experience. In cities where we have deployed already this team is available constantly via phone, in-app chat, or email, allowing people to raise questions or concerns about any element of the Helbiz service.





  1. E-scooter rental schemes have the potential to deliver very significant environmental, economic and social benefits in cities and towns across the UK.  Although there are concerns about such schemes, and about e-scooters more generally, we believe that responsible operators such as Helbiz can engage very successfully with the communities served, address any issues and deliver a service that is high quality both for users and local people.


  1. We look forward to working with the Committee, the Government and with communities all over the UK in bringing sustainable and flexible Helbiz e-scooter rental schemes to this country.


May 2020