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How to feed a hungry scooter

Business, Technology

How to feed a hungry scooter

BY   Alexandre Gauquelin   

New article of the fluctuo‘s series: the challenges and evolution of battery charging in the shared electric mobility industry.

As in nature, the small evolve the fastest. Micromobility vehicles are no exception and have improved at a fast pace since the boom of shared micromobility services in 2018. And we are not only talking about the vehicles themselves but about the whole environment allowing to operate such services.

In a race towards profitability, battery charging has become the key element, especially in the scooter sharing industry. Back in 2018, charging costs represented no less than 47% of Bird’s average ride revenue. The room for improvement was massive, and operators promptly started working on charging costs and operational efficiency.

To swap or not to swap

Battery charging impacts operational costs in multiple ways. There is (i) the cost of the electricity itself (which represents around 0.10€ for a 500Wh battery), (ii) the cost of labour and vehicles used in recharging operations and (iii) the loss of revenue due to the unavailability of the scooter while it’s being charged.

Of course, operators cannot do a lot to improve the cost of electricity, as most energy markets in Europe are regulated. But the large adoption of scooter and bike models with swappable batteries radically changed the way they operate. Before, operators were loading the whole scooter in a van and were carrying it to the outskirts of a city to be charged in a warehouse. Now, the staff is moving in light electric vehicles (cargo bikes or micro trucks) throughout the city, swapping empty batteries on the spot. With shorter actions and lighter vehicles, the benefits to operational costs are important, while the availability of the vehicles increases significantly.

But some major companies still believe that scooters or bikes with fixed batteries are the best option. Bird and Link, who are designing their own models, chose to integrate massive batteries (around 1kWh), aiming to drastically lower the charging frequency to around once a week, according to Bird. The main arguments in favour of such a solution are lower safety risks, as the battery is encased in a protective compartment and not man-handled, a better response to theft and vandalism, and (according to its supporters) a lower environmental impact, as you only need one battery per vehicle, versus 1.5 for the swappable battery model.

Whatever the technology used, operators are still exploring ways of improving their operating model, mostly by working on optimising the need for staff interventions and their fleet availability.

Homemade recipe

Some operators are willing to keep their hands on all the battery-related actions. Dott aims to control 100% of its operation in-house to ensure the quality and safety of its vehicles. Its only way to innovate is therefore to act on its operating model.

Through a recent partnership with Yespark, Dott has created local charging hubs in 3 Parisian underground car parks (with more to come), which avoids bringing all of the empty batteries back to the main warehouse in the suburbs. “The main goal of this new battery charging process is to improve the quality of service and the vehicle availability across Paris”, explains Nicolas Gorse, GM for France at Dott. By cutting down the delivery time for full batteries, the company is getting closer to its 100% availability goal, while also ensuring that its quality and safety standards for battery charging are met, thanks to specifically designed charging cabinets.

TIER launched a similar partnership with APCOA, a leading parking operator in Germany. It will use the underground car parks to create battery swapping hubs in Düsseldorf, Berlin, Cologne and Hamburg, as well as create dedicated parking zones for scooters.

Both initiatives also highlight the potential of underground car parks to become the mobility hubs of tomorrow. Battery charging or swapping cabinets, scooter, e-bike or moped charging stations can all give a second life to these in-demand urban areas.

Docking stations: back to the future

For some, public bike-sharing services with stations and docks might represent an outdated approach to shared micromobility, that cannot compete with the flexibility offered by technology-driven dockless solutions. 

On the contrary,  some operators are convinced that street infrastructure still has a role to play. Bolt recently launched its own scooter charging docks in its home base of Tallinn (Estonia), being the first scooter operator to do so. On top of charging benefits, docks provide added value against theft and vandalism, while improving the parking behaviour of riders.

It means that scooters require a specific locking and charging device to be compatible with those docks. Ardo Reinsalu, Head of Vehicles at Bolt, confirms that “we can