In terms of last-mile urban transport from stations and stops to final destinations, Germany has a new hype concept which is raising eyebrows and pulses both in the country’s main urban centres Berlin, Cologne, Düsseldorf, Frankfurt, Hamburg, and Munich as well as in smaller cities such as Bonn, Münster, and Herne. Yes, e-scooters (a.k.a. PLEVs for ‘personal light electric vehicles’) are an increasingly common sight on Germany’s streets – or, to more precise, on its roads, as the country’s authorities are playing true to stereotype and have released a detailed act regulating the participation of electro micro-vehicles in road traffic and containing very clear provisions regarding where motorised scooters may be ridden. For our part, following our own first tentative test rides in front of our Frankfurt offices, we can say that simply being young and something of a hipster doesn’t mean that you can just hop on and drive off: there’s quite a lot learning to do first. Similarly to bicycles, e-scooters in Germany must use designated cycling lanes where available; in the absence of the latter, they may use road lanes. Moreover, German legislation states that electric kick scooters may not exceed 20kmph, must have a handlebar to steer, and should also be equipped with two brakes, lights, and a ‘high-pitched bell’. Anyone over 14 may use them, however, and is not obliged to wear a helmet – although it is, following the first serious accidents, probably only a matter of time before head protection is made compulsory. Just a few days back, a British YouTube star was killed in an accident on her e-scooter, and both manufacturers of PLEVs and sharing providers recommend wearing a helmet as a safety precaution.
Such incidents are unlikely to stop the oncoming nationwide roll-out of e-scooter rental schemes across urban Germany, however, with Bird, Circ (formerly flash), Lime, Tier, Hive, Lyft, Wind (previously Byke), VOI, Zero, GoUrban, Easyway, Sco2t, Coup, Emmy, and several others slated to set up networks in 58 cities in the coming months according to Bundesverband Elektrokleinstfahrzeuge e.V., the industry association for providers of electric micro-vehicles (yes, they were quick to set that up, weren’t they?). Yet the scooters are coming at different speeds in different cities, with Berlin almost drowning in thousands of two-wheelers while Frankfurt started with just 400 vehicles provided by one single company – who nevertheless has plans to expand to a four-figure fleet sooner rather than later since other companies are sizing up their prospects for expansion both there and elsewhere in Germany.
As this expansion takes hold, we can expect to see the same kind of micro-vehicle mania here as has already gripped cities such as Paris, Madrid, or Lisbon – and that is without mentioning even one of the many Scandinavian cities open to new transport and mobility concepts who view e-scooters an alternative to help reduce traffic congestion and pollution. In fact, a brief glance to our immediate neighbours show that, when it comes to the introduction of PLEVs, Germany is somewhat behind the times: in Belgium, Austria, and Switzerland, e-scooters are already a well-established way of getting from A to B in tightly packed urban centres.
We are very interested to see what the effect of this new kind of mobility will be on German cities – and, not least, how it will affect property prices. Although we don’t yet have comprehensive user experience data here, our Research & Insights team in the USA (where the first e-scooters went on-stream in 2017 in Santa Monica and are now well-established parts of transport in 150 cities) has documented above-average increases in demand for e-scooters which correspond to the inflow of venture capital into the sector; in the US market, the number of short trips made using shared micro-mobility concepts in 2018 was 84 million, or more than twice the number in the previous year. Now that things have settled down after their somewhat chaotic and classically “disruptive” introduction, acceptance for this new method of transport has increased, too, following regulations applied to sharing providers which use geofencing to prevent nuisance parking and block out some areas and GPS to limit maximum speeds, as well as impose limitations on the number of vehicles each provider can offer to between 150 and 3.000. According to a survey of more than 7,000 residents of eleven major American conurbations, 70% see e-scooters a positive addition to means of transport available, while others such as rent-a-bikes, car and ridesharing apps, or public transport only scored 50% approval.
As Germany’s cities continue to expand, it will become increasingly important to find sustainable solutions for the transport max and to adapt public spaces to more inhabitants and more traffic with a range of innovative infrastructure investments. Given that e-scooters are primarily a green way of closing the gap between access to public transport (rail, bus) and the final destination of commuters or business travellers, i.e. a “last-mile” solution, this will mean expanding bicycle lanes and e-scooter availability – all the more given the fact that motorised individual car transport is increasingly becoming a problem for Germany’s crowded city centres. Flanked by the expected increase in electric micro-vehicle penetration, additional infrastructure investment in public transport could lead to locations thus far suffering from a lack of connections becoming more attractive – and, with them, second and third-rank property. In view of the fact that the top permitted speed for e-scooters is more than five times the speed of an average pedestrian, PLEVs could lead to previously peripheral areas becoming much closer to the centre in travel terms and make dwellings, office space, and shopping and entertainment facilities much more accessible.
Before any of this, however, Germany has a phase of trial-and-error with electric scooters ahead – an experimental phase in which the fun factor will be at the forefront, too. Nevertheless, with increased competition between sharing providers, we can expect swift declines in the prices for rentals and an equally swift increase in acceptance as long as safety issues and regulatory limits don’t prove to be major hurdles. Following this, property investors, project developers, and users can all expect micro-mobility to start having a not inconsiderable influence on prices and use in urban spaces, including potentially some wholly new concepts.