When Mods popularised the old-fashioned scooter in the ‘60s, they weren’t simply a fashion accessory. Scooters afforded a generation of young Brits a convenient and affordable way to get around in an era with poor public transport.
Today’s e-scooter might not yet have the cultural cache of the Vespa or the Lambretta, but they’re helping to solve a pressing mobility challenge all the same: how do you get Britain back to offices when many of us are unwilling or unable to take public transport during a global pandemic?
This past weekend saw the partial legalisation of e-scooters on the UK’s streets as policy makers grasp for a solution to this challenge. The move offers an alternative solution for urban journeys and is something that we predicted (albeit for different reasons) after identifying scooters as a standout trend following our visit to IFA last year.
Despite privately owned e-scooters being a common sight on the UK’s streets, until the weekend, legislation made all usage illegal on public highways. While the new laws will still prohibit privately owned scooters, the change allows rental e-scooter rental firms to revolutionise how commuters get to and from work in urban areas.
The BBC reports that over 50 local authorities have expressed interest in hosting trials, with Middlesbrough touted to launch next week. No longer will Brits see riding e-scooters as just an Instagram opportunity from city breaks in in Berlin, Paris or Copenhagen.
So, how can e-scooter brands conquer the UK?
For years MAMILs (Middle Aged Men in Lycra) burdened cycling with a naff image. Now thought, the mainstream adoption of cycling is a source of pride for mayors and city planners across the country. Slowly, cycling has becoming a lifestyle choice and and this has been driven in part by cultural innovations such cycle repair cafés, tailored and dedicated events and fashion.
Given that e-scooters are a genuinely democratic transport option, we don’t predict that they will suffer an identity crisis in the same way that cycling did in the 90s. E-scooters are a perfect mobility option in the current environment, but e-scooter brands should learn lessons from cycling and take steps to catalyse a culture around this mode of transport. Partnerships with fashion brands, creating e-scooter cafes and venues and product placement in music videos, film and TV should all be part of the marketing mix.
The road safety issues need to be debated. The problem is, at the moment, that’s all the public can hear. Concerns around insurance and the stipulation that you need a driving license all create the perception of a potentially dangerous mode of transport.
It’s not helped by some of the terminology around scooters being the ‘last mile solution’ which is far from inspiring for consumers. These scooters aren’t just a way to get you from A to B, but they have potential to breathe new life into certain parts of British cities. That slightly shabbier neighbourhood where houses are cheaper because it’s a 20-minute walk to the station? Guess what? Now it’s five minutes on an environmentally friendly scooter. Property developers should be falling over themselves to build partnerships with e-scooter providers.
Of course, start-ups guard their IP with their lives and this can mean they eye their competitors with nothing but suspicion. Nevertheless, e-scooter brands should explore partnerships and collaboration with each other. Working in partnership, they may do a much more effective job of growing the category than plugging on alone. There’s easily enough room for a number of players and it particularly makes sense for brands to collaborate on some of the nitty gritty aspects of their operations – scooter collection, avoidance of cluttering the street scene and safety could all do with a unified voice. If any of the brands want to establish the UK E-scooter Association, there’s a parking space for your scooters outside our office…
The law change is great for e-scooter rental firms, but not so much for e-scooter manufacturers given that the use of privately owned scooters on public roads is still effectively illegal. Nevertheless, manufacturers will hope that this is the first step in a more sweeping change in the law and herald a shift in attitudes.
One lobbying angle for the brands that make e-scooters is to push the Government to include e-scooters in the Government’s popular Cycle to Work scheme. This would enable commuters to save money and spread the cost of e-scooters.
The capital has obvious appeal for e-scooter brands – density, scale and a population stuffed with prized early adopters who will evangelise for brands. That said, there is a lot of opportunity outside of London and medium sized university towns will make a lot of sense too.
While the capital is often the focus of new technology brands, it’s a breath of fresh air to see that e-scooters are likely to be in major cities across the UK. Successfully revolutionising personal travel in the South West, North East or Midlands is a statement and is proof that the concept works. While London carries the media appeal and glamour, we know it’s not reflective of the rest of the UK and adoption in the capital is practically a given.
The UK looks set to ride the e-scooter wave, here at Brands2Life, we’re on board.
Written by Nabil Hanafi, Associate Director, Consumer