E-scooters in Ireland: Time to get the wheels in motion

Will O’Brien, from Ballincollig, is a member of the founding team and VP of Growth and Government Affairs at Zipp Mobility, Ireland’s leading shared e-scooter operator. He works with Zipp’s partner cities across Europe to design safe, sustainable, and community-centric shared e-scooter services
E-scooters in Ireland: Time to get the wheels in motion

Will O'Brien of ZIPP Mobility, with an electric scooter for use on roads and cycle lanes.

AS Ireland emerges cautiously from a strict lockdown, a noticeable paradigm shift has occurred.

Conversation is thankfully progressing from topics such as illness, social isolation, and restrictions, to more hopeful discussions for the future, like better quality of living, sustainability, and a circular economy.

As we return to living some semblance of a normal life, many of us are reimagining the intricacies of our daily lives to orient ourselves towards a healthier future. One such salient detail is transport.

In recent years we have witnessed a near-global adoption of shared e-scooter services, which are currently available in about 350 cities worldwide, and this is on an upward trajectory showing little signs of screeching to a stop. Dubbed ‘The Micromobility boom’, the use of shared e-scooter services kicked off in California in 2017.

Since this watershed moment, authorities in over 50 European cities are now leveraging e-scooters as an integral part of intra-city transport. The use of these battery-powered kick scooters no longer appears to be just a behavioural fad as once thought, but an imminent inevitability.

The rate of global uptake we see today is the result of this vehicle’s versatility and ability to scale to suit its surroundings. These are not vehicles that are just deployed in mega-cities like Seoul, with its 9.8 million residents. Just recently, scooters have been welcomed with open arms in Princes Risborough, a quaint market town in Buckinghamshire, England, with a population of only 8,000. Case in point.

Assessing Cork’s Need for Pedestrian Conveyance

Transcending all negativity this past year in true Cork fashion, the city has seen soaring state and commercial investment, with the addition of new cycling projects to the Marina Greenway, the decision to construct Ireland’s tallest building (sorry, Dublin), and the ongoing search for sufficient office space as corporate giants like Peloton and Investwise choose to operate Leeside.

Cork may not be Ireland’s capital city, but much like Barcelona, Toronto, New York, Melbourne, and Rio, which run second to their capital counterparts, that fact has never held the city or our infrastructure back. A consistent stream of investment is driving modernisation here, and so, our transport infrastructure must also align to accommodate these developments.

Cork City has an obvious ‘first and last mile’ problem - how we begin and end our commutes. 

While traditional, legacy infrastructure has played a vital role in getting Corkonians from point A to point B, it is not absolute in its journey. Many of us attending school, college, or work in Cork have walked from our homes to the bus stop, or from Kent Station into the city centre, bearing the brunt of the harsh Irish weather conditions. These trips sacrifice precious time that could be spent more effectively. Those who have the option to drive are faced with the plight of backlogged traffic. Noted to be worse than Hong Kong’s traffic issue, Corkonians are losing 170 hours per year, the equivalent of over one week of their lives, sitting in vehicle congestion. Private vehicle commuters inevitably must track down a suitable parking space, often an exercise in futility, pay city parking rates, and trek from the car park to their end-point.

Light-weight , battery-powered vehicles such as e-scooters are a clear, cost-effective, sustainable solution to this first and last mile issue that the population continues to face daily. By implementing this service, Cork would see a hyper-efficient interconnected nexus of transport to peripheral nodes such as Cork University Hospital, University College Cork, and Munster Technological University. The service would also streamline access between districts on either side of our ‘lovely Lee’, from Ballincollig to Ballyvolane, Frankfield to Fairhill.

As this movement is still very much in its infancy, it is understandable that there may be some attitudinal resistance and negative perceptions surrounding e-scooters at first, but public concern here comes as no surprise. This is not the first time a new mobility technology has attracted heavy criticism. People forget that in the 1880s San Francisco opted to completely ban bicycles on the basis that they were a “dangerous nuisance”. There is a dire need for more sustainable first and last mile transport in Ireland, however, as we implement these solutions we must take learnings from other jurisdictions and ensure that when we launch shared e-scooter services in Cork, we do it right.

Scooters must first be trialled in small numbers, with high vehicle standards and technology like geofencing, which creates a virtual perimeter around a specific geographical area to ensure speed control and area restriction. Virtual parking bays where users will be mandated to start and end their journeys must also be implemented to control the parking of scooters and guarantee safety for the disabled, visually impaired, and elderly. Operators must work to ensure that their riders are educated on how to use these vehicles safely. Only then can we embrace their full offering and range of benefits

In 2020, the Irish Government announced it was allocating €360 million in funding per year for the provision of more greenways, cycle paths, and pedestrianised areas. 

In doing so, they contribute to climate change mitigation and provide a timely foundation for the introduction of e-scooters. As legislators advance talks, it is likely that we could see these vehicles on ‘Pana’ before the end of this year.

This is a change to be celebrated. E-scooters will effectively help us to decarbonise our transport system at a time when we appear to need it most: In 2018, it was reported that 71% of all Irish trips are made by car, and roughly one-quarter of these journeys are less than 10 minutes long, meaning that there is huge potential for these journeys to be replaced by zero-emission modes of transport like e-scooters.

Sustainability on Wheels

The need for a greener mode of transport has never been clearer. The introduction of these scooters will help bolster access to public transport by solving the ‘first and last mile’ problem. These services are also very financially palatable to cities, costing them very little time and requiring little-to-know investment which is delegated to the operator of the services. This is a far cry from the extensive construction and almost €800 million needed for Luas lines in Dublin and additional car parks in the city.

This list of benefits is not exhaustive, of course. One of the most critical offerings of e-scooters continues to get overlooked by most - how much fun they truly are. Hopping on a battery-powered kick scooter, whooshing past lanes of jammed-up traffic, and injecting youthfulness back into your stagnant, lifeless commute is a factor not to be sneezed at. These mobility vehicles get us back out into the fresh Irish air, provide a definitive segway into a greener future for our country, and can democratise transportation for all.

Introducing a shared e-scooter service to Cork City is a fantastic opportunity for us to position the Rebel County at the forefront of something special; a global rethink of city-living post-Covid. Let’s be ahead of the curve in Ireland and get our amazing city moving on this mode of transport as soon as legislation allows us. And if all these great benefits don’t excite you, at least give some thought to how much easier it will be to nip up to Jackie Lennox’s for a bag of chips. No need to trek up Barrack Street when you’ve the use of a fleet of shared e-scooters at your fingertips!

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