London has seen many changes over the last 18 months. Some of these may not last long, now that life is heading back to normality, but others feel like they could be set to stay.
Perhaps the most obvious of these have been the changes made to the very fabric of the capital, which has seen whole areas cleared of cars and huge new bike lanes installed amid a new emphasis on so-called “active” modes of travel.
For Wayne Ting, chief executive of California-headquartered “micro-mobility” provider Lime, such changes are something of a dream come true.
“One of the things we have to do is create places where low-emissions alternatives have priority, and London has done a great job at that over the last year”, he told City A.M..
Ting, over from the Golden State for a whistlestop tour of Europe to make the case for reducing our reliance on cars, is adamant that firms such as Lime, which provides hireable e-scooters, e-bikes, and mopeds, are the future of urban transport.
As if to prove his point, at that moment an e-scooter winds its way through the traffic on Riding House Street, where he has agreed to meet City A.M..
“Our vision for London is the same as our vision for the world – we want to build a full transit alternative to the car, so that one day any Londoner can walk out their door and never have to use one”, he says.
Having launched in the capital in 2018, Lime has already been used for more than 4m rides across e-bikes and e-scooters in the last three years.
But although e-scooters will be well-known to many Londoners, the UK is actually one of the last countries in Europe where their use is still illegal on public roads.
Now, along with Tier and Dott, Lime is one of three providers involved in London-wide trials of the transport mode designed to prove that they are a safe and efficient alternative for both commuters and casual riders.
“Our goal is to show TfL and the city that we can be a great partner in creating alternative forms of transport across London”, Ting, former chief of staff to Uber boss Dara Khosrowshahi, says.
Ting is also full of praise for Mayor Sadiq Khan, whose “Streetspace” scheme to increase space for cyclists and walkers has received a mixed reception since its introduction last spring.
“Mayor Khan has been one of the biggest leaders on climate change. Schemes like the ULEZ zone are so important for decarbonisation, which is the biggest challenge we are currently facing as the human race.”
Already integrated with digital mobility platforms such as Citymapper and Google Maps, Ting said Lime was working with TfL to provide a “seamless” service for users.
“This is where Lime is at its very best, and we’ll be doing more to integrate with existing transit systems in the future.”
Accidents ‘almost always the fault of cars’
However, he is aware that not all Londoners look so favourably on e-scooters, with some believing them to be safety risks or, in some cases, eyesores.
At least six people have died in the UK while riding e-scooters, whilst earlier this summer researchers found that there could be as many as 200,000 accidents involving e-scooters this year alone.
But Ting is adamant that the vast majority of the time, where there are serious accidents, “it is almost always the fault of cars”.
“The biggest thing for safety is reducing the use of cars. The bikes and e-scooters are not hitting the cars – it’s the other way round”, he says.
That said, when the company, using tracking software, sees evidence of people driving their e-scooter badly, he says Lime acts quickly to warn and then ban such users.
And he also agrees that if e-scooter riders are to use London’s roads (the current trial prohibits their use on pavements), they should share in the cost – as Lime already does, paying tax on every journey made on one of its vehicles.
“I think that’s absolutely fair. If we share the roadway, we should share the cost. In almost every city we are operating in we are contributing back to the city at a higher rate than cars.”
With its wider base, broader tires, and speed limit of 12mph Lime’s fourth generation e-scooter is a far cry from many of the knock-off models that can currently be privately purchased. Despite this, Ting is well aware that many people might still be apprehensive about getting on one, but the firm is determined to create a low-carbon solution for everyone.
“Ultimately, our dream is to serve all trips under a five mile distance”, he says. In order to cover the full range of possibilities, he says Lime is in the process of developing two new modes of transport. Ting declines to share many more details, but hints that a two-seater e-bike could well be one of them.
But sooner than that Ting would like to see his firm’s e-bikes and e-scooters in more parts of the UK, assuming the trial of the latter proceeds successfully. As well as London, Lime currently operates in Milton Keynes and Manchester, but he insists that the UK is front and centre of the firm’s expansion plans.
“The UK is one of the most important global markets for us. The incredible reception we’ve got so far in London has shown us how much more potential there is for us in this country. We’ll be looking to go to as many cities and townships as possible in future years.”