The Covid-19 pandemic has had commuters rethinking their daily travel plans. And while ride-sharing, ride-hailing and even public transportation services are bearing the brunt of this, micro-mobility companies seem to be the hardest hit of the lot.
But despite this, leading micro-mobility player, Neuron Mobility, has announced that it is further extending its presence and is now bringing its services to the UK. Auto Futures caught up with CEO Zachary Wang.
If you have to describe what Neuron Mobility does, you’d say that it almost like micro-mobility meets e-mobility meets ride-sharing. This is quite a unique space to be in.
Speaking of what inspired him to venture in this direction and some of the problems that Neuron Mobility is solving, Wang said: “The world has been moving from ownership-based to service-based mobility for over a decade. It’s inevitable that future cities will be powered by a range of mobility service solutions including e-scooters. E-scooters are one of the most efficient ways to move people short distances in cities. The small footprint of an e-scooter allows for much higher space efficiency than other modes of transport.
“An e-scooter is very lightweight, and this means it has a much higher energy efficiency. It’s a simple form factor which means it’s relatively inexpensive to manufacture – these factors make e-scooters very affordable for people to use on a regular basis.”
Wang told us about Neuron Mobility’s journey from its early days to now, and how the company has solidified its presence in Australia and New Zealand.
“In 2017 we launched the world’s first shared e-scooter operation in Singapore. As a company, we experimented in cities in Southeast Asia before concentrating on Australia and New Zealand where we are now the market leader. In Australia and New Zealand, there is good infrastructure and regulations, high levels of disposable income and outdoor activities are popular.
“Another big factor is that councils in ANZ have been prepared to trial new ideas when it comes to micro-mobility, so we have been able to build strong partnerships with local authorities to help them achieve their aims. Looking beyond ANZ we have global ambitions.”
I was curious to know if these were the only factors that helped Neuron Mobility to become Asia’s fastest growing shared electric operator or was there more to the story.
“Put simply we partner with councils and help them achieve their aims,” said Wang. “We have innovated quite a few world firsts after listening to councils and trying to come up with solutions for their cities. We put safety at the heart of everything we do, and this has stood us in good stead with councils as well as our riders. Finally, we design and build our own e-scooters and the system that operates them, and we are always innovating. Ultimately, we are a tech company.
“We regard cities as our most important customers. We continue to be focused on building closer relationships with councils and are working hand-in-hand with them to make short trips as safe and efficient as possible. We strive to be the most flexible partner and as a result we are constantly innovating our products and the way we operate them. For this reason, we made the decision to specifically design and build our own e-scooters – they are purpose built for sharing and safety.”
Right up until the pandemic hit us, micro-mobility was all the craze in almost every big city in the world. But given the situation now, is this trend here to stay?
Wang definitely thinks so. “As we start to recover from Covid-19, the next 6-12 months will see cities looking at new ways of moving around to continue social distancing. So, we’ll see a shift from traditional mass transport to more individual options. Governments are already realising that cars are not the answer, as there isn’t enough space in cities and they aren’t inefficient. We’ve already seen a rise in cycling, e-bikes and e-scooters during the lockdown, so we’ll definitely see this trend continue.”
Cities will be allocating more budget to create the right infrastructure to incentivise this trend. Many of the changes happening in the urban transportation scene will become permanent changes,” he adds.
“Looking at mobility in the next 5-10 years, we’ll see better electrification of cars, particularly as we move toward greener, more sustainable lifestyles. Secondly, there will be a focus on connectivity – cars are one of the few parts of our lives that aren’t yet connected. With better connectivity, the transport network can be better optimised for efficiency, with real-time communication. Lastly, there will be more people shifting from ownership-based mobility to service-based mobility.”
“We are at the start of the micro-mobility journey, there is tremendous potential for growth and that’s very exciting.”
While most companies shut down as soon as the pandemic hit, Neuron Mobility was one of the few companies that decided that they want to continue to serve their cities and their riders through the lockdown. Not only did safeguard their customers and employees, they even provided free passes to public health workers who were battling the pandemic on the frontline.
“Covid-19 has created a unique landscape for the micro-mobility industry globally. It will ultimately create a more level playing field. It has been difficult for the small players, and they are seeking capital at this time, so we can expect to see more consolidation, or some will exit the market entirely. On the other end of the spectrum, large players have had to shut down hundreds of cities, some have already tapped into emergency funding at a much lower rate,” says Wang.
“Continuing to run our service through the lockdown period was a great way to support the cities we operate, and it also allowed us to gain valuable insight into how people will want to travel post-Covid-19. Many new habits were forged during the lockdown including perceptions of different transport options and how we travel around cities. We did a survey of all our riders recently and found that concerns around social distancing and the exposure to germs on public transport have increased the popularity of individual transport options like bikes and e-scooters.
“Findings showed a massive 91% of travellers now consider the risks of Covid-19 when deciding between available transport options, and 85% of respondents said they will continue to be aware of Covid-19 risks on transport even when restrictions relax.”
I wanted to know more about the exciting new development – Neuron Mobility’s launch of services in the UK, to which Wang replied: “After becoming the leading operator and learning a lot in those markets we’ve decided to launch in the UK. E-scooters can play a unique role in getting cities back on the move in a safe, convenient and inexpensive way. The UK government’s announcement of £2 billion to support active travel, and they have brought forward e-scooter trials from next year to next month. This means that many cities will be looking at running trials this year. We have a team on the ground that are already talking to local authorities about how we can use our technology to meet their individual needs.
“We are at the start of the micro-mobility journey, there is tremendous potential for growth and that’s very exciting,” Wang continues.
“Beyond Covid-19 cities are looking to solve problems like congestion, emissions, and to extend the range of existing transport networks. We will see more initiatives to wean people off taking cars for short trips. Many cities have either introduced, or are exploring congestion charging, and taxes on car ownership is increasing. These are growing trends and they do have an effect on consumer behaviour.
“There’s also a lot of room for growth in the micro-mobility service industry as the world shifts from ownership-based mobility to service-based mobility,” concludes Wang.