Forget car sharing – Paris’s shared electric mopeds are the future

Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo showing off her scooter. Image: Getty.

The mayor of Paris, Anne Hildago, is fighting for a cleaner, healthier city. The city has one of the densest metro systems in the world, its bicycle sharing platform is Europe’s largest, and in 2011 it opened an electric car sharing service that carries Parisians 93,000km ever day – yet the private car remains a backdrop to Parisian life.

And so, like many mayors before her, she has made private cars the principal target of her efforts to reduce air pollution.

Hildago’s latest effort to tempt motorists away from their cars is CityScoot, an electric moped sharing scheme. The service has grown by more than 500 per cent in the last year, now maintaining a network of 1,000 scooters across Paris, and is accessible to anyone with a driver’s license via a smartphone app. The service is paid for by the minute, with no contract required.

The CityScoot pitch is an attractive one: collect your electric moped from anywhere in inner Paris, ride it to your destination – for slightly more than a bus or metro ticket but less than a taxi – and then park it wherever is convenient and legal, no charging point required. I went to Paris to find out if CityScoot lives up to its promise.

I signed up with CityScoot’s smartphone app, which also controls the service. I uploaded photographs of my driver’s licence (car or moped, with free voluntary lessons available for those new to two wheels), handed over my card details and was ready to ride. The service costs 28 cents per minute all in, or 20 if purchased in bulk.

Reserving a scooter was simple. I selected the nearest of the hundreds visible on the app, yielding a four-digit code that unlocked it when entered on the scooter’s key pad. Rather than carrying my own, I used the helmet and hair net under the saddle and stored my bag in the compartment.

I zipped away from the lights much more quickly than any car on the road, but nowhere near as quickly as Paris’s ubiquitous peloton of lunatic motorcyclists, who zip effortlessly through tiny gaps between cars at high speed. I easily passed gridlocked traffic and jumped to the front of the queue at lights. CityScoots can run at 28mph, which is ample for inner-city travel, even amidst the apparent chaos of the Arc de Triomphe.

Few activities provide the feeling of transcending tourist-status like commuting by moped in a foreign city. Better served by an arsenal of French curses than by any highway code, I enjoyed a transient feeling of belonging as I heard a barked ‘putain!’ over the whirring of my CityScoot ’s electric motor. 

Scooters are also much better suited to the sharing economy than electric cars, free as they are from the requirement for expensive fixed charging infrastructure. The owner of Paris’s AutoLib electric car sharing scheme, Bolloré Group, has seen its efforts to bring the £100m scheme to London delayed by more than a year as a result of the unwillingness of London’s 33 local authorities to accept a common agreement on parking and charging infrastructure. CityScoot bypasses this quagmire by requiring no charge points, allowing users to park wherever is legal.

The 1000-scooter network is maintained by a fleet of electric vans that continually substitute drained batteries with full ones, bringing power to the vehicles rather than vice versa. In doing so, CityScoot reduces infrastructure overheads, maximises the network’s coverage by freeing it from fixed points, and increases its availability by eliminating the requirement for charge time.

Whereas AutoLib’s growth has stalled in the face of €179m loss forecasts, the market for electric scooter sharing continues to grow. This summer, CityScoot will face a new competitor of the streets of Oaris. Coup has grown by over 400 per cent in only eight months since its launch in Berlin last year. Now the Bosch subsidiary aims to release 600 of its electric scooters on Paris this summer.

The competition looks set to slash prices for consumers as Coup promises a €3 per half hour flat fee followed by a euro for every additional ten minutes, less than half the price of CityScoot ’s cheapest by-the-minute offer. This could plausibly transform electric scooter sharing from a novelty into a genuinely viable alternative for many metro commuters.

Electric scooter sharing services provide a cheap, clean alternative for inner-city car drivers forced off the road by ever increasing charges – and, during air pollution crises like that which struck Paris last year, driving bans. As competition leads to price wars, scooter sharing might even tempt some commuters away from ever more crowded buses and trains, while the prospect of zero emissions transport without investment in charging infrastructure and parking space is sure to appeal to local authorities. In increasingly post-car cities, electric scooter sharing is sure to be a fixture of diverse transport mixes. 

Alfie Shaw tweets as @shaw_alfie.

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Was the decline in Liverpool’s historic population really that unusual?

A view of Liverpool from Birkenhead. Image: Getty.

It is often reported that Liverpool’s population halved after the 1930s. But is this true? Or is it a myth?

Often, it’s simply assumed that it’s true. The end. Indeed, proud Londoner Lord Adonis – a leading proponent of the Liverpool-bypassing High Speed 2 railway, current chair of the National Infrastructure Commission, and generally a very influential person – stood on the stairs in Liverpool Town Hall in 2011 and said:

“The population of Liverpool has nearly halved in the last 50 years.”

This raises two questions. Firstly, did the population of the City of Liverpool really nearly halve in the 50 year period to 2011? That’s easy to check using this University of Portsmouth website – so I did just that (even though I knew he was wrong anyway). In 2011, the population of the City of Liverpool was 466,415. Fifty years earlier, in 1961, it was 737,637, which equates to a 37 per cent drop. Oops!

In fact, the City of Liverpool’s peak population was recorded in the 1931 Census as 846,302. Its lowest subsequent figure was recorded in the 2001 Census as 439,428 – which represents a 48 per cent decline from the peak population, over a 70 year period.

Compare this to the population figures for the similarly sized City of Manchester. Its peak population also recorded in the 1931 Census as 748,729, and its lowest subsequent figure was also recorded in the 2001 Census, as 392,830. This also represents a 48 per cent decline from the peak population, over the same 70 year period.

So, as can be seen here, Liverpool is not a special case at all. Which makes me wonder why it is often singled out or portrayed as exceptional in this regard, in the media and, indeed, by some badly briefed politicians. Even London has a similar story to tell, and it is told rather well in this recent article by a Londoner, for the Museum of London. (Editor’s note: It’s one of mine.)

This leads me onto the second question: where have all those people gone: London? The Moon? Mars?

Well, it turns out that the answer is bit boring and obvious actually: after World War 2, lots of people moved to the suburbs. You know: cars, commuter trains, slum clearance, the Blitz, all that stuff. In other words, Liverpool is just like many other places: after the war, this country experienced a depopulation bonanza.

So what form did this movement to the suburbs take, as far as Liverpool was concerned? Well, people moved and were moved to the suburbs of Greater Liverpool, in what are now the outer boroughs of the city region: Halton, Knowsley, St Helens, Sefton, Wirral. Others moved further, to Cheshire West & Chester, West Lancashire, Warrington, even nearby North Wales, as previously discussed here.

In common with many cities, indeed, Liverpool City Council actually built and owned large several ‘New Town’ council estates, to which they moved tens of thousands of people to from Liverpool’s inner districts: Winsford in Cheshire West (where comedian John Bishop grew up), Runcorn in Halton (where comedian John Bishop also grew up), Skelmersdale in West Lancashire, Kirkby in Knowsley. There is nothing unique or sinister here about Liverpool (apart from comedian John Bishop). This was common practice across the country – Indeed, it was central government policy – and resulted in about 160,000 people being ‘removed’ from the Liverpool local authority area.

Many other people also moved to the nearby suburbs of Greater Liverpool to private housing – another trend reflected across the country. It’s worth acknowledging, however, that cities across the world are subject to a level of ‘churn’ in population, whereby many people move out and many people move in, over time, too.

So how did those prominent images of derelict streets in the inner-city part of the City of Liverpool local authority area come about? For that, you have to blame the last Labour government’s over-zealous ‘Housing Market Renewal Initiative’ (HMRI) disaster – and the over enthusiastic participation of the then-Lib Dem controlled city council. On the promise of ‘free’ money from central government, the latter removed hundreds of people from their homes with a view to demolishing the Victorian terraces, and building new replacements. Many of these houses, in truth, were already fully modernised, owner-occupied houses within viable and longstanding communities, as can be seen here in Voelas Street, one of the famous Welsh Streets of Liverpool:

Voelas Street before HMRI implementation. Image:

The same picture after HMRI implementation Image: 

Nonetheless: the council bought the houses and ‘tinned them up’ ready for demolition. Then the coalition Conservative/Lib Dem government, elected in 2010, pulled the plug on the scheme. 

Fast forward to 2017 and many of the condemned houses have been renovated, in a process which is still ongoing. These are over-subscribed when they come to market, suggesting that the idea was never appropriate for Liverpool on that scale. 

At any rate, it turns out that the Liverpool metropolitan population is pretty much the same as it was at its peak in 1931 (depending where the local borough boundaries are arbitrarily drawn). It just begs the question: why are well educated and supposedly clever people misrepresenting the Liverpool metropolis, in particular, in this way so often? Surely they aren’t stupid are they?

And why are some people so determined to always isolate the City of Liverpool from its hinterland, while London is always described in terms of its whole urban area? It just confuses and undermines what would otherwise often be worthwhile comparisons and discussions. Or, to put it another way: “never, ever, compare apples with larger urban zones”.

In a recent Channel 4 documentary, for example, the well-known and respected journalist Michael Burke directly compared the forecast population growths, by 2039, of the City of Liverpool single local authority area against that of the combined 33 local authority areas of Greater London: 42,722 versus 2.187,708. I mean, what bizarre point is such an inappropriate comparison even trying to make? It is like comparing the projected growth of a normal sized-person’s head with the projected growth of the whole of an obese person, over a protracted period.

Having said all that, there is an important sensible conversation to be had as to why the populations of the Greater Liverpool metropolis and others haven’t grown as fast as maybe should have been the case, whilst, in recent times, the Greater London population has been burgeoning. But constantly pitching it as some sort of rare local apocalypse helps no one.

Dave Mail has declared himself CityMetric’s Liverpool City Region correspondent. He will be updating us on the brave new world of Liverpool City Region, mostly monthly, in ‘E-mail from Liverpool City Region’ and he is on twitter @davemail2017.