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Regulations might prove make-or-break aspect for Dutch scooter startups

If new startups get their way, the classical Dutch bicycles might soon be replaced by a new mode of transportation: a scooter. New companies see a huge potential market, but regulations might become a barrier

This article can also be found in the Premium Editorial Download: CW Benelux: CW Benelux: Bikes face scooter challenge in Netherlands

In Silicon Valley, rental scooters are already the next big thing. Startups like Bird and Line recently received massive venture capital, with some industry analysts already whispering fabled terms like “tech unicorns”.

The scooters are an easy, flexible and environmentally friendly way of getting around town. The concept is perfect for the Netherlands, a country so flat and dense that bicycles are already the most widely used method of transportation.

Bicycles have parallels with scooters, having the same maneuverability and a low price, so it’s no wonder entrepreneurs see the potential to apply the latest smart technologies to the concept in the Netherlands.

Earlier this summer, rumours surfaced that Bird was looking into penetrating the Dutch market. Several people spotted Bird scooters on the streets in Amsterdam and assumed the scooter giant was planning a Dutch launch, but so far Bird hasn’t confirmed the story. On the other hand, the company did hire a country manager for the Netherlands.

In Belgium, scooters are already a thing. Earlier this year, a new startup called Troty took off in Brussels. There are now around 50 scooters for rent in the Belgian capital. 

Rentals

In 2018, startups might need more than just fancy equipment to make consumers enthusiastic about a product. At least, that’s what a startup called S2wheelS2Go thinks. Rather than selling its scooters, SwheelS2Go plans to introduce a sharing model, meaning scooters can be parked and picked up anywhere in cities. They don’t even need to be docked in special terminals like some sharing bicycles.

Obviously, this approach brings with it some risks. Theft is one of them. More of a danger are the thousands of drunk tourists combined with Amsterdam’s canals around every corner. What’s to prevent someone from throwing a scooter in the water?

Van der Reis Cohen is working on a system where users can get a “fine” if they fail to properly lock their scooter, and GPS connectivity should make it easy to trace the vehicles. “Although, that won’t prevent the scooters from being stolen or vandalised,” he said.

Rules and regulations

The idea behind scooter startups might be popular among some travelers, but rules and regulations could throw a wrench in the machine.

Read more about digital disruption in the Netherlands

First and foremost, there are the strong Dutch requirements for motorised vehicles. Rather than follow the disruptive approach of Uber or Airbnb (penetrate the market, worry about regulations later), SwheelS2Go plans to play by the rules.

Before production of the first scooters started, Van der Reis Cohen co founder at SwheelS2Go, visited the Dutch RDW (Rijksdienst Wegverkeer), the governmental organisation tasked with regulating vehicles.

“Motorised scooters need a certain tyre-profile, and [indicators] were mandatory before they were allowed on the open road,” he said. This can prove an advantage for the startup when other international companies will eventually move onto the Dutch market.

“Companies like Bird use pre-made scooters that they buy in bulk from Xiaomi. That means they don’t have the necessary qualifications to be allowed on the Dutch roads.” Van der Reis Cohen said it’s going to be difficult for his competitors to modify their scooters to comply with Dutch law.

Local trouble

National law isn’t the only obstacle for services like these. Local and municipal regulations can prove a problem, especially in Amsterdam – one of the most attractive cities to test the waters for a sharing service. The Dutch capital has been struggling with bicycle sharing apps for quite some time, and plans to impose regulations on services. 

Starting later this year, the city plans to only allow no more than 9,000 sharing bicycles in the city centre. That total gets divided over a maximum of three companies. The city will issue permits, and after that, companies can pitch their business case and why they should be granted one. It’s expected that Amsterdam will make its choice for eligible companies known later this year. The fate of some companies, mostly bicycle sharing services, hinges on this permit.

Van der Reis Cohen isn’t worried, though. He’s confident his scooters are providing such a unique advantage to bicycles that the company will get a permit. But just to be on the safe side, he’s started talks with other major Dutch cities such as Rotterdam (which has less mass tourism and therefore less problems with sharing services) and Eindhoven (a city with a large student population).

Blockchain payments

SwheelS2Go has another trick up its sleeve, and that’s its payment system. Payment for renting a scooter goes through the app, (one euro up front, 0,15 euros for every kilometre after), but it’s not just going to be just through a credit card, said Van der Reis Cohen. He mentions implementing a blockchain, though details have yet to be worked out, he said.

SwheelS2Go plans to work together with GVB and Arriva, two local public transit operators, to offer the payment system. Eventually Van der Reis Cohen thinks the system could replace the existing OV-chipcard, a card that works in all public transport in the Netherlands.

It’s still going to take a couple months before SwheelS2Go is ready for the Dutch market. Even if it obtains its permit for Amsterdam, Van der Reis Cohen thinks January isn’t a good time to start. “Best to wait for around spring,” he said. 

Driver’s problems

Besides the large internationally operating startups, there are several other small ones that eye the Dutch market. The French startup Urban Glide is one of them, and it has a different outlook on regulations. According to a spokesperson, there isn’t any yet.

“These vehicles are so unique that countries have no idea what to do with them. But they will have to come up with regulation soon, because these scooters are going to be everywhere.” Rather than await instructions, the company plans to flood the European market by itself regardless of regulations.

“We sell our scooters to customers through stores like BCC. It’s not up to us to see what drivers can and can’t do with them.”

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