- Richard Corbett is head of UK, Ireland, and Benelux countries at electric scooter company Voi.
- Corbett shares how COVID-19 has drastically changed local mobility and how city landscapes will transform as a result.
- Because of his work, Business Insider named Corbett to our annual list of the 10 leaders transforming consumer tech in Europe.
- Visit Business Insider's Transforming Business homepage for more stories.
Almost everything we thought we knew about city life has changed. What was normal is now nostalgia.
Across the UK, Europe and beyond, our capitals and major cities are virtually unrecognizable from a year ago, having been turned inside out. The once-bustling heart of each is now largely a ghost town. Once-frenzied transport hotspots are quiet. Large, corporate retailers are faced with fewer customers per pound spent on business rates.
All the while, our cities' suburbs are buzzing. Shopping, socializing and eating out has shifted to local communities, green spaces, independent coffee shops, and small retailers and specialist stores.
Covid has changed every aspect of our lives, and this includes what we now need and want from our transport networks. Not only do e-scooters provide the possibility to travel with social distancing, but micro-mobility, in general, offers a solution for our changing needs.
At Voi, we've been championing the benefits of micro-mobility for years. Its affordable, convenient and personalised nature — alongside the multitude of environmental benefits that it provides — are at the heart of why the company was formed. These are also the reasons why it's now so well suited to the change in city life — where suburbs have become the focus and city centres relatively quiet.
City centres are well served by transport networks. London, alone, has 270 stations across 11 tube lines but around 90% of these stations are found in Zones 1-2. But this means that places outside central London lack in the sort of fast transport links seen a mere mile or two away. Those with lower incomes, who live further from the center, are often relegated to less convenient forms of mass transport.
Unfortunately we also see transport blackspots on the outskirts of other cities too, and particularly in non-metropolitan areas. According to the Campaign for Better Transport, 56% of small towns in the South West and North East of England are found to be 'transport deserts' with poor provision.
As people slowly start to return to streets, offices and shops, we see that they are reluctant to return to public transport and are preferring to use their cars to get around — if this trend persists it will be disastrous for air quality and emission.
Micro-mobility solves many of these problems. Take South London as a prime example. The lack of tube lines south of the river means people rely on buses and cars to get around. A journey on a bike or e-scooter, which can take 10 minutes, takes half an hour or more on a bus or in a car because of congestion. Independent research has shown that under normal circumstances, e-scooters can cut commute times by up to 70% – and that's in areas where there aren't as many transport gaps as there are in the suburbs.
Travelling by car or by bus forces you to go directly from A to B. Travelling on an e-scooter gives the rider more freedom to stop and explore new places en route. This way, small independent businesses can benefit from having a slightly bigger catchment area and increased footfall.
If we go further and free up road space to cut journey times — by for instance introducing low traffic neighborhoods, restricted to residents – people living in the suburbs will have more time and opportunity to get to their local amenities, to buy from their local butcher and support their local restaurants. At the same time, local businesses will be able to use e-scooters to offer deliveries or help support vulnerable residents.
We believe e-scooters can revolutionize city living. But in some ways, they have the potential to be even more life-changing in the suburbs. We don't expect them to become an alternative to busy buses, trams and trains but they can help people connect to transport infrastructure, who might be tempted to take a car and they give a whole new choice to those who don't want to cycle or walk so far.
Around the world, as lockdowns have eased, people have favored their local high streets, rediscovered during months of restrictions. With e-scooter schemes to help people get around, we can help people to stay local and shop local. It's good for the planet, for businesses and local communities.
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