Shifting gears: How to accelerate real modal shift away from private car reliance

November 23, 2022

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Bolt’s e-bikes have been on the ground in Ireland for four months, and we’re already learning valuable lessons as we start the fightback against car ownership. 

A serious car problem

For a green island, Ireland has a serious car problem. Research carried out on behalf of the European Commission revealed that Irish people have the second highest level of car dependency among EU citizens, with 76% taking a car journey every day. 

These figures are stark, but depressingly, they should come as no surprise. Similar research from Bolt and Bounce Insights found that cars are used constantly for all types of journeys, and 77% of owners can’t see a way out of ownership in the next five years. 

A recent OECD report highlighted that the Irish transport system “is car dependent by design, is high in greenhouse gas emissions and does not support improved wellbeing”. 

The OECD’s report assessed current plans to reform Irish transport, and the key conclusion was we can’t just electrify car journeys. Instead, we need to actively replace car journeys with shared modes; 

Mainstreaming shared on-demand services would significantly accelerate the development of a network of sustainable alternatives, which would take much longer if reliant solely on public transport and the use of private active modes.” 

Starting the Fightback

The fightback against the car has started. New e-bike schemes are springing up from Dublin to Sligo, and many other councils are considering their options.

Our research indicates there’s a public will to support this investment. 38% of drivers are aiming to reduce the number of car trips they take per week, with respondents mainly looking at cutting out driving for recreational trips and 33.5% looking to stop commuting by car. 

With the cost of living crisis continuing to bite, our evidence suggests people are eager to switch to shared modes if available for their needs. Our schemes in Sligo and Kilkenny have revealed high activity across a wide range of use cases; town centre shopping, university campus travel, and tourist activity.

Shifting Gears

Taking shared modes from early adoption to the mainstream is the key challenge. Our experience at Bolt has revealed three ways councils and operators can accelerate this shift to sustainable active travel.

1. Ensuring affordability

As a starting point, local authorities have a duty to taxpayers to offer affordable solutions. Lack of affordability in micromobility has long been cited as a key barrier to getting people to switch transport modes more often. 

If a journey’s more expensive than a taxi or a private car, there’s almost no chance people will consider it a viable option. 

Bolt offers its services at no cost to local councils. We believe that operating at lower price points, with no barriers to entry such as ‘unlock fees’, is crucial in enabling real structural change.

Being affordable works for the operator, too, by ensuring higher utilisation and more reliable utilisation across lower-demand months. 

As an example, by operating at a price point that appeals to students in Sligo, our scheme has continued to be well used, even as we head into the traditionally quieter winter months. The University campus is the source of a high volume of rides, as per the heat maps of Sligo below:

October Heatmap
July Heatmap

2. Parking Innovation

Shared micromobility schemes often stand or fall on how they use parking. Parking has a pivotal impact on both the accessibility and usefulness of the service and the development of trust and support of residents.

Bolt is the first shared mobility operator in Ireland to trial ‘virtual parking bays’. These are areas marked and designated for the safe parking of e-bikes, controlled by geofencing, with the bike incapable of being moved when parked. These bays can be repurposed car parking spaces, public space, or existing bike stands. They ensure that bikes don’t create street clutter or inconvenience other road users. 

The value of virtual parking over ‘tethered’ parking (where bikes have to be locked to stands) is that bays can be located on nearly every street. As such, there’s no need for Sheffield stands and the significant capital investment that comes with them. 

We’ve collaborated with local councils and private property owners to identify these bays based on areas of convenience and the likelihood of high usage. It’s led to a responsible, safe method of parking — ensuring pavements remain hazard-free for other road users. 

For example, in Sligo, Bolt has 50 virtual parking bays, providing a convenient and comprehensive network for users, which has led to a compliance rate in excess of 99%.

Virtual parking bays also offer flexibility — hotspots can be identified, and parking locations modified over time. Usage data also lets us identify areas via demand hotspots where we should introduce charging docks at key mobility hubs.

In October 2022, the Minister for Transport, Eamon Ryan, announced support for 35 exemplar transport projects to be delivered within the next three years as part of the Pathfinder Programme. 

Included as one of the projects is the installation of two Bolt charging docks in Sligo. This is being done under the guidance and advice of the National Council for the Blind in Ireland (NCBI) to ensure it’s rolled out in a way that’s cognisant and respects the needs of all road users. 

Charging docks will provide a central hub for parking e-bikes at key locations and a more sustainable method of charging batteries. Docks reduce the need for operating teams to manually swap batteries as frequently — thereby reducing the number of motor vehicles on the road. 

Working together, the Pathfinder Programme, Sligo County Council, and Bolt will build on the learnings gained from the pilot to inform the development of shared e-bike schemes in similar-sized towns.

3. Including smaller cities and towns

People tend to think micromobility can only work in big cities like Dublin or Cork. Operators also tend only to have their sights set on the big smoke. But actually, smaller cities can have a greater appetite for these services and a better concentration of key locations. There’s also often a greater need for sustainable private car alternatives.

Going against the grain, Bolt successfully operates in many smaller communities. In the Czech Republic, Bolt operates in Boskovice, with a population of 11,000. In Estonia, you can get an e-bike in Haapsalu, Jõhvi and Rakvere, populations of 10,000, 10,000 and 15,000, respectively. 

We also operate scooters in more than 60 cities in Germany, ranging from major cities to small towns. Examples of the latter include Baunatal, Stein, Monheim, Hilden, Brühl, Merseburg, and Bernburg.

Just shy of 20,000 residents, Sligo town’s utilisation rates are amongst the highest we’ve seen globally, proving the appetite for such infrastructure. Sligo has clocked up over 75,000 km on Bolt e-bikes over the past four and a half months — over 1,200 km pedalled per bike since the pilot scheme launched in June.

Kilkenny is picking up at a similar speed, and local councils across the country are eager to engage with operators to set up their own schemes and be ready for 2023. 

Supercharging in 2023

The fightback continued this year, but in 2023 we hope it will be supercharged. The imminent arrival of fleet expansions will continue to witness a significant behavioural change in how locals and visitors move in towns by choosing active travel.

Summer 2023 will also bring in regulations for electric scooters. Heavily criticised due to bad behaviours of a minority and a lack of clarity on permitted usage, this mode of sustainable transport will solve the “last mile problem” in many towns and cities — getting home from the train station or going to a quick work lunch.

Every fourth Bolt ride globally is shorter than three km, and scooters offer a considerably more environment and traffic-friendly alternative. 

In cities where we operate ride-hailing and scooters, we’ve seen a conversion of 40% to 60% of shorter car rides to scooter trips as part of the research we’ve conducted in partnership with the Institute of Transport Economics in Oslo. 

Cities need the means to thrive, and shared micromobility has a significant role to play. 

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