(Updated on June 13th, 2019)
Stockholm has seen several transport companies that exercise a sharing economy business model (Sunfleet, Car2Go, DriveNow, oBike, EU bike…). Back in September 2018 a new player emerged – Voi with their electric scooters (or kick bikes). At the time the service was started, available information was scarce, so I decided to write a review of my own. I have since revised it on several occasions to keep it up to date. I would like to point out that the review is by no means backed by the company, it is purely my uncensored and uninfluenced experience.
The idea is simple, there is a number of electric scooters spread around town. You open Voi’s app, look for an available scooter near to you, unlock it through the app and off you go. When you are done, you park the scooter, end your rental through the app, and the fee for the ride is charged from your credit card. Which brings me to the price: 10 SEK to start a rental, plus a dynamic price per minute of riding which depends on the current demand. The lowest minute price I have seen is 1.5 SEK and the highest 3 SEK. This is quite a lot, because for all but the shortest rides of up to a couple of kilometers, the subway is both cheaper and quicker. Maybe not as fun, though :-). If we compare this to aimo, a new car pool enterprise in Stockholm since October 2018, which costs 1.67 SEK per minute without any start fee, Voi is insanely expensive. Cars cost much more than electric scooters to purchase and to maintain, and they incur parking charges which scooters do not. When I had contacted the customer service back in 2018 and confronted them about the high price, I was told that they were “feeling it out” during the roll-out phase and that their competition offered similar prices across Europe and the US. I could not see these prices being sustainable after the initial “coolness” period. Despite the scooters being extremely fun, after three days of testing I already knew I would not use them regularly in the long term. My bicycle in the summer and the subway in the winter do not have their jobs threatened by Voi. However, even though I think the prices are too high and thus use the scooters only on some rare occasions, I guess that there is enough demand for the service, because Voi has been successful in attracting serious investment capital and their expansion to new cities and countries has been rapid.
I had found out about the service by seeing the scooters around town. There were no commercials anywhere and the company’s presence in the media was quite shy in the beginning (now they are quite active). Their Web page did not contain much information back then either. All of this made me skeptic to share my e-mail adress and credit card information with them, but I still did. I really wanted to try the scooters and… what could possibly go wrong, right :-)?
This brings us to the first problem, finding a scooter. As mentioned, it should be as easy as opening the app and locating the one closest to you. In the beginning they were relatively scarce, except in the business center of Stockholm, but their number grew significantly with time. However, there is this phenomenon that I call a “phantom scooter” – a scooter that is visible on the map but does not exist in the real world. On several occasions I walked from scooter to scooter, only to realize that all are phantom ones. This is either due to a software bug or thanks to dishonest users ending their ride in spaces that are not reachable to the general public (like their own balcony or locked yard). The customer service assured me that they were working on fixing both problems. The former should be relatively easy to take care of but I wonder how they will go about the latter. I tolerated this problem in the beginning, but it has still not been solved after more than six months in business.
On one occasion when I walked up to the scooter I wanted to ride I discovered that it was broken. I read in an article that the typical lifespan of a scooter in service is only a couple of months after which it is in such bad shape that it has to be decommissioned. Voi advertise their service as being environmentally friendly, but scraping thousands of scooters per year does eat away a significant part of their positive effect on the environment.
Once you actually do get a hold of a scooter, the fun is guaranteed. The model of the scooter is Ninebot by Segway ES2. The scooters are easy to ride, just make sure to kick-off before pressing the throttle, since pressing the throttle while stationary will not do anything – this is a battery optimization technique as the necessary power output is much smaller when the scooter is already in motion. On flat terrain they are decently fast (their speed is limited to 20 km/h) but they do lose a lot of speed on inclines. They are relatively stable watch out for pot holes and bumps, because the wheels are quite small. Also, be very careful when the surface is wet – I lost grip easily on several occasions on a wet road. I would also recommend using a helmet while riding.
The tricky thing is to decide where they should be ridden as they are much faster than pedestrians but typically slower than cyclists. I usually decide this dynamically during my rides and go there where I feel safest and where I will not annoy other traffic participants. But the service definitely does trigger the question of traffic safety as it introduces a new type of vehicle to the streets. It also raises a philosophical question – as this is a private company, how should we feel about the fact that their scooters occupy public space? For car pools this is easy – they pay for parking spaces (or actually, the users of car pools pay for parking spaces through service fees), but the scooters are just left on the sidewalks.
Another aspect that bugs me is that the customer service is not available over the phone, only over e-mail. If you get an urgent problem, you want to call and not send an e-mail. On the other hand, they were quite speedy in replying to my e-mails, I always received an answer within a couple of hours from sending a question.
All in all, I am excited about the service and hope that they will fix the problems they are facing. With this effort from their side and with some effort from our side as the customers (we have to find our place in the traffic without annoying others), this has the potential of changing how we commute within the city (at least for short distances). It will be fun to follow their progress. I hope they stick around as I am not sure I can handle another DriveNow (a car pool enterprise that closed their business in Stockholm in October 2018).
In November 2018, Voi got competition from Lime, a service backed by Uber. Lime’s scooters are more heavy duty than Voi’s. In March 2019 two more actors appeared – Tier and Glyde. However, in my opinion the most exciting challenger to Voi is blinkee.city, who started their service in Stockholm in May 2019. What sets them apart from the rest of the pack is that instead of kick bikes, their vehicle of choice is an electric moped. I tried it on several occasions and it is much more stable and fun to ride than the scooters. At 3.9 SEK per minute with no start fee I again find it on the expensive side, but it offers better value for money than the scooter services.
I recently read that there are currently 10 to 15 different enterprises ready to offer their shared electric vehicles of different types to the people of Stockholm. Exciting times!