E-bike operators are hoping to provide an attractive alternative to public transport

Micromobility companies look to get a foothold in the commuter market while awaiting legislation

How do you get to work these days? How you answer that question today may be very different from pre-Covid commuting.

Many people are still working from home at least some of the time; others have embraced the private car once again as public transport, limited in capacity for much of the worst of the pandemic, has lost its appeal.

But with September approaching and the return to school likely to bring an increase in public transport use and traffic congestion, commuters might be seeking an alternative.

Micromobility operators are hoping to fill that gap. Pre-Covid, it was unusual to see an electric scooter on Irish roads. Now they’re a common sight, with riders of all ages using them as a way to get around.


But there is one issue: they’re still not legal on Irish roads. New legislation is currently working its way through the system.

In the meantime, though, there are plenty of other commuting options that don’t involve private cars, taxis or buses. The current trend? Electric bikes. Pedal-assisted electric bikes with a motor that supports a cyclist up to 25km/h are covered by EU directives and are legal to use on Irish roads.

That leaves micromobility companies an opening to get a foothold in the market through shared e-bike schemes that can be expanded as the rules around micromobility become law.

Lime has experience in this area. The company, which is backed by Uber and offers e-scooter services in more than 200 cities globally, including London, Paris, New York and Berlin. The US-based operator set up its European headquarters here in 2019, and is targeting next year as the date to launch its e-bike and e-scooter rental services in Ireland.

David Spielfogel, chief policy officer for Lime, says the Government can learn a lot from other European cities on how best to implement the schemes once legislation has been passed.

“Legalisation legislation has moved in almost every major city now in the world,” he said. “I think the Irish Government has a lot of examples to choose from of how to legalise micromobility in a safe and productive way.”

That approach would allow Irish towns and cities to avoid the pitfalls that beset Paris, for example, where e-scooters were threatened with a ban after the death of woman last year. There was already an uneasy relationship with the new mode of transport, with problems arising as far back as 2019. Speed limits, fines for pavement riding and bad parking have all been introduced in a bid to tackle the issues.

Spielfogel has been on both sides of the fence on this one. Before joining Lime, he was a senior adviser to Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel, and led the first municipal effort to regulate the rideshare industry.

“I think the key investment for a city to make is dedicated parking that’s very clear for people to see. In Paris, for example, there’s a dedicated parking spot almost every block; the city has taken out one car parking spot, and put in space for a lot of scooters and bikes,” Speilfogel says. “Making that investment, while relatively small, the politics of it are harder than the actual dollars of it. You wind up getting a really massive benefit because we’re able through technology to make sure people park in those spots. The question is are there spots to be had and that’s where the city comes in.”

That doesn’t absolve the operators from ensuring the safety of both riders and those around them though; a number of tech solutions can help stamp out pavement riding and bad parking for example. It’s not just an inconvenience for the company or people, there are genuine safety concerns to address, including causing hazards for people with vision impairment.

Lime is already using a number of these technologies. GPS can work in some cities to ensure that scooters are returned to the right place, but the company is also piloting pavement technology in a few markets that will alert riders that they need to move back to the road or bike lanes. Persistent offenders may find themselves removed from the service completely.

Lime isn’t the only one eyeing the Irish market for expansion. Bird has also talked of plans to offer services here once legislation has passed, and Tier Mobility is currently running e-bike rental trials in parts of Dublin.

The schemes are getting off the ground. Dublin Bikes now offers an e-bike option, although it is more expensive and requires you to carry a battery. But ESB, for example, recently introduced an electric bike rental scheme in Dublin. The pilot scheme is being trialled in 14 suburban locations across Dublin, with about 112 bikes available for rental across the stations.

The scheme is a partnership with Moby and Bleeper; the mobility companies will operate the scheme and ESB provides the infrastructure and subsidises the rental cost. Day rental costs €10; that drops to €5 if you pay a monthly subscription of €30. The idea was originally conceived when Covid had just begun, and so is being launched in a very different environment than ESB had originally envisaged.

“It offers commuters a couple of really interesting solutions. Number one, you don’t have to sit in a car burning what’s now very expensive petrol or sitting in congestion. But secondly, if you don’t want to be on a train or bus, again, the bike is a nice solution,” says ESB’s Geraldine Moloney.

“What we’re trying to do is a little bit different to, for example, the Dublin bike scheme. We’re trying to ensure that this is really convenient for customers; they basically book in advance, the bike is then yours for the day and you can take it and can bring it wherever you want. You bring it back to that station that you hired it from that evening.”

The scheme was launched earlier this month and there are hopes that it will shift thinking on short journeys. ESB is hoping to expand it beyond the current 10-month pilot trial and bring it to other areas of the country.

Private businesses are also embracing the new modes of transport. In January this year, transport platform Free Now said it would integrate electric bikes into its app, working with NovaUCD headquartered Zipp Mobility. The partnership would make Zipp’s e-scooters and e-bikes available to book through the Free Now app once Zipp rolls out its services in the Irish market. The company has already added e-scooters to its app in other European markets; the legislation in Ireland though has held that up, with Free Now targeting early next year for the introduction of e-scooters instead.

There were more developments this summer. Free Now announced a deal with Tier Mobility that would see e-bikes added to its app for rental in areas of Fingal. The first phase saw 100 Tier e-bikes in Blanchardstown, Swords, Malahide, Baldoyle, Portmarnock and Howth, with plans to take that to 400 in the coming months.

“Our mission is to change mobility for good, and by offering people easy access to ways of getting around that don’t rely on a private car, be that by e-bike, e-scooter or taxi, we can play a part in making our cities healthier and more pleasant places to be,” said Tier’s Ireland country manager Peadar Golden.

The two companies initially partnered on an e-scooter trial across DCU last year, which allowed customers to book a Tier e-scooter through the Free Now app.

Speaking about the launch of the e-bikes scheme, Free Now’s general manager Niall Carson said the partnership was part of the company’s commitment to enabling passengers to make sustainable transport decisions. “After the success of our e-scooter trial last year and now this e-bike launch, we are excited about what the future holds for Free Now in the multimobility space in Ireland.”

Outside Dublin, what are the options? European mobility company Bolt has a rental scheme in Sligo, with up to 100 bikes on offer, and said it could invest up to €5 million this year in further sharing schemes as it expands to new towns and cities. As of June, it was in talks to local authorities to put in place more of the schemes.

The company also plans to add e-scooters to its fleet in Ireland once legislation has passed to permit the legal use of the vehicles on Irish roads.

Aisling Dunne, head of public policy for Bolt Ireland, said the expansion of micromobility solutions outside the main cities was great to see. “To see e-bike schemes being rolled out beyond Dublin is really something we want and we’re working hard to do,” she said.