Is Ireland on the brink of a transport revolution?


18 Mar 2022

Image: © Svitlana/Stock.adobe.com

Bolt Ireland’s Aisling Dunne outlines three ways in which private transport operators must step up in order to meet carbon reduction targets.

Ireland has not seen a new public transport mode become widely available in nearly a century, but the Road Traffic and Roads Bill looks set to deliver just that; regulating for shared electric scooter schemes now and other powered personal transporters in the future.

With Ireland’s ambitious carbon reduction targets set for this decade, there is a real opportunity now to harness new and innovative approaches to transport.

Future Human

For this opportunity to be maximised, private operators cannot leave all the heavy lifting to national and local governments.

Ensuring a successful e-scooter roll-out

Ireland has long been seen as the final frontier for micromobility providers, with high levels of car use for short, flat, urban journeys. The most high-profile section of the bill provides the minister with the power to regulate the use of electric scooters across the country.

Electric scooters cover fairly low-distance journeys and can be an amazing alternative, but they are new to Ireland and need to be integrated properly with other transport modes and with the communities they support.

Some areas of consideration fall firmly with regulators. UK trials have shown the importance of competition on pricing. Many areas have gone with monopolistic providers, which have subsequently proven too expensive to really promote a shift in behaviour.

It’s also important for this legislation to be enacted speedily to cover private ownership of electric scooters, which has rocketed in recent years and currently has no regulatory framework at all.

However, we know from Europe that operators also have a key role to play in the seamless roll-out. Irish cities must demand that operators focus on principles that will lead to high usage, delivering an actual modal shift with the added benefit of ensuring there aren’t idle scooters clogging up the city.

These principles include offering affordable pricing, delivering high utilisation rates, ensuring scooters are regularly recirculated, offering leading safety features and the ability to integrate with other services and link up with public transport.

For an example of operators working hand in hand with cities, you only need to look to Bordeaux. Here, the city engages with operators to determine high drop-off and pick-up areas on most streets from user data.

They then respond by providing designated parking spots in lieu of a car parking space for all operators, requiring operators to use GPS and photographs to ensure all users finish their journeys in one of these parking spots. This type of system will be crucial in delivering a popular service in Ireland.

Reviving car-sharing

While all the media coverage will be around new forms of transport like scooters, the key to solving this puzzle could also lie in the time-tested car. One of Bolt’s fastest-growing services is its Bolt Drive car club offering and, from our experience, we see Ireland as having unique characteristics to ultimately deliver world-leading levels of shared ownership.

Some people are always going to need a car, especially in very rural areas. But in urban areas that need might be sporadic – for the trip to Ikea, to do the ‘big shop’ or to bring children to visit relatives. To make those trips, should people actually need to own a car? This is a question being grappled across Europe by both cities and operators.

It’s countries like Ireland that are fuelling this thinking. There are currently less than 1,000 car club vehicles in Ireland. Research shows you need one per 1,000 to make an impact, so we could increase our fleet five-fold and only then start to really see how much it supports a modal shift.

To deliver this, we need to innovate the offering. So far, all car club offerings are station-based, with the car having to be picked up and returned to the same place in a ‘round trip’.

This can be an easier system to operate but doesn’t focus hard enough on convenience for the user, who often doesn’t need the return leg, or doesn’t want to pay for the two days the car is sitting outside granny’s house.

The ‘free float’ model could be the way forward, with a greater number of cars in circulation on a more flexible model. This provides the user with confidence that if they need a car, there will be one available and nearby for the type of trip they need, thus negating the need to own a private vehicle.

Free-floating car clubs require greater investment and active management, but we’ve been able to partner with cities to deliver a huge range of benefits. From experience in Tallinn, more than 90pc of the journeys on our platform are ‘free’ journeys, with 10pc showing the characteristics of ‘station based’. That’s a huge potential market that is being missed.

Regardless of the model, it’s obvious that car clubs should also be considered as key parts of all new housing developments, to cater for future ownership trends among younger demographics.

Providing public transport integration

The final piece of the puzzle is MaaS, or mobility-as-a-service. MaaS is one of those overly technical industry terms that essentially means harnessing technology to integrate private mobility and public transport options onto one platform, improving connectivity.

This has long been talked about as a panacea for solving transport troubles, but we believe the technology is now finally there to harness the potential for MaaS to deliver a step-change in Irish transport.

It is widely acknowledged that to get a user to deviate from the comfort of their private vehicle, the alternatives have to be convenient and affordable. MaaS delivers this, but where a city or country has a state-sponsored MaaS platform, operators need to be willing to sign up and share their information if they want to contribute to an easier user experience and ultimately greater numbers making the switch.

Transport authorities in Ireland are looking at how to bring in a state platform, where users will easily see information and availability on a range of transport offerings, including buses, rail, Luas, bikes, scooters, car-sharing and hopefully taxis. Users will be able to map their whole route out, all through one app and hopefully in time, also pay for it all seamlessly.

Private operators must be open to cooperation with these state initiatives and see that by contributing to these platforms, they help the cities, the users and ultimately grow this customer base. The ability of a provider to offer integration with other modes is a key way we can help facilitate this revolution.

Starting the journey

According to the Department of Transport’s most recent Transport Trends, the private car provides for 73.7pc of transport in Ireland. Bolt’s own research shows that only one in 10 of Irish car owners feel they could currently give them up within five years. So the transport revolution will take time, and all parties need to be committed to seeing it through.

Earlier this month, the Joint Oireachtas Committee for Transport and Communications met with a number of micromobility operators to explore how e-scooters can best be introduced under the pending legislation.

The committee probed and quizzed the operators in attendance, seeking to establish the standards and approach of each to a range of issues such as parking, tandem riding, intoxication detection, riding on pathways, insurance and much more.

Ultimately, one issue united all of the operators present – a desire to help transform the transport offerings in Irish cities and do it in a safe and sustainable manner. We might disagree on who can do that best, but we are all striving towards the same goal.

Irish cities should demand the highest standards and operators should welcome this. High expectations will result in a better service for all, and we all know you only get one chance to make a first impression.

By Aisling Dunne

Aisling Dunne is the head of public policy for Bolt in Ireland. Bolt is an Estonian mobility company that operates e-scooter and e-bike rental schemes as well as taxi-hailing and car-sharing services.

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