Firmly holding the handlebars of his black electric scooter, 34-year-old computer consultant Evgeni Ovchinnikov walks along the banks of the Moscow River, past the Kremlin and Red Square on his daily commute to work.
“I cut my commute to work in half because of this thing. No more traffic rage either! he said.
Like many Muscovites, Ovchinnikov turned to an electric scooter to beat Moscow traffic, which routinely ranks among the worst in the world.
Russia is a relatively late outbreak in the market for shareable electric scooters, which are available for hire through a number of different smartphone apps.
Electric scooters, powered by billions of venture capital funds, first spread rapidly across the United States and quickly spread to European capitals.
Vehicles, which take up less space than cars or even bicycles and are easy to use, are seen by investors as a promising market with significant growth potential. According to consulting firm McKinsey, the sharable electric scooter industry could be worth up to 150 billion euros in Europe by 2030.
Eager to exploit the market, European and Silicon Valley startups competed for market share in European capitals.
Western companies, however, have failed to capture the Russian market, which is dominated by Russian startups called Whoosh and Urent.
Both have recently attracted significant investment from VTB Bank and Sberbank.
“Urban Russians are rejecting cars and public transport and turning to micro-mobility. There is a clear place for electric scooters in the city, ”said Yulia Kamoilika, spokesperson for Whoosh.
The company, founded in 2019 by a group of former senior executives from low-cost airline S7, said more than 3.5 million Russians have so far used its services.
Kamoilika said Whoosh plans to more than double its number of shareable electric scooters, from 12,000 in 2020 to around 30,000 by the end of the summer.
According to Whoosh data, 65% of its customers use the service to get around, indicating that users see it as a viable alternative to public transport and cars.
Specifically, Whoosh is touting itself as a “last mile” surrogate, claiming that his customers often use his scooters to get from the subway to work or home.
While Russia, known for its harsh and long winters, is not the ideal climate for electric bikes and scooters, mentionned one of the founders of Whoosh Evgeni Chuikov, they are still popular.
“We have a long season when electric scooters can be used, from April to November,” Chuikov said.
Urban mobility expert Tatiana Mikheeva said the growing use of shared electric scooters is part of a growing trend that is seeing Russians embrace sharing services.
Yandex, Russia’s leading tech company, claims to have the world’s largest carsharing fleet with 21,000 vehicles, and its operation in Moscow far exceeds what its European rivals have been able to offer in any city in terms of size, penetration and success.
Coronavirus also played a role, Mikheeva said – people have come to prefer individual modes of transport over public transport. And electric scooters are increasingly used by Russian couriers and food delivery companies, a business that has seen significant growth since the Covid-19 hit.
Seeing the potential gains, tech giant Yandex is also reportedly planning to enter the electric scooter market.
According to a report According to the business daily Kommersant on Monday, by the end of the summer, Yandex intends to supply up to 8,000 scooters to Moscow, St. Petersburg and Kazan.
Not everyone is sold on electric scooters.
“Electric scooters have become a danger to the public” proclaimed a recent news program broadcast on the famous Vesti channel, while other media have also been keen to highlight accidents involving electric scooters.
Magomed Kolgaev, head of urban sharing projects at the Moscow transport ministry, believes electric scooters are receiving disproportionately negative attention because of their novelty, while actual accidents remain low.
Critics and supporters say the accidents that occur are due to electric scooters operating in a legal gray area.
Under current rules, electric scooters are allowed to use cycle lanes and cycle lanes, and where there are none, users are allowed to travel along footpaths and sidewalks, which happens often given the limited number of cycle paths in the largest cities of Russia.
“People ride electric scooters on the sidewalks not because they love it so much, but because they just don’t have anywhere to go,” said Ilya Timakhovsky, director of development at Urent.
Proponents of electric scooters now say they hope municipal authorities across Russia will increase the number of cycle lanes and dedicate special routes to electric scooters.
Moscow’s city council has so far responded by introducing legislation in the center of the capital limiting the speed of rented electric scooters to 15 kilometers per hour, from 30 to 40 kilometers per hour.
“We must give a place to scooters in the city. Dialogue between the city, start-ups and residents is essential, ”said Kamoilika.