New wave of scooters tests sustainability and durability on Helsinki’s streets

A pilot project from HSL will put 300 new traditional & electric scooters in Vuosaari to test how they hold up.

Tier scooters in Helsinki, April 2019 / Credit: Henryk Björkström

Visitors to the Finnish capital in recent months will have noticed the influx of scooters, with riders zipping around the city’s streets on green and red vehicles.

The electric-powered scooters are the latest ride share craze to take off, augmenting the familiar yellow city bikes run by HSL, which are part of the capital region’s public transport network during summer.

A new wave of scooters will arrive in May, as 300 more come to Vuosaari as part of HSL’s IdeaLab competition.

But with so many new scooters come some problems – criticisms heard in other cities too that they’re a public nuisance or can just be left abandoned in the street.

In Paris, authorities have launched a crackdown on electric scooter riders, with fines of €90 for riding on the pavement; and fines too for scooter companies if their vehicles aren’t left in designated spots.

File picture of Voi scooter, Helsinki April 2019 / Credit: Henryk Björkström

How Helsinki’s scooters work 

There’s two main scooter companies operating electric vehicles in Helsinki. The red scooters from Swedish start-up company Voi; and the green Tier scooters from Germany.

Voi arrived with 120 scooters in March, and already has more than half a million users in 14 cities. Tier came shortly after that and has users in 18 cities.

The two companies are very similar: both of their scooters are located and unlocked via an app; they can be picked up and dropped off anywhere; riders use them with a €1 fixed price opening charge. After the first minute, Tier is slightly cheaper than Voi per extra minute of usage time.

Voi scooter in Helsinki, April 2019 / Credit: Henryk Björkström

Environmental problems revealed 

While riding around on a rechargeable electric scooter might seem like a low-carbon way of navigating the city, it’s not so clear cut.

Voi’s CEO Fredrik Hjelm conceded in a recent Talouselämä article that the scooters might only last for a month, and don’t have removable batteries.

They’re essentially a disposable form of transport.

“The first batch of the scooters were ordered from Amazon, the online store, and were not meant to be used for frequent rentals” Hjelm told them newspaper.

And while Voi’s scooters are supposed to operate in Helsinki throughout the summer and autumn, with such a high burn-out rate it creates quite a lot of hazardous waste from batteries, as well as scrap metal.

File picture of Samocat scooter / Credit: Samocat

HSL’s new scooters addressing some of the problems 

The new Vuosaari scooters, where HSL has partnered with Russian company Samocat, attempt to redress many of the early problems that Voi and Tier have had.

There’s new docking stations for both regular and electric models; the cost is €0.50 for the first five minutes (€1 for five minutes on electric scooters); and riders use an app to locate and unlock them.

“You can drive with those at the end of this month, although I believe not all stations will be ready in the beginning of May” says HSL’s Tarja Jääskeläinen.

“In our system the user knows in advance where to find them and where they have to leave them [at the designated docking stations] so at least we don’t have similar problems like in other countries that scooters are left laying around wherever” she tells News Now Finland.

HSL’s pilot project in east Helsinki will demonstrate how durable the Samocat machines are. They also have their own ‘pit’ where the scooters can come for repairs.

Just like Helsinki’s city bikes it’s clear the scooters won’t last forever, but conducting regular maintenance on them should prolong their life and hopefully make them less disposable than the first generation of private ride share scooters on Helsinki’s streets.