It’s proven to be yet another busy and bounteous summer in NovaUCD. The Belfield-based innovation hub has quickly gained recognition as a leading facility for transforming ideas into successful start-ups via its comprehensive business support programme. One of the latest in a string of exciting ventures to emerge is that of recent BComm graduates, Charlie Gleeson and Ian Kinsley (both Class of 2019). The duo were runners-up in the UCD “Start-up Stars Programme” and are currently taking part in NovaUCD’s Venture Launch Accelerator Programme.
Their startup, BLUE Scooters, will launch in 2020 and will be Ireland’s first dockless scooter rental service. The service aims to mitigate the impact of traffic congestion, whilst providing an environmentally friendly alternative to cars. BLUE will offer a quick, convenient way to travel around the city and will provide customers with a ‘last-mile’ solution to and from public transport links.
The inspiration for the idea was borne out of the pair’s personal frustration of inadequate public transport connections in Irish cities.
This appears to be a great idea that addresses a widely-experienced problem for Irish commuters. What’s more, growing numbers of commuters are using e-scooters for short distances to work. Indeed, more than 2,000 people are believed to glide around the streets of Dublin at present. However, the issue of regulatory concerns – under notable media scrutiny – is an obvious threat to this startup’s feasibility. Minister Shane Ross just warned that e-scooters remain illegal on public roads. A further legal vagary concerns the precise legal definition of e-scooters. Current legislation is ambiguous as to whether e-scooters constitute “mechanically propelled vehicles” (meaning they need to be taxed and insured) or “mechanically assisted vehicles” (classified the same as regular bicycles).
Recent developments have fallen in BLUE’s favour. The Department of Transport commissioned the RSA to carry out a safety review of e-scooters, focusing specifically on their use in other European countries. Thankfully for BLUE, their report card was clean and the RSA have now advised the Department of Transport to begin the process of legalising e-scooters. There is now an 8 week consultation period where the public can have their say on the topic. Gleeson affirms that “all arrows are pointing to legislation in 2020”.
Despite being a recent phenomenon, scooter-share services have been eminently successful where they have been established. The concept gained traction on the west coast of America in 2017 and expanded to over 100 cities within 12 months. However, many cities have experienced problems with ‘scooter littering’. The lack of regulation around e-scooters has led to scooters blocking up sidewalks and causing serious frustration. Thankfully, Dublin City Council will ensure a far more regulated market, limiting the number of scooter-share providers and the number of scooters per provider. This approach aligns with the Council’s stratagem regarding dockless bike companies in Dublin which has worked to great effect thus far. Gleeson outlines how BLUE will address the scooter-littering problem even further: “We will also have automated smart-locks on our scooters and will require them to be attached to bike racks. This technology will keep our streets clear.”
Tapping into the loyal customer base of dockless bike providers will prove difficult. Dublin Bikes have significantly improved transport in the city since their emergence. Nearly 17,000 avail of the service everyday, a marked rise from the approximate 4,500 daily users in 2010. Gleeson, however, feels that BLUE can offer a more comprehensive transportation solution. “Dublin Bikes is a solution to one side of a two-part problem… BLUE Scooters will not be limited to the city centre and will solve both the first and last mile problem.”
The plan is to launch in Dublin before expanding into other Irish cities. From there, the pair hope to grow further into European cities. Armed with a fantastic idea and a highly capable support team, BLUE looks to be scooting on good ground right now. However, given the nascent stage the industry currently finds itself in Ireland, a bumpy ride undoubtedly awaits. Then again, entrepreneurship isn’t supposed to be easy.
Neil Stokes – Business Writer