All change for e-scooter fleet, as operator Voi is replaced

BRISTOL and South Gloucestershire’s e-scooter fleet will have a new look from later this year after a new operator takes it over.

The West of England Combined Authority has chosen German company Tier to replace current operator Voi, which has operated the scheme since it launched.

It means the distinctive pink fleet of e-scooters which has been seen on the streets – and parked on pavements – since 2020 will be replaced by 4,000 new green ‘WESTscoot’ e-scooters, 1,500 e-bikes and 20 electric cargo bikes that can be hired by businesses.

Voi has said it was “disappointing” to be leaving the region but made a statement indicating that changes to the new contract would have left it running “at a loss”.

Metro Mayor Dan Norris, who announced the change today, said the new operator would be fined if parking problems continue.

Mr Norris said the contract with Tier would bring in an estimated £9.7 million to the Weca region – Bristol, South Gloucestershire and Bath & North East Somerset – over four years, with the money ring-fenced for public transport.

He said clauses in the contract would address parking concerns and that 100 new e-scooter parking racks would be provided.

Voi e-scooters parked in Downend

Mr Norris said: “WESTscoot must build on the successes of e-scooters in our West of England region which has been one of the most successful trials anywhere in Europe.

“But it must also address the legitimate concerns residents often voice over poor and irresponsible e-scooter parking.

“Given our very ambitious West of England net-zero 2030 target, it is vital that these bright green electric WESTscoot, WESTbike and WESTcargo e-vehicles become a common and welcome sight across our region, for they are an important means to allow residents to reduce car use or give it up completely if they should so choose.”

He said stipulations written into the contract included “parking performance monitored on a monthly basis, with penalties on the operator if high standards aren’t met”.

They also include stricter requirements to keep vehicles parked tidily within designated bays and agreed numbers.

But Mr Norris, who previously threatened to strip Swedish firm Voi’s right to run the pilot project if it did not sever links to Moscow among its shareholders, has admitted that Tier also has ties to Vladimir Putin’s regime.

The new e-bikes

The firm had “significant funding” from venture firm RTP Global, founded by entrepreneur Leonid Boguslavsky, who “appears to be a former supervisory board member of a Russian majority state-owned banking and financial services company headquartered in Moscow, was listed in the 2018 US Treasury so-called ‘Putin list’ and indeed has been photographed with Mr Putin”.

Mr Norris said: “There has been a rigorous procurement process under current laws.

“I, of course, appreciate that in a global world, international companies have investment from far and wide.

“But I find it troubling that officials tell me we have to shrug this off and legally cannot delve into such ethical challenges.

“That’s why I wrote to the Prime Minister and Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy to say that given the current illegal and bloody Russian war in Ukraine, could the Government again look into contracts regulation.”

A spokesperson for RTP Global said in response: “RTP Global invests in early-stage startups in the US, Europe and Asia and has offices in New York, London, Paris, Dubai and Bangalore.

“RTP Global does not invest in Russia nor does it have offices in Russia.

“The capital for the firm’s funds derive from the reinvestment of its proceeds from previous investments; one in 10 companies the firm has previously invested in have become multi-billion dollar businesses and include tech companies such as Datadog, DeliveryHero, and Cred.

“The vast majority of the founder’s net worth was created from tech investments in US, Europe and Asia and RTP Global has never received an investment from a Russian institution.”

On the US Treasury list they said: “As confirmed by the US Department of Treasury itself, this is ‘not a sanctions list and the inclusion of individuals […] does not and in no way should be interpreted to impose sanctions on those individuals.’

“Leonid Boguslavsky is also not included in the “List of Oligarchs” who have ties with the Russian government.

“To draw up this list, Congress required the Secretary of the Treasury to designate individuals who qualify as ‘Russian oligarchs’.

“When creating the list, the qualification of ‘oligarch’ was defined as a person having an estimated net worth of $1billion or more.

“As a well-recognised investor in technology companies, and having featured in the annual Forbes’ billionaire list, Leonid was included in this list created by the US Treasury in 2018.

“Leonid does not have any ties with the Russian government and has never received an investment from a Russian institution.

“He holds Canadian citizenship and lives in Italy.”

It has been reported that Soviet-born Canadian Mr Boguslavsky has denounced the war in Ukraine.

Voi UK, Ireland and France general manager Jack Samler said: “We have worked tremendously hard over the last three years to make the West of England e-scooter trial the most successful in the country – and one of the largest in Europe.

“We are very proud of what we’ve achieved in Bristol and Bath and the legacy we’ve built.

“It is disappointing to be leaving these cities.

“There are several differences in the new contract compared to our existing contract, many of which will impact on our overall costs.

“At Voi, we believe schemes must be financially sustainable for operators to allow for continued investment in rider experience, safety and integration with other road users and pedestrians.

“This is critical for the industry long-term.

“We are not prepared to run any shared e-scooter trial at a loss.

“In regards to the new provider’s investors, that discussion belongs between that provider and the city.”

The new cargo bikes

Tier’s Northern Europe vice-president Fred Jones said: “I believe with WESTscoot, the West of England Mayoral Combined Authority is setting out an important example of how shared electric personal vehicles and existing public transport options can work together to reduce carbon emissions and congestion in our urban centres.

“The expansion of the service to include e-bikes and e-cargo bikes makes it easier for the people of the West of England to choose to leave their car at home and pick the perfect vehicle for their journey, whether that is commuting, going to see friends or even doing the weekly shop.

“We are proud to have been selected as the operator for this UK-leading flagship service and look forward to the full launch this autumn.”

Tier will take over from Voi this autumn.

By Adam Postans, Local Democracy Reporting Service