In the short space of eight months, EVieBikes have become a familiar fixture on Jersey’s roads. Neon yellow handlebars, a bright blue logo, these pay-as-you-go vehicles have been embraced by islanders during a year that has seen huge disruption to their daily lives.
With options for entertainment and exercise curtailed by lockdown, electric bikes have offered an opportunity to explore further, go faster, and enjoy the outdoors with ease, which explains their popularity not just in Jersey but around the world; sales of bikes have skyrocketed, leaving manufacturers struggling to keep up with demand.
But EVie’s success represents more than just a nice new hobby for bored islanders. It’s part of a global trend towards mobility as a service, and it lays the foundation in Jersey for paradigm shift in the way people move and get around.
Mobility as a service (MaaS) is predicted to become the next big chapter in transport. In fact, a study from Deloitte forecasts that the next 25 years will see a dramatic transformation in the mobility market, and it predicts that shared mobility will account for 80% of the mobility market by 2050. So what is MaaS?
If Netflix’s business model were applied to urban transportation, this is MaaS in a nutshell. At its core, MaaS relies on a digital platform that integrates end-to-end trip planning, booking and payment services across different modes of transport.
Whether private or public, pay-as-you-go or subscription, cities such as Paris, Eindhoven, Vienna, Hanover, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Denver, Singapore, and Barcelona have all piloted local MaaS schemes as they look to reduce carbon emissions and improve congestion. Now it’s Jersey’s turn.
‘I can see the potential for technology to change an industry’
EVie launched in January with 11 electric cars. In April, it rolled out 140 pay-as-you-go dockless electric bikes, as well as 50 electric ‘BlueBikes’, which are rented on a long term subscription basis. According to founder Gavin Breeze, the motivation to bring MaaS to Jersey was driven by a number of factors, not to mention good political timing.
In July 2019, the States passed a Climate Change Emergency which led to the publication of a Carbon Neutral Strategy and the Sustainable Transport Policy (STP). Green transport was having a moment the spotlight.
“The whole reason I’m doing this is because of something Phil Male, Chairman of JT said at a conference for Jersey Techweek two years ago. He was giving his opinion, as someone who’s not from Jersey, of what the island should do to improve and one of those things was turn Jersey into an all-electric island. I thought, that’s something I could help achieve”, said Gavin, who has founded and invested in a number of tech start-up companies, several of which have been listed on the Alternative Investments Market in London.
“I’m 60 next year and the fact is, I’m not ready to give up working and play golf all day. I needed one last project. I wanted to do something here in, and for, Jersey. I’ve worked in technology since the nineties, not because I can write code – I can’t – but I can see the potential for technology to change an industry”.
EVie operates in similar way to e-vehicle rental companies in major cities worldwide. Using an app, customers can locate and then hire an Evie vehicle on a pay-as-you-go, half day or day tariff. Users can pick up a car or bike and return it to any one of the parking locations shown on the app.
Jersey has a distinct advantage over other jurisdictions when it comes to electric vehicle usage, however. Whereas ‘range anxiety,’ a fear the vehicle will run out of battery, might concern users elsewhere, it’s not an issue on an island of nine by five miles. Even old electric cars, which have a range of around 90-130 miles, can navigate Jersey just fine.
But despite being a seemingly good fit for the island, getting the relevant organisations on board did required persuasion, Gavin said. And he’s not convinced the changes needed to make it happen would have materialised had the private sector not taken the lead.
“It was quite the process but once it became clear we weren’t going away, people started working with us positively. Now that people can understand – touch, feel, use – what mobility as a service is, we very much hope it gives people confidence to prioritise shared transport as a crucial weapon in the move towards the Jersey’s carbon neutral targets. Before we launched, shared transport wasn’t being considered here”.
Finding a better way to move
Getting the regulatory and technological infrastructure in place to support MaaS is only half the battle. The scheme won’t succeed unless it can attract users who are ready to progress beyond private cars to find a better way to move. Judging from the uptake, Jersey residents are ready for the change.
“People are more aware about the effects of pollution and sustainability, but the reality is that most people are interested in whether it’s affordable and easy to use.”
In its first year, EVie has attracted 1,300 members to its electric car share scheme and around 11,000 islanders have used an EVieBike since their launch. Over the three days of the early May Bank Holiday EVieBikers rode 12,000km – that’s the equivalent distance to New York and back – and that’s with zero input from the tourism sector.
“We had no idea who was going to use the service or how often, so it really was a case of wait and see. We now know that 140 bikes is not enough, so we’re hoping to stock up to 240 by next summer”, he said.
“I think Covid helped us launch: we got a lot of people using the bikes who would normally have been on holiday somewhere else but were instead looking for something to do to help with their physical and mental wellbeing. That said, like many others, we did miss the tourist trade. That’s one of our big priorities for next year. But, like everyone else, we have no idea what additional strain or demand there’ll be”.
Perhaps because of the pandemic, local interest in EVieBikes soared beyond what Gavin had anticipated. But the key to sustaining its popularity is to make it affordable, Gavin believes. Yes, consumer behaviour is changing, islanders are consciously making more eco-friendly choices, but price and convenience still remain the biggest considerations.
“People are more aware about the effects of pollution and sustainability, but the reality is that most people are interested in whether it’s affordable and easy to use. It’s a small island and it doesn’t take long to get from A to B, whatever mode of transport you choose, but if you can offer people affordability, convenience, and the feel-good factor, then you’re much more likely to succeed”.