Jean-Baptiste Hamonic is the Vice-President of Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines in charge of sustainable mobility.
When it comes to mobility, new environmental objectives pose a major challenge for peri-urban areas, where the personal car has long guided choices of urban planning and shaped the lifestyles of inhabitants. In recent years, flexible, efficient and attractive “micro” mobility devices and services have rapidly developed across the world, predominantly in dense urban centers, thanks to three factors: digital technology and innovation in electric charging; public policies aimed at a better share of public space; and the COVID-19 health crisis we are currently experiencing.
“Personal Light Electric Vehicles” – such as electronic kick scooters and other small electric vehicles – constitute new solutions that do better to address the diversity of mobility needs. They have also proven to be effective in addressing the problem of the first / last kilometer in combination with public transportation. However, although micro-mobility has contributed significantly to the transformation of the urban landscape, particularly in dense city centers, the peri-urban area is where the challenge remains.
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These territories are often caught in a dilemma – finding sustainable mobility solutions that ensure a quality public service to the greatest number of people versus consuming too many resources. To reduce the dependency on private car usage, mobility solutions have long remained limited in terms of operational and financial performance and flexibility for travellers in peri-urban areas. But the increase of solutions over the past ten years (shared mobility, electric mobility, micro-mobility, etc.) offers new perspectives to public actors.
The launch of a new service of shared e-scooters in SQY
Located about twenty-five kilometers from Paris, the agglomeration of Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines gathers 12 municipalities and has a population of 230,000 inhabitants. It is one of the main activity centers in the western part of Ile de France (Paris Region), with more than 145,000 jobs. As a “Place of Innovation”, SQY has embarked on an ambitious strategy aimed at increasing and diversifying the range of mobility services for its inhabitants and work force, thereby maintaining the attractiveness of the area.
Following the guidance of its Local Mobility Plan (LMP) adopted in 2014, which locally implements the regional objectives set by the Public Transport Authority, Ile de France Mobilités, SQY is building its action around 6 axes:
- Making public transport more attractive
- Promoting active travel modes
- Changing automobile traffic
- Setting up a parking policy at the agglomeration level
- Better organising the flow of goods
- Effective communication and information for all users
Some recent achievements in terms of mobility services in SQY include the complete restructuring of over 90 bus lines in the agglomeration, the creation of a bike rental and maintenance center and, since March 2021, the commissioning of the first 100% autonomous public transport line operated under the aegis of Ile de France Mobilités.
SQY has also focused substantial resources on investing in infrastructure through the setting up of dedicated bus lanes to improve punctuality, the renewal of strategic road infrastructure, and the development of bike lanes. In 2021, more than 420 km of cycling lanes exist in all 12 municipalities of the agglomeration, and an update of the bicycle master plan was recently adopted. Following these fundamental investments for the proper functioning of the SQY mobility system, the territory carried out several studies in order to complete its range of “door-to-door” services – namely through micro-mobility solutions. Many brainstorming sessions and analyses took place over the last 2 years before launching an e-scooter service. However, the quick evolution of the operating conditions of free-floating services in large metropolitan areas and the framework set by the new French law on mobility (LOM / December 2019) provided a strong foundation to get the program up on its feet.
SQY therefore decided in October 2020 to launch the first Call for Applications aimed at setting up a self-service e-scooter service in a peri-urban area, designed to serve the entire territory. The bid for service was initiated with an experimentation phase of one year, renewable for two additional years.
An experiment to improve our knowledge of mobility needs and to tackle the challenge
For SQY, the initial question dealt with the attractiveness of its bid in a territory so diverse in its morphology. From this point of view, six world leading operators of the sector submitted a tender – proof of the high level of interest in the bid. Many criteria were considered, ranging from the organisation of the offer, customer relations, safety, environmental responsibility and inter-modality. A German company – TIER Mobility – eventually won the bid.
SQY was particularly impressed by TIER’s organisation of the service and the technological and human resources deployed to ensure the performance of the offer in the field. To supervise the parking of the scooters, TIER Mobility provided a high precision technology validating the handing-over of the vehicles in the stations. Offering scooters fitted with new removable batteries, TIER also fulfilled all the obligations laid out in the revision of the French law on mobility. Regarding safety, the scooters are also equipped with helmets available free of charge and protected in a dedicated box, and full insurance coverage for all riders as well as third parties is included.
Another very important item for SQY is stated in its commitment chart: TIER agreed to share data with Ile-de-France Mobilités and SQY. This will specifically help to understand the needs not yet being addressed by public transport and how to improve the inter-modality between systems. Finally, the TIER Mobility also offered solid guarantees in terms of the sustainability of its operations as well as for its customer relations. For the latter, the company promoted a dedicated offer for people with reduced mobility. This was executed by partnering with a French start-up – OMNI. After 4 months of intensive work by SQY, its 12 municipalities and TIER Mobility, a self-service electric scooter offer was set up.
The deployment of more than 300 stations across the territory of SQY – the second largest inter-municipality offer in France after the metropolitan area of Grenoble – involves a great diversity of actors, including public and private. It creates a network that meets the mobility needs of different populations in the agglomeration. The work on establishing these services led to a better understanding of the complexities of what many now call “the battle of the sidewalk”, and how critical the control of data and information is as it relates to the management of public space. While the service has only been running for 2 months at the time of writing – the launch date was on May 7th, 2021 – the main challenge now stands ahead for TIER Mobility and the SQY territory: operating a steady, safe and reliable service while fostering user adoption.
There are still many open questions: what will be the usage rates of such a service in the territory? In which contexts, and by which type of users? What will be the consequences on the previously available transportation solutions such as public transport? What will be the impacts in terms of modal shift?
SQY will keep a close eye on TIER Mobility’s efforts in the promotion of business offers that support the positive transition of mobility habits for commuters – a key objective that the territory has maintained with the private companies located in the territory for over 10 years.
In addition, TIER Mobility also offers an innovative and collaborative vehicle battery charging service that could consolidate the efficiency of its operations while bringing new customers to shops and free rides to its clients.
The supervision of the service will be carried out in close collaboration with Ile de France Mobilités (IDFM) to study the alignment between this new local mobility offer and the services financed by the regional Public Transport Authority: it could then result in an amelioration of the service, including the number and location of the stations, proposing new fares to the operator, etc.
You can find Jean-Baptiste Hamonic on Twitter here.