With Charlotte Serres, general manger for France, Spain and Belgium

The Business of Mobility is a series of interviews with business leaders in sustainable mobility.

Voi, a Swedish startup, is one of Europe’s main micromobility operators. It serves 75 cities in 11 countries, boasting 6-million regular users. We spoke to Charlotte Serres, Voi’s general manager for France, Spain and Belgium. Charlotte was appointed to the position at the beginning of 2021. Before joining Voi, she spent three years heading up Uber’s safety and compliance for Latin America. Here she discusses the vision of Voi Technology: Cities Made for Living.

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Autonomy: What is Voi’s “Cities Made for Living” vision about?

Charlotte: We believe that e-scooters have an important role to play in making our cities more liveable, and in supporting the 15-minute-city, which is also a centrepiece of mayor Hidalgo’s plans for Paris. We want to return urban spaces to citizens. And for that we need to move away from a century-long planning bias toward private cars.

Autonomy: What are the challenges in doing so?

Charlotte: Micro mobility – particularly e-scooters – started off on the wrong note. There were concerns about safety, about docking and about vandalism. It’s damaging to our reputation when people see broken scooters littering the streets. And yet e-scooters are a key to sustainable mobility and liveable cities. They’re efficient, they’re safe, and they take up very little space.

Autonomy: Yes, a 20kg e-scooter to move a 70kg human seems more proportionate than 800kgs of car to move one person. How do you plan to convince the public that e-scooters are the way to go?

Charlotte: Yes, an e-scooter is already a big environmental improvement on a private car, but a shared e-scooter is even better, bringing down carbon emissions (scopes 1-3) to near zero; and allowing us to offer a climate-neutral service. Voi has three pillars to help position e-scooters as a key sustainability solution: 1. Continuous innovation to improve safety for users and non-users; 2 Education and training on the rules of the road and on the correct use of e-scooters; 3. Ongoing collaboration with local authorities and key players to improve our service.

Autonomy: What are your innovations around safety?

Charlotte: Since launching in 2018, we’ve had a number of innovations. In 2019 we launched Ride Like Voila, a virtual traffic school. In 2020 we introduced “Beginner Mode” on our app, to limit speeds for the first 10 rides, when users are most at risk. We have various other app features that improve safety, including “Reaction Test”, requiring users to prove their sobriety, specifically at night.

Our Voiager 3 model introduced a range of new safety features, including larger wheels and better hydraulics. Our Voiager 4 takes things further, with antibacterial handlebars and turn indicators for even greater safety. And then we’ve done a lot in developing a safety culture. We have a Safety Advisory Council, made up of external road safety experts, from whom we derive valuable advice. Our Safety Task Force, that I am a member of, is an internal department, with cross-cutting powers to improve safety.

Autonomy: Are e-scooters really that dangerous?

Charlotte: Our safety statistics (see Voi’s Safety Report) show that in the first four months of 2021 our e-scooters were involved in no fatal crashes. And only 0.0007% of all rides resulted in a crash causing severe injury. But one accident is too many; like many of our city partners, we have a Vision Zero target, that by 2030 we eliminate all severe injuries and fatalities.

Autonomy: That’s an ambitious goal. How do you plan to get there?

Charlotte: We’ve identified the risky aspects of e-scooter use. For example, debut riders account for 16% of all accidents; and 34% of all accidents happen after sunset, when riders and other road-users are more likely to be under the influence of intoxicants and visibility is reduced.

Autonomy: But what’s the most dangerous thing about an e-scooter?

Charlotte: Motor vehicles are the biggest danger. According to the International Transport Federation over 80% of fatal accidents to cyclists and e-scooter riders are caused by collisions with heavy motor vehicles. What’s more, the figures suggest that car and motorcycle usage is significantly riskier than bikes or e-scooters.

Autonomy: Surely micro mobility lanes are the answer?

Charlotte: Yes, dedicated lanes and proper road infrastructure are very important for improving safety. Which suggests that some risk aspects are beyond our control and ultimately depend on city infrastructure. But we can play our part by ensuring our users drive sober, with a helmet, avoid pavements, park in designated areas and stick to the rules of the road.

Autonomy: You’ll be sharing some of your ideas at our Autonomy Paris trades show?

Charlotte: Yes, I’ll be giving the keynote (16 March, 12:00 to 12:20) Urban space and sharing e-scooters, where I’ll talk about some interesting results from Bordeaux and Marseille, where we activated two app features: the “Parking Picture” (to improve compliance for e-scooter parking) and the “Reaction Test” (to limit drunk riding). And we also have a simulator (V-trott) which attendees can try out to test their e-scooter skills.

Autonomy: We look forward to seeing you there. Any parting thoughts?

Charlotte: We are dedicated to collaborating with city authorities, MaaS (mobility as a service) platforms, academic institutions and indeed all transport players to meet our vision of cities made for living; where private cars take a back-seat to safe, fun, emission-free travel.