London’s E-Scooters, Cornwall and Red Phone Boxes

The latest news from the world of EVs

Hello and welcome back to The Fast Charge, the electric motoring newsletter. 

Bumper edition today, lots to read. In short: phone boxes, escorts, charging points, Tesla, a German man and Cornwall.

Plus… given e-scooters finally launched in London yesterday, I have tried out and reviewed each one in a long-read 🛴

Do drop me an email at tomrileylondon@gmail.com if you have any feedback, questions or comments.

In the news…

GRAND DESIGNS: The greatest news I’ve read this week is that the Department for Transport is going to offer £200,000 to a team who can create an “iconic, functional public electric vehicle charge point”. This is because most, apparently, see them as eyesores. Sir John Hayes, a former Transport Minister, suggested the new charging point designs should be like the famous red phone boxes. Which presumably means they should be broken, smell of urine and advertise local escort services. Apparently, the project will advertise from early August. I for one am going to get sketching some ideas! Read more.

TALKING HEADS: In case you hadn’t seen someone mention, it’s the G7 this weekend. The event is the first time major world leaders have got together for a bash in nearly two years. The meeting is taking place in Cornwall at the waterside Cabris Bay Hotel. It’s a beautiful location nestled right next to St Ives. The leaders are expected to discuss shared values, prosperity, a green recovery and guarding against future pandemics. I’m waiting to see what cars people arrive in. Will it be the petrol beasts (like the PM’s Jaguar XJ Sentinel) or are they going to be electric (the UK government owns a number of Jaguar I-Paces). 

SITTING ON A GOLD MINE: Speaking of Cornwall, there was an interview in The Times over the weekend with Jeremy Wrathall, the founder and chief executive of Cornish Lithium. The company is currently testing and working out how to extract the hordes of valuable lithium from Cornwall’s hard rock and ‘geothermal’ waters. If they do figure it out, the company will likely explode in value. Lithium demand is only going up as the race around the world is on for electric vehicles. Alongside testing, Cornish Lithium has now bought up around 600 square kms of mining rights in the region. The company is looking at listing on the stock market next year. Read it here.

E-ITALY: Fiat announced this week that it is going fully electric by 2030. They are the latest car marker to make this commitment. Fiat has already started with their line-up switch, at the moment a lot of promotion is being done for the Fiat 500e. It’s pretty cheap on a lease and is extremely attractive. Though, with 100 miles of range for the smallest battery model, that might turn some off.

THREE’S A CHARM: The Tesla Model 3 is now the most popular all-electric car in Britain. According to new analysis, there are a whopping 39,900 of the Musk-mobiles on UK roads. Previously the record was held by the Nissan Leaf which has 38,900. This means the Model 3 now has captured about 18% of the market. 

BUT! I wouldn’t be so sure Tesla will stay in that position too long. Their success may be their own downfall as more and more establishment manufacturers shift into electric vehicles. The main competitor is Volkswagen who are really starting to pull their finger out. The German carmaker’s CEO, Herbert Diess, was interviewed by The Sunday Times over the weekend about its $80 billion plan to leave behind internal combustion engines. He said on beating Tesla: “It’s an open race. We’re pushing.” And he has much firepower to back his claims. VW has huge manufacturing and delivery capacity meanwhile Tesla still only delivers to the UK every 3 months or so. Apparently, VW plans to make a million fully electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles this year, before going electric-only. Read the full interview (you might need a subscription).

HOWEVER… While I have no doubt VW is going to smash Tesla, I’m not really sure they care. Tesla is a bit more like Apple, and VW is a lot more like Microsoft or IBM. Tesla is redesigning what it means to own and use a car, whereas VW and others are trying to do economics. I think the difference between the two is best demonstrated by something Herbert Diess told the Sunday Times. Allegedly, when a software update for VW’s then-new electric ID.3 failed to download properly, he nearly lost his job. In comparison, when Elon has problems he just tweets about it then moves on. I guess that’s because he’s the ‘Technoking of Tesla’.

MINUS PLUS: Speaking of innovation versus economics. Elon announced this week that Tesla’s upcoming Plaid Model S Plus had been cancelled. The car model would have cost upwards of £130,000. The reason for the cancellation is that Tesla believes its original and upcoming Plaid Model S (no ‘plus’) is already “just so good.” It will cost a little less at £110,000 and be launched on 10 June. Now, can you imagine VW doing that?

Tried and tested - London’s New E-Scooters Reviewed 🛴

Across a number of London boroughs yesterday, three shared e-scooter companies (Dott, Tier and Lime) hit the roads for a 12-month trial.

Many e-scooter companies have been operating in the UK for the past year in various cities, but London has been the last one to start. In fact, it’s probably the last major city on Earth to try them out.

London’s transport authority (TFL) is an extremely cautious beast nowadays and it’s not just e-scooters that have been treated with suspicion. A few years ago when companies started dropping shareable bikes everywhere TFL soon ordered a putsch - now you only ever see the pinkish Uber/Lime bikes around.

The scooter launch day didn’t get off to a great start as one of the trial boroughs - City of London Corporation (the Square Mile) - pulled out at the last minute. Apparently, this was due to an administrative delay. They will rejoin the trial in early July.

No matter, nobody lives there anyway.

Given two of the participating boroughs - Kensington and Hammersmith - are right on my doorstep, I’d thought I’d test out the three companies who are looking to revolutionise travel across London.

Finding a scooter

To begin with, you have to find an e-scooter to ride. This means having to download the three separate apps for each company. This was simple enough, but in the morning I noticed, there weren’t any in my borough (Hammersmith and Fulham) on any app. This was strange seeing as in other participating boroughs you can see scooters available in set ‘parking bays’.

Likewise, on Tier’s app, it initially showed up lots of parking bays in the Hammersmith region, but these have since been deleted - which means if you did find a scooter you couldn’t park in Hammersmith. 

I checked online and I wasn’t the only person to notice this. According to a Tier employee, none of the scooter companies have been able to deploy in the borough because the council haven’t yet painted on the parking bays. Bless, they’ve only had months to prepare.

No matter, I picked up my bike and cycled over to neighbouring Kensington 

I ended up at Gloucester Road tube station where there were a dozen e-scooters in a set parking bay outside. All were neatly aligned and on stands. And to greet me there was a team from Dott.

Dott Review

To be honest, I had quite wanted to arrive, drive each e-scooter and come home. I didn’t really want to speak with anyone, so the fanfare from Dott was initially unwelcome. However, I’m extremely glad they were there.

I was immediately given a free 20-minute ride coupon and then a second one in case that ended. One of the girls also showed me how to use the app to get started. 

Now Dott, unlike Tier and Lime, will ask you to complete an ID check once the app is downloaded. This meant for me, it was simply a case of scanning the scooter's QR code, reading some brief T&Cs about not hitting any children and I was on my way.

You are meant to wear a helmet on these e-scooters but I didn’t. And I didn’t see anyone else with one on either.

The scooter itself is chunky. It’s a proper step-up to clamber onto the thing. And it’s got weight to match. As with all e-scooters, you have to push off (‘kick it’) before the accelerator works. Doing this each time you have to stop is quite a ball ache but I imagine with time it will come more naturally.

The acceleration of Dott’s scooter was quick. Almost instantly you hit the max 12.5mph - they are limited down from the normal 15.5mph in London - but I was able to reach the dizzy heights of 13-14mph anyway. And I know that because there’s a nice little LCD speedo on the handle.

Steering the Dott was very easy. Although, it took some time to get used to turning and accelerating with my eyes open. That’s not because I was scared of the scooter, but more because you have to use the roads or a cycle lane. And even on a bike using those can be perilous. For example, I had a huge van rear up alongside me before cutting my Dott off. If I was on a bike, I feel in the worst situation I'd get a bad knock. Being on the scooter felt more like an impending disability.

They looked good, though. I originally thought the bright blue colour of the Dott would be a bit ‘French’ but, actually, it was impeccably smart. It had a bell, working indicators, a fresh grip on the handles, a front light that was always on and the LCD was crisp.

Cruising down the road was extremely pleasant, especially on a hot day. When I took the Dott back I was actually a bit sad I had to try others.

Lime Review

The next scooter I planned to try was Lime’s. It’s a completely different design to Dott. Much lower to the floor and with bent backwards handles - as you’d find on a city bike. The actual ‘dashboard’ area is similar to the Uber/Lime e-bikes you find - so there is some familiarity.

However, unlike Dott, nobody from Lime was there to help. And trying to unlock the scooter was no short of a bloody nightmare. Like Dott, you have to scan a QR code. But then, Lime makes you complete a whole driving theory test. Plus, it’s not like it’s one or two questions, it goes on forever. The good thing is, if you hit the wrong answer, you can immediately have another go. There is no way to fail it.

Once I passed my theory test, Lime then asked me for an ID check. Unlike Dott which asked me for this immediately on download, Lime had not. I then spent an excruciating 5 minutes trying to photograph my ID as well as having to scan my face to match it. Not content with a simple selfie, when checking your identity Lime asks for a picture of ‘you with your teeth showing’ and also asks ‘that you take a photo with your eyes closed for 3 seconds’. It’s like Simon says!

And I must remind you, I had to do all of this in front of Dott’s launch team. In the end, my ID failed for some reason - despite numerous goes. So, as for the driving experience, I asked someone who had managed to get on. 

According to this chap I met, he felt Lime’s scooter felt a lot faster potentially because it was closer to the floor. He said you could really tell the difference in acceleration. Though, he didn’t sound too sure about the bendy handlebars.

As for looks, the scooter is bright (lime) green and white. In my mind, it isn’t as smart as Dott or Tier. The colours are just too harsh against a London backdrop. That matched with the lower ride makes it look childish. You certainly couldn’t arrive at a meeting on it. 

Lime’s scooter also has an indicator and front light. Plus a swappable battery sits against the handlebar - presumably a feature for users which will get rolled out later in the trial.

Tier Review

Quite frankly, I was embarrassed by not being able to get on a Lime scooter and having to take endless weird selfies. I therefore walked to South Kensington station where there was another parking bay.

The Tier scooter is nearly identical to Dott’s. I would assume it’s made in the same factory and the only difference is the branding. Like Dott, Tier’s scooter is a hunky piece of meat. It rides high up, has indicators, lights, an LCD screen and is coloured in a Fortnum and Mason turquoise.

But, unlike Dott, every Tier scooter I witnessed was dirty. At a guess, I’d say these scooters have been dropped into London from elsewhere. To me, it’s a bit lazy that no one had thought to scrape mud from where you stand or dried human juices from the handlebars - on your launch day!

Using the app was actually the easiest out of all three of the companies. It looked the clearest and I didn’t have any ID issues like with Lime. However, the ride itself was woeful. 

Perhaps further evidence nobody had tested these things, the scooter I tried only managed a top speed of 8mph. At one point I was literally overtaken by Jabba the Hutt on a mobility scooter. 

At that speed, I actually think this is more dangerous because your handling capacity is reduced - you have less control. It also meant I got charged more because I couldn’t travel as quickly. Not to mention everyone looked at me with the sort of eyes reserved for Audi owners.

Just like Lime’s scooter, Tier’s had a removable battery at the bottom of the handlebar. I tried pulling it out but couldn’t, so one assumes it’s a feature for later in the trial.

Conclusion

In short, at the moment these are just gimmicks. I think until they add more scooters and parking bays, they are pretty useless. They are also quite expensive compared to just buying your own, faster e-scooter online - especially as the police won’t stop you.

As for the best company. Despite Tier having the best app and the Lime scooters looking pretty speedy, I believe Dott wins launch day. 

Dott was the only one of the three that seemed to put in any real effort with customers. And it was also the cheapest - mainly because at the moment they are pretty much paying people to use them. Meanwhile, last night Lime charged me £5 for a scooter offence. Given I didn’t ride one, presumably that's to do with them being petulant.

By Tom Riley