At the start of the year, it looked like Europe would be in for a "Summer E-Scooters / E-Bike War," as both regional startups and U.S.-backed unicorns vied for the pockets of city commuters.
Consolidation came when German startup Circ was taken over by U.S. competitor Bird at the start of the year.
Still on the battlefield was U.S. company Lime (which was leading in most markets), Bird, Circ, Swedish startup Voi and German startup Tier. There was also Amsterdam-based Dott and Ford-owned Spin. Voi was in approximately 40 cities in Europe, Tier had expanded to roughly 56.
The approach of city authorities had been key to any growth. Marseille approved only Voi, Bird and Circ as operators. Copenhagen chose 10. So winning these licenses was absolutely the key to success.
City authorities wanted providers to be good partners, offering safety and good management. Parking spaces were also a bugbear.
Then came COVID-19.
E-scooter and e-bike companies have since lain fallow and unused as Europe has gone into lock-down.
But the firing-gun has been cocked for the potential restart of the wars, now that Spain and Italy have loosened-up their lockdowns.
One of the first out of the gate has been Helbiz, which today launches Helbiz Unlimited, a subscription service that allows users worldwide to take unlimited 30-minute trips on its e-bikes and e-scooters every month. The subscription renews every 30 days and will be offered indefinitely.
To boost its initiative, Helbiz has partnered with the Italian government’s COVID-19 Task Force.
Salvatore Palella, founder and CEO of Helbiz, said in a statement today: “More and more cities and municipalities are recognizing the benefits of micro-mobility solutions, and we’re continuing to work closely with these local government institutions to expand our sustainable fleets to meet the increasing demand.”
Helbiz is collaborating directly with Dr. Filomena Maggino, the head of the Control Room for Benessere Italia -- the movement for Italy’s post-virus reconstruction -- and the head of the Council of Ministers. She also leads the Mobility Delegation in the Task Force, responsible for how the country moves following this pandemic.
At €29.99 a month, Helbiz Unlimited will cost less than €1 a day and allows users to ride Helbiz's fleet of e-scooters or e-bikes for 30 minutes at a time. In Italy, the company currently operates a fleet of 6,000 e-scooters and e-bicycles in Milan, Turin, Verona and Rome. By next month, the fleet will be increased to more than 8,000 vehicles. In addition to operating across Italy, Helbiz Unlimited will also be offered in all of Helbiz's markets, which include Milan, Madrid, Belgrade, Washington, DC, Alexandria, Arlington and Miami.
Cities may look on e-mobility more favorably, post-COVID-19. They don’t cram people into public transport and are generally thought to be environmentally friendly.
While Helbiz isn’t about to take over from giants like Lime or Bird at this point, the move is simply a further indicator of how turbulent this market will be, especially in the pandemic era.