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An interview with French start-up Vianova founder Thibault Castagne

Reading Time: 4 minutes

Complaints about e-scooters blocking sidewalks, speeding through pedestrian zones, or landing in rivers are not diminishing. The French start-up Vianova is helping cities to stop the proliferation. And founder Thibault Castagne says: “The German administration itself is to blame for many of the problems.

Vianova is positioned as a neutral intermediary between e-scooter rental services and cities. It was Founded in Paris in 2019, the 20-employee start-up now works with 50 mobility providers and 35 city councils. Its first customers in Germany are Gelsenkirchen, Troisdorf, and Cologne.

The interview was conducted by Wirtschafts Woche and it is translated from German to English.

WirtschaftsWoche: Mr. Castagne, e-scooter rental companies have been active in Germany for more than two years – and there are still the same complaints about clogged sidewalks. Can this be avoided at all?

Thibault Castagne: Sure, you only have to take a look at other European countries. In the meantime, many cities are succeeding very well in setting limits for providers. The big chaos only exists in Germany. The core problem is that providers are allowed to do whatever they want. On top of that, often no one in the administration feels responsible for the issue.

How are cities outside Germany getting to grips with the parking problem?

In Stockholm, for example, there was the same discussion as in Germany. Then they set up dedicated parking areas for e-scooters and the operators incentivize their customers to use them. In Paris, it has even been banned to park the scooters on sidewalks. More than 2000 car parking spaces have been reallocated here to park the vehicles.

Doesn’t something like that give a huge outcry?

‘It’s clear to everyone that public space needs to be redistributed. The trend away from car-centric cities is unstoppable. Everywhere, more and more space is being given to cyclists and pedestrians. On the one hand, attitudes have changed. On the other, it’s also a question of technology: Administrations now have the chance to organize mobility based on data analyses – and as a result, to create greener and more livable cities.

How do you contribute to this?

We bring cities and operators together on a neutral platform that benefits both sides. Municipalities get a tool at their fingertips that they can use to define rules for providers. On the map, for example, they can define no-parking zones and speed limits. It’s also possible to set the total number of e-scooters in a given area – and notify operators of violations. The whole thing immediately ends up with the operators via interfaces. Their customers then see the parking bans in the app and the e-scooters are automatically throttled in the specified areas.

And the providers are getting on board with this?

Meanwhile, the e-scooter companies themselves are even calling for more regulation. They realize that the constant complaints in the media and social networks are not good for the image. And when it comes to bans, they realize that this is ultimately more harmful to a business than implementing a parking ban. What’s more, competition is still enormous. That’s why providers don’t mind if cities limit the number of operators.

Couldn’t cities and companies agree on such rules directly among themselves?

They can. However, as an independent trustee, we can guarantee that the data does not fall into the wrong hands. It’s also much easier for providers to negotiate everything legal with us once and create IT integration, rather than having to do this with all the cities every time. For municipalities, the big added value is that they can set up rules for all providers in the city from one interface. And we aggregate the mobility data to enable analytics for transport infrastructure improvement.

Can you give an example of this?

Based on the aggregated data of the micromobility providers, it is possible to see which routes are particularly frequently covered by e-scooters or rental bikes. This shows where the demand for bike lanes is high. Brussels, for example, used the information to install 14 kilometers of new bike lanes during the Corona pandemic last year. The effect has been enormous: five times as many people now ride bikes or e-scooters on the routes.

But do cities even have experts to conclude all this data?

Every city needs a multimodality manager. Most of the administrations we work with don’t immediately create a new full-time job. Usually, someone takes on the tasks in addition to their jobs. That’s still better than simply not taking care of it at all. We are also increasingly working with consulting companies that help cities with strategic issues.

The public sector is a difficult field for startups. And municipalities often have little financial leeway. How do you still plan to get your foot in the door?

That, too, is a phenomenon that is very German. I find it absurd that in Europe’s strongest economy, of all places, there should be no money for innovations. We work with a freemium model. That means there is a free version that gives cities an overview. A fee is charged if the platform is also used to set up and enforce rules. But we don’t just earn money with cities. Our customers also include transportation companies and e-scooter rental companies. They use our platform to optimize the utilization of their fleet and position their vehicles optimally.

Isn’t there a risk that e-scooters will disappear in a few years just as quickly as they arrived?

I don’t see that danger. The services are being actively used. In many cities, the operators are now making a profit – it’s no longer a subsidy business. But other mobility services will certainly be added. We are already working not only with e-scooter start-ups, but also with bicycle rental companies, e-moped fleet operators, and ride-sharing services.

Source: WiWO

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