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Europe’s $1.9 billion ride-hailing unicorn Bolt rolls out electric bikes after Uber flames out of the market

Europe’s $1.9 billion ride-hailing unicorn Bolt rolls out electric bikes after Uber flames out of the market

Markus Villig Taxify

European ride-hailing startup Bolt is rolling out its first electric bike hire scheme in Paris, coinciding with rival Uber’s retreat from bikes and scooters.

Users in the French capital will be able to locate dockless Bolt bikes for hire through its app, unlock one with a QR code and then begin a ride. The bike won’t cost anything to unlock, and will cost 10 European cents per minute of hire.

Bolt was founded in 2013 in Estonia, and has grown to become a unicorn startup worth $1.9 billion after a May funding round. The company says it has grown to 30 million users across 35 markets.

The company offers similar services to rival Uber through the Bolt app, and initially grew by targeting smaller European markets and Africa. It has expanded over the years beyond ride-hailing into scooter rental, food delivery, and now electric bikes.

Bolt’s first e-bike launch follows Uber’s effective withdrawal from the electric bike-sharing market.

Uber invested in mobility service Lime in May, offloading its own bike and scooter arm, Jump, as part of the deal.

The changeover caused some public dismay after footage emerged of some remaining Jump bicycles getting pulped.

Asked if Bolt was capitalizing on Uber’s retreat, CEO Markus Villig told Business Insider that his firm had been monitoring bike-sharing for several years.

He said that when Bolt in 2017 won investment from China’s Didi Chuxing, a local ride-hailing giant that also runs a bike-sharing scheme, the Estonian startup began to look at burgeoning bike schemes such as Ofo and Mobike.

“We saw other bike-sharing companies just exploded in China,” he said. “We saw these bike-sharing programmes were at least as large as the ride-hailing industry.”

Villig felt, however, that bike-sharing wouldn’t necessarily succeed in Europe at the time. He was somewhat right — both Mobike and Ofo collapsed in Europe.

As for the Uber withdrawal, he said: “It’s a lucky coincidence. The lead time to order bikes is months, it’s not like we made this decision after we heard of Lime and Jump’s merger, but definitely this does give us a better opportunity. There’s a chance for us to do better and scale it meaningfully to more European cities.”

Bolt ebike electric bike

Bolt claims to be consistently cheaper than the competition, and has promised to continue undercutting its rivals in its quest for growth. For comparison Jump’s electric bikes, before the current pause, cost 1 euro to unlock and then 15 cents per minute of hire compared with Bolt’s launch price of 10 cents per minute.

For cities, the arrival of yet another mass bike-sharing scheme may be a mixed blessing.

Transport authorities across Europe have been inundated with scores of venture capital-backed startups — Bolt, Uber, Bird, Lime, Voi, Tier, among others — lobbying for their dockless scooters and bikes to be permitted on city streets.

While the promise is a greener form of transport than the car, the practical reality is that scooters and bikes can often litter the streets, end up in canals and rivers, or even be used as weapons during protests.

Cities may feel such irritations are a price worth paying during the COVID-19 pandemic. Governments are also looking for ways to enable people to move around cities again in ways that avoid increased car usage or public transport crowding, suggesting e-bike schemes may become a popular feature of pandemic life.

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