Paradise for some, hell for others – Tel Aviv’s electric scooter craze
By David E. Kaplan
You cannot escape them!
Walk down any street in Tel Aviv, and you’re most likely to be overtaken – not to mention overrun – by electric scooters. For many pedestrians – from young parents pushing prams to seniors strolling with extra care – a common opinionated exclamation:
“They’re a menace!”
Some may animatedly add an expletive before the word: “MENACE”!
Not so, says Yair who the writer briefly interviewed at a traffic light along Tel Aviv’s famed Dizengoff Street. “It’s a pain taking the car, getting stuck in traffic and then hassling to find parking; you can waste half your day!”
Adjacent to him on her scooter was his wife, Lucy, appearing notably pregnant.
Facing the reality that soon there will be three in the family, “I suspect this might all change very soon,” said Lucy with an all-knowing maternal smile.
For the most part, residents in Tel Aviv, are embracing electric scooters and their smart-phone rental systems, using them to zip along avoiding the heavy traffic. Tourists are catching on too.
“Julie, where have I caught you,” I asked my friend visiting from abroad. “On the way to the beach on a hired electric scooter,” she replied.
A few years ago, I would have been surprised – maybe even shocked.
It’s a lot quicker and cheaper than the alternatives such as a bus or taxi. “It’s so convenient and accessible” all users agree. The app on the phone informs where the nearest available scooter is located.
“It’s so easy; I go to the beach, I stop there, I use the app and that’s all. Also, its fun.”
Tel Aviv lends itself to this trend.
Tel Aviv had already adjusted to the two-wheel trend building bike lanes all around the city. The city has approximately 70km of marked bike lanes. Some of them are on sidewalks in the city and some are outside the city center, in the neighborhoods and parks.
The sunny weather, flat landscape and constant traffic jams make the scooters an appealing option.
There are now around 7,500 electric scooters available, in addition to the thousands of bicycles and electric bikes already on the streets.
Doing It My Way
The industrial designer who started it all is Nimrod Sapir, responsible for Inokim, the lightweight, folding electric scooter brand that’s taken Tel Aviv, and much of Israel, by storm. In Japanese “Inokim” means “speed” and Sapir is a guy on the move – and in a hurry!
As he told ISRAEL21c “I’m always cycling, rollerblading, roller-skating. It’s a personal thing for me; I always want to get to places quickly.”
Turned-on by the electric scooter way back in 1999, “still with the old batteries and antiquated motors,” he became hell-bent on creating a better product, and launched his first electric scooter in 2011 under the brand name MyWay. This was before moving on to partner with Israeli entrepreneur Kfir Ben Shushan in 2014, changing the brand name to Inokim and driving up sales.
Today, the folding e-scooter is shaping the future of urban transport.
The two other main brands currently operating in Tel Aviv are US Bird and German Wind.
Bird recently announced that about 250,000 people have used its app-based, dockless e-scooter-sharing service in Tel Aviv for more than two million rides since August 2018.
Bird Israel general manager Yaniv Rivlin says, “Israel was selected by the company’s managers as one of the first targets for expansion outside the US.”
Ben Shuhan is not deterred by the many competitors in the market. “Demand is much higher than supply, and we think it will increase. This is a supplementary transportation solution that more and more people are adopting. Today, the problem is finding an available or charged e-scooter for riding, especially near the railway stations, which are the places with the highest demand. Among the competition, it’s hard to find an e-scooter fit to ride in the afternoon. There’s room for more players.”
Why have electric scooters become so popular?
Sapir emphasizes “You need no skills – it’s easy to use, easy to ride, easy to get from place to place.”
This is why, he contends that scooters are still leading over other electric mobility options such as electric bikes and hoverboards.
Furthermore, “None of them are as safe as an electric scooter, where you hold a bar in your hands. That gives you a very great feeling of comfort and safety.”
Solution Not The Problem
Asked by, Globes that with Israeli sidewalks becoming increasingly crowded, whether the trend is sustainable in the long term, Ben Shushan replied:
“We’re trying to form as many partnerships as we can with several mayors. The municipalities can also profit and realize that we’re the solution, not the problem. In any case, we’ll work strictly according to regulations, so we also reached agreements with 500 businesses, including 150 parking lots in Tel Aviv, that we can use as stations for renting if we can’t leave them spread around the public space.”
To the question whether renting detracts from marketing e-scooters for sale, Ben Shushan, replied not at all.
“Since our competitors entered the market, our sales have grown by 30%. Awareness of e-scooters has only increased. Here, too, it’s a win-win situation for us.”
“We want to be in every big city in the world, focusing on businesspeople for transportation in downtown areas. You can carry it with you on the train or bus, or you can put it in your trunk and park your car outside the city for far less.”
Designed in Israel, Inokim electric scooters, are sold in 15 countries as a smart green solution for mobility in large cities.
Sapir has won several industry awards as the first electric scooter designer to overcome the tradeoff between performance and weight: Inokim scooters are not only attractive and robust but also quick-folding and lightweight.
“That’s why we stand out,” he told ISRAEL21c.
Apart from the three obvious factors for the electric scooter’s popularity in Tel Aviv:
- easy parking
- quick arrival at destination
- ideal climate
Sapir adds that the electric scooter is a perfect fit with the Israeli mindset. “Israelis are lazy about walking, always in a hurry and always trying to do too many things at the same time” – the ideal
candidate. And then, when you further add to this cauldron of personality traits that “Israelis are also very fast to adopt technologies or new trends,” it goes a long way to explain why electric scooters are so prominent on the country’s urban roads.
Its impact on city life is immense, Sapir notes.
“First of all,” he says, “I’d like to think it is reducing the four-wheeled cars in the city, and I believe it has. You can imagine that all the users of these electric scooters gave up other ways of transportation.”
Secondly, he’d like to believe that some people have even given up their private cars thanks to the scooters, “which they can easily fold up and carry on the train or bus and take to the office.”
The popularity, he contends, leads to the third observation, and that is the age ranges of users.
“Before, I would say it was 30 to 45, but now there’s no limit,” he says.
“Young people use it; old people use it — there’s really no limit.”
What’s the inventors favorite scooter route in the city?
“The tayelet from Tel Aviv Port to Jaffa. I always take my visitors there,” he says, referring to the city’s seaside promenade.
“It’s very unique,” he adds. “You have the city on your left and the beach on your right.”
In The Family Way
At a beachside restaurant, the writer coincidentally bumps into again Yair and Lucy enjoying a lavish lunch. Beside their table laden with food are parked unobtrusively their two electric scooters.
Methinks in a few months’ time, when they may be back at the restaurant, adjacent to the table will be in place of the two scooters – one baby pram!