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Pony enters the e-scooter market with new ownership model

Illustration picture shows the various types of moped scooter sharing systems in Brussels (BELGA PHOTO ERIC LALMAND)
06:26 27/05/2021

In a market seemingly flooded with providers, it may not seem the best time to rollout a new e-scooter initiative in Brussels – but that is exactly what French company Pony is doing. The Angers-based business has launched its service in the Belgian capital just a few weeks after deploying a fleet of its e-scooters in Liège.

While the number of differently branded e-scooters scattered around the capital’s neighbourhoods suggests we are reaching a saturation point, Pony’s concept offers something unique: users can own a scooter themselves and share in the economic benefits with the provider.

For a sum of €1,090, people can buy a scooter emblazoned with the Pony brand name and become the sole owner. "They pay for it, and it belongs entirely to them," says Paul-Adrien Cormerais, the founder of Pony. "The owners can use it as they please and even store it in their garage if they wish."

But the owner also has the option to leave it on the street, allowing it to be used by others who hire it via an app in much the same way as most other e-scooter models. The owner of the scooter gets 50% of the final riding fee while the other half goes to Pony. Ownership also means that you do not have to pay the €1 unlocking fee on any other scooter you choose to use.

Evidence suggests that scooters come in for a hard time from some riders, with incidents of accidental damage and vandalism leading to mangled and out-of-service machines littering the streets. Pony believes that the model of private ownership can help reduce the abuse of its scooters. "This simple idea that I am no longer renting the scooter of a multinational but borrowing that of a neighbour, it really changes the behaviour of users,” says Cormerais. “For two years in several major French cities, we have found much lower levels of damage."

If any damage does occur during the first nine months of ownership, Pony provides an insurance policy and repair service to put things right. The company is in discussions with insurance brokers to extend the period of cover. “Incidents of theft and vandalism are fully covered for a period of nine months and we provide a permanent technical service," explains Cormerai. “It is true that after this period, there is always a chance the scooter gets stolen or broken. We are working with insurance companies to try to extend this period of coverage."

A fleet of 1,000 e-scooters will be available in Brussels and a further 150 will be deployed in Namur, despite the failure of other companies to successfully roll out their micro-mobility vehicles in the Walloon capital. High instances of vandalism have discouraged other providers from investing more in their schemes in Namur but the authorities there claim that a gradual change in attitude and behaviour regarding e-scooter usage could play into Pony’s favour.

"There have been unsuccessful experiments, it's true, but today we have evolved and learned lessons, both from the point of view of operators and public authorities,” said Stephanie Scailquin, the Namur councillor responsible for mobility. “We see that there is a real demand from the people of Namur. In this sense, we remain open to new cooperation."

Pony believes that its model will help it to succeed where others have failed.  "The whole sector has suffered from the parasitic logic of the big players in the market which is a consequence of their financing method," Paul-Adrien Cormerais says. "When you raise money with large investment funds, you will need to make a profit.

"To grow, you need users and to have users you must have more vehicles because people only download the app when they see these vehicles close to home. Over the last two years, we have seen a race to see who can throw the most scooters on to the streets. Obviously, because they are expensive, they bought the cheapest ones, and we ended up with low-end scooters, dumped all over the place in large quantities, without any correlation with the real needs of the citizens.

“On the contrary, our system provides local and on-demand financing, because the people who buy our vehicles at over 1000 euros are people who demand a quality of service, maintenance, lifespan and respect for public space. We have a way of managing our business that is structurally different because of our business model, which is much healthier and more sustainable."

Written by Nick Amies