Voi hires former Bird UK chief to bring e-scooters to British streets

With the U.K. government set to accelerate trials of e-scooter rentals in a bid to reduce crowding on public transport and support social distancing during the coronavirus crisis, Europe’s e-scooter companies are gearing up to be ready.

The latest move sees Sweden-headquartered Voi Technology recruit Richard Corbett to head up its U.K., Ireland and Benelux operations. Corbett joins from rival Bird, where he spent two years as the U.S. company’s U.K. and Ireland chief, as well as helping to launch e-scooter rentals in Netherlands.

This side of the pond, Corbett was best known for launching e-scooters on private land at Queen Elizabeth Park in East London, which was a major site for the London 2012 Summer Olympics. It has since become home to a ‘tech hub’, housing a number of tech and media-focused businesses and related organisations, along with co-working spaces, a large conference space, and various Olympic-standard sports facilities.

“Richard Corbett joins Voi immediately as head of the Swedish company’s UK, Ireland and Benelux operations, as the UK government prepares to change the law to finally allow e-scooters to be ridden on roads and cyclepaths,” explains Voi, adding that he’ll be responsible for leading Voi’s push into the UK, where it expects to see at least 50,000 rides per day by the end of 2020 in London.

Explains Fredrik Hjelm, CEO and co-founder of Voi Technology, in a statement: “Out of this terrible pandemic, there is an opportunity to reinvent the way that we travel around cities so that we can cut congestion and pollution for good. Now more than ever a collaborative approach to mobility is needed and we need to make sure that there are good non-polluting options available, that suit all abilities and pockets. There is a huge unmet demand for e-scooters in U.K. towns and cities and Voi will work closely with local authorities and other transport operators to provide new mobility choices”.

Out of genuine curiosity, I asked Corbett what he has been doing over the last two years, considering how limited Bird’s U.K. launch was.

“The Olympic Park was the UK’s very first ‘e-scooter showroom’, where stakeholders across no. 10, DfT, DEFRA, DHSC, cities, transport authorities and transport groups could test ride an e-scooter and develop an informed opinion about this new mode of transport,” he told me. “This trial was essential to get us to where we are today”.

To that end, one of Corbett’s first tasks is to continue building out the U.K. team, and working closely with U.K. local authorities and transport operators to bring e-scooter rentals to the U.K. cities that could benefit most.

“I’m really proud to have been part of the team who led the conversations to make e-scooters a priority and I firmly believe that they will be a solution to the U.K.’s pollution and transport issues, not just a fun way to get around,” he says. “I’m also really excited to be getting back to this campaign and in particular with Voi, which is a European company which really understands how people move around older cities like London. We share the same values and are passionate about creating better cities for people to live in.”

Meanwhile, it has been a challenging time for Voi, along with other e-scooter rental companies, including Lime, Bird, Tier and others, as many countries entered lockdown and demand for scooter rides plummeted. This forced Voi to pause operations in the majority of cities it operates in, with only a handful of its largest cities being serviced.

Since then, lockdowns across Europe have started to lift, and Voi says it has been putting more e-scooters back on the streets of various European cities, including in France and Germany. Throughout the pandemic, it also maintained service in key cities in Sweden, Norway and Denmark, in part to help key workers get around and to assist charities supporting people during the on-going crisis.