Jason Iftakhar, co-founder of Swifty Scooters, tells green tech advisor Daniel Dickinson the story behind their innovative adult scooters and what the future holds for sustainable urban travel.
Based in Manchester, Swifty Scooters is one of GC Business Growth Hub’s biggest success stories. Starting out with the world’s first folding adult scooter, the fast-growing company now provides fleets to a growing number of businesses and offers a wide range of products aimed at fitness, urban travel, adventure and more.
Daniel: Where did the idea for Swifty Scooters come from?
Jason: My wife Camilla and I founded Swifty Scooters in 2011. Back in 2008 we were living in London and had reached the end of our tether with the daily cycling commute, following a number of near misses and injuries. We looked at scooters as an alternative form of active travel but were surprised to find that there wasn’t really a fit-for-purpose adult scooter available. So we set out to design one for ourselves.
We both come from a design background, having met while studying for a degree in Design Products at the Royal College of Arts. The plan was to combine my background in industrial product design with Camilla’s background in fashion to create a beautiful product that offered something new and exciting.
The resulting design for the world’s first and lightest folding adult scooter was well received, so we hand-built 25 in our workshop in Manchester. We sold them all and immediately got an order for 200 more, and so Swifty Scooters was born. Fast forward nine years and we now export to 64 countries, with 9.6 million miles of scooting under our belt!
What do scooters offer that bicycles don’t?
Cycling is great, but it’s not for everyone. Scooting offers a more leisurely experience that’s accessible to all abilities and is less stressful for those who might be a bit intimidated by the idea of cycling to work. Most of all, it’s just a fun way to travel. When you step onto one of our scooters, we want it to put a smile on your face.
Shared bike fleets are popping up everywhere. Can we expect the same thing with scooters?
In the last 18-24 months the market for ‘micro mobility’ in cities has exploded, having started in the US and then spread into Europe and Asia. Electric scooters that can be rented by the mile are now a common sight in lots of European cities, just like the dockless bike fleets that have popped up in the UK. But we believe there’s a better way.
The e-scooters like the ones you see in Europe are currently illegal here. There are legitimate safety concerns around high-powered, small-wheeled vehicles in confined urban environments, which is why we designed our scooters with bigger wheels and bicycle-grade tyres to overcome obstacles like potholes. We’re currently consulting with government to design a gold standard for scooting here in the UK, and just this month we hosted a special event in London to demonstrate how we’re setting the bar for safety.
More fundamentally, we don’t believe a free-floating system of shared bikes and scooters works – just look at what happened with Mobike here in Manchester. As human beings, we work better in smaller groups, so our model is based around responsible ownership; focusing on smaller, privately-owned fleets that can be shared within a single business, office building or community. I strongly believe that’s where shared transport is headed – people are cottoning on to the fact that renting rather than owning actually costs you more in the long-run, and what people really want is a quality product that will last for years.
So what are the benefits of owning a scooter fleet?
Business fleets are a rapidly growing market for us – we now have five fleet operators in Manchester alone. The first was Windmill Green, one of the city’s most sustainable office buildings. Co-branded scooters are freely available to the building’s residents as and when they need them, and workers can even borrow them over the weekend.
Scooting is an enjoyable and healthy way to travel, which translates into higher productivity, fewer sick days and a raft of other wellbeing benefits. Supporting active travel also demonstrates a commitment to sustainability, which brings its own benefits in terms of corporate reputation and competitiveness. With the support of the Business Growth Hub, we’re currently developing a set of carbon metrics so that our fleet clients can accurately measure their contribution to tackling climate change.
But the advantages don’t stop there. One of our clients now pays their staff per mile for scooting because it saves them money on car mileage and parking. For some buildings in the city, the value of a parking space can be tens of thousands of pounds – it makes much more sense to reduce the number of parking spaces we need and put all that wasted space to better use.
What do you think urban travel will look like in future, and where do scooters fit in?
Through transport we have a chance to really put Greater Manchester on the map when it comes to tackling some of the global challenges we face, whether that’s climate change, air pollution or physical and mental health. Electric vehicles and public transport obviously have a huge role to play, but they’re not sufficient in and of themselves. Electric cars won’t help to reduce congestion, for example, and even the most extensive public transport network can’t get you to every single destination. The more choice we can offer people for completing the final stages of their journey, the better. That’s where scooting comes in.
One area where I expect to see a lot of change in the near future is transport for delivery. Online shopping is putting a huge number of delivery vehicles on our roads, and electric models aren’t being brought to market quick enough. I think we’ll see more urban delivery solutions coming onto the scene in various sizes and ranges, which will open up some interesting opportunities for the micro mobility industry.
Do you have anything exciting lined up in the near future?
We’re working on several exciting new developments, including a range of sports apparel and a new e-scooter which we believe will radically reset the industry. We’re also working with experts at the University of Manchester to develop an ultra-light carbon fibre frame enhanced with graphene. Watch this space!
This article originally appeared on http://www.greenintelligence.org.uk/article/mobility-city-conversation-swifty-scooters