Bird’s Permit Win in Marseille Highlights France’s Evolving Approach to Scooters

The news came on October 7th.

After an intense application review process, Bird successfully secured one of only three coveted two-year permits to operate scooters in the sunny, French Mediterranean city of Marseille. 

With a population inching towards one million, the “Cité Phocéenne”, as it’s known colloquially, is the second largest city in France. This fact, coupled with its year-round riding climate, made it one of 2021’s most sought after micromobility permits alongside major global cities like New York. In total, nine scooter operators, including all of the industry’s largest global players, participated in the RFP.

However something was different this time. 

Marseille was an early adopter of micromobility and has offered shared scooters as part of its transportation network for several years. It was, in fact, the first major European city to complete a tender for shared scooter operations all the way back in 2019—even before Paris. 

In this sense, Marseille can be seen as something of a bellwether for micromobility in France, and the changes to its 2021 permit, championed by Mayor Benoît Payan and Deputy Mayor of Mobility Audrey Gatian, offer revealing insights into where the industry as a whole may be headed.

Evolution of Scooter Parking

The strong success of scooters in Marseille led to something of an existential question for local officials: what’s the best way to balance the constantly circulating flow of individuals and vehicles on city streets? 

“Our objective is very much to keep the sidewalk for pedestrians and to better organize scooter parking,” said Deputy Mayor Gatian in a September interview with BFM Marseille.

Bird became the first operator in Marseille to enact a solution that would help improve operational tidiness throughout the city. In July, our team took to the streets to speak with locals and better understand the most important areas for scooter parking. We then used this information to voluntarily implement mandatory “virtual parking zones” throughout the city—predefined, geofenced areas in which scooters had to be parked in order to end a ride.

Marseille’s new permit codified this solution. Bird’s detailed parking map helped inform the city’s installation of hundreds of clearly identified scooter parking zones, many of them away from the sidewalk in areas formerly reserved for a single car. These mandatory parking zones correspond exactly with the locations of the mandatory virtual parking zones programmed into operators’ apps. It’s a meaningful evolution that demonstrates how cities and operators can collaborate effectively to improve microbility services for everyone.

24-Hour Scooter Service Throughout the Entire City

Another significant change in Marseille is the availability of scooters 24 hours per day, with a service area that now covers the entire city.

“The objective is to allow scooters to remain accessible day and night, without hourly restrictions,” Deputy Mayor Gatian said in another interview, this time with 20 Minutes Marseille. “We know that our public transportation stops relatively early in the evenings. Clearly scooters don’t replace metros or tramways, but we’re offering a solution that can complement them.” 

This quote, along with the conscious decision by the city to pivot to uninterrupted operations and an enlarged service area, are significant. They speak to the complementary relationship between scooters and transit, as well as the very real benefits that micro-electric transportation like Bird brings to riders in Marseille and 25 other cities throughout France—part of our growing network of more than 350 partner cities worldwide. 

As more large French cities such as Bordeaux move to enact their first micromobility permits, and the capital city of Paris nears the end of its first two-year program, it’s likely Marseille’s evolving approach to scooters will have a ripple effect both throughout the country and perhaps even Europe as a whole.

One thing is for certain, however: shared micro-electric vehicles such as those offered by Bird have quickly become an integral part of transportation networks throughout this influential European nation. 

To learn more about Bird permit wins and the growth of micro-electric transportation around the world, subscribe to the Bird Cities Blog.