Fleet Optimization

Free-floating vs. hubs: which parking system is best for your micromobility fleet?

When launching a new shared micromobility system, one of the key decisions you have to make is how parking will work.

Danilo Cataneo
21 Dec

When launching a new shared micromobility system, one of the key decisions you have to make is how parking will work. The choice you make will impact everything from battery charging to your business model, so it’s important to take some time thinking about this.

Here are your options:

  • 100% free-floating with in-field battery swapping
  • Parking hubs with battery swapping
  • Charging hubs
  • A combination of free-floating and hubs

With the right approach, any of these models have the potential to support a large-scale light electric vehicle sharing system. But each option is better suited to certain cities and situations, so you need to have a good understanding of the pros and cons of different parking systems when it comes to choosing one.

Let’s take a look at the differences between free-floating and hub parking. At the end, we’ll give our recommendation based on our experience launching and growing shared micromobility fleets.

→ For help deciding which e-vehicles to use in your fleet, check out our article on e-mopeds vs. e-bikes.

Free-floating with in-field battery swapping

Free-floating parking is the most common form of operating for electric vehicle fleets, partly because it’s very quick and straightforward to set up. Riders can simply park their vehicles anywhere in the city, as long as it’s within the operating area you have defined. No specific parking space or additional infrastructure is needed.

An ECooltra moped that works with free-floating parking in Barcelona. (Source: ElectricFeel)

To recharge vehicle batteries, a team of battery swappers drives through the city exchanging empty batteries for fully charged ones. They take the empty batteries to a centralized charging facility, or one of several. With the right software, you can optimize this process until it runs very smoothly — ElectricFeel’s platform includes a mobile app for your in-field service team to coordinate and prioritize battery swapping in the field.

Some micromobility service providers pay riders — or ‘juicers’ — to charge vehicles themselves, avoiding having to hire a service team. For safety reasons, we really don’t recommend this. Battery swapping and charging is best left to qualified, trained personnel. If you partner with ElectricFeel, we’d be happy to train your team if needed. As they say, ‘safety first.’

Pros of free-floating systems

  • Most convenient experience for your riders, as they have complete freedom over where they can park vehicles.
  • Fastest and easiest to launch — no infrastructure needs to be built across the city.
  • Centralized charging tends to be safer and cheaper than alternative charging models.

Challenges of free-floating systems

  • Driving though the city to replace batteries takes time, people, and resources.
  • Battery swapping requires at least 30% more batteries than vehicles, so there are batteries being charged and transported at all times (this applies to both free-floating and hub-based systems with battery swapping).
  • Vehicles can end up being parked in bad or illegal places by riders.

That last point is particularly important. If this keeps happening, city authorities will issue fines and start to push back on free-floating parking. The good news is that with smart technology, you can minimize cases of bad parking and proactively cooperate with city authorities.

ElectricFeel’s software lets you easily set up no-park zones, and also request a photo of a rider’s parked vehicle in-app when they end their ride. This reminds them to park well, and means you can hold them responsible if they don’t.

Parking hubs with battery swapping & charging hubs

The idea of building parking hubs across a city might initially seem more daunting and less user-friendly than simply letting people park where they want. However, city authorities around the world are losing patience with electric vehicles being left where they shouldn’t be. Hubs are a smart way to solve this problem.

There are two types of hubs your system can use — parking hubs and charging hubs. Parking hubs are specifically designated points where people can park their vehicle. They can be set up in places that authorities agree to, and placed strategically to make battery swapping trips more efficient.

By partnering with local businesses, you can also set up hubs on private ground. This is a great business opportunity for micromobility operators to add a new revenue stream by closing contracts with supermarkets, parking lots, or gas stations.

The great thing about parking hubs is that they don’t have to require much infrastructure at all. With software like ElectricFeel, you can set them up as GPS locations on your app’s map. This lets you easily experiment to find the best spots for hubs — more on that later.

Parking hub setup with ElectricFeel’s software — no costly infrastructure required. (Source: Pick-e-Bike)

Charging hubs are exactly what they sound like — fixed parking stations with in-built charging facilities. Once a rider parks their vehicle, it’ll charge automatically. Set up enough charging hubs around a city, and you won’t need a battery swapping team.

However, while micromobility charging stations for electric vehicles is a growing industry, right now most of these are still in an early stage of development. They also require investment, installation, and permits if installed in public space.

Combining free-floating parking with hubs

We recommend taking a combined approach: launch with free-floating, then introduce parking hubs once you’ve learned where high-demand areas or convenient places for battery swapping are. By sticking to non-fixed parking hubs (defined as GPS locations) instead of fixed charging hubs, you can take advantage of their flexibility:

  • Experiment with where you set up hubs until you’ve identified optimal hub locations in your city.
  • Incentivize riders to park at hubs with discounted rides, and optimize the distribution of your fleet.
  • Concentrate vehicles in strategic locations to increase speed and decrease cost of swapping batteries
  • Partner with local businesses to set up hubs in their area — they get more potential customers, you get a new source of revenue.

If you get it right, combining free-floating parking with hubs gives you the best of both worlds: the convenience of free-floating, plus the operational efficiency that comes with hubs. Over time, you can start to convert your best parking hubs into charging stations to make battery swapping even easier.

Do you want to learn more about starting your shared micromobility service? We gather all our knowledge and best practices in our guide to launch your shared micromobility service.

ElectricFeel’s tips on combining parking systems

  1. Start by setting up a robust battery swapping process.
  2. Use geospatial analysis to identify the best places to set up your first hubs, based on demand and swapping routes.
  3. Set up incentives to encourage riders to park at your hubs.
  4. Prepare to introduce charging stations by lining up energy partners and talking to businesses who might be interested in hosting a charging hub.

Want to learn more about hubs, rider incentives, or any of the above? Get in touch here.

Danilo Cataneo
Head of Partner Operations @ ElectricFeel
Helping our partners achieve operational excellence