Are Electric Scooters Awesome or Terrible? A Look at the Pros and Cons.
First it was the people of San Francisco who vandalized electric kick scooters in all kinds of unimaginable ways. Now, LA residents are showing their frustration by setting scooters on fire and throwing them into the ocean, trash cans and even toilets.
At the same time, e-scooter operators like Bird, Lime, Spin and Skip keep rolling out new fleets almost every day and cities are trying to find a compromise that satisfies both sides.
E-scooter fleets solve the problem of the last mile commute without breaking a sweat and not worrying whether your vehicle will be stolen. However, the emergence of e-scooter sharing fleets has created many problems for cities and people are frustrated about the way e-scooters are being used. It is time to evaluate the pros and cons of e-scooter fleets and see where the industry is heading.
Pros of e-scooter fleets
For the end user, the benefits are self evident. It is a perfect way to easily commute short distances. All you need to rent an e-scooter is an app, and you can leave one almost anywhere, as long as you follow the guidelines for using and parking e-scooters. Unfortunately, we are already seeing that e-scooters are often left in random places, blocking pedestrian pathways. Using an e-scooter is also quite cheap -- it costs around $1 per trip plus 15 cents per minute. In addition, scooters are fun to ride and are better for the environment than other modes of transportation that run on fossil fuels.
For the potential fleet operators, the main benefit is the booming billion-dollar industry and its various opportunities to scale quickly. According to Anand Sanwal, the CEO of tech data and analytics firm CB Insights, "There are underlying trends such as a decline in car ownership and the shift to living in urban areas which also suggest that the urban transport market that Bird and others are attacking is growing."
Secondly, according to one of the investors in Bird, Mark Suster, as an e-scooter operator you get tons of valuable data by tracking where the vehicles are and where people tend to pick and leave their e-scooters. This in turn can help cities to build their cities better.
Thirdly, as a fleet owner you will be able to create new opportunities to earn money. Bird, Lime and others are giving people the opportunity to increase their income by collecting and charging e-scooters during the night. In addition to earning money, these people will be part of the innovation movement that pushes the industry to build better e-scooters with longer battery life, as this is the main obstacle at the moment.
Finally, e-scooters are not just toys for tech bros and hipsters. According to a new study made about the new micro-mobility services, including e-scooters, a majority (70 percent) of people across the U.S. view electric scooters positively. And women are expected to support and adopt e-scooters more than bike sharing, which is more used by men. The study doesn't say why that is, but this Wired article suggests that e-scooters are easier to ride in heels and skirts. Also, e-scooters appear to be easier to operate, feel safer and don't require any physical exertion. This founding again confirms the huge potential of the e-scooter sharing market.
Related: Uber Invests in Scooter Startup Lime
Cons of e-scooter fleets
As stated earlier, e-scooter fleets are far from perfect and the main danger is growing too fast. Since there is a race out there for who can take over a market first, there is a high probability that companies are cutting corners. This may result in unreliable hardware and software solutions. In order to launch a reliable fleet, you need every component of the e-scooter fleet chain to be working.Another danger of moving too fast is the pushback from cities. So far, cities have not banned e-scooters completely, but some are very worried and the approval process may take years rather than months. Frustrations in San Francisco led the city attorney to say, "San Francisco has had enough of the mantra -- move fast and break things."
Cities are worried about public areas getting filled with broken e-scooters, as has happened with e-bikes in China. We are already seeing big players like Ofo and Mobike pulling out of dockless bike sharing in Washington, D.C. due to city regulations. Will the same thing happen to e-scooters?
Finally, are e-scooters really eco-friendly? Although the e-scooters are better for the environment, the lithium battery lifetime on e-scooters is quite short and need to be replaced every 300 to 1000 charges depending on the battery provider. According to SF Weekly, fleet operators claim to have battery recycling programs in place, but in San Francisco there currently is no processing center that deals with these kind of batteries.Besides the processing problems of lithium batteries, there is the issue of picking them up and charging them. People who make extra money by charging the e-scooters still need to use cars and vans, so in a way it is a zero sum game.
Currently there is a lot fuss around e-scooter sharing and it will continue for a while, since cities need to figure out how to accommodate the rising number of e-scooters in a safe and non-disruptive way. In turn, electric kick scooter operators need to improve their technological solutions and the way they roll out their services. All in all, the e-scooter scene is changing by the minute and it will be interesting to see who will be first on the market and how will people respond.