Last-mile transportation has nothing to do with the last mile

Yev Podgayetsky

What’s the actual distance driven by scooter riders on a daily basis?

During the last two years, we saw a lot of stories from the media, describing advantages and (mostly) disadvantages of the “last-mile transportation”. Very often, shared electric scooters, as well as shared bikes, were being described as the core of this category, with average distances ranging from one to two miles. But that’s far from being the full story.

In 2018 Ninebot shipped 1M of its scooters. Even if half a million of them died as a disposable commodity in the shared fleets, another half was serving individual customers. Individual customers, who were more or less average people, looking for ways to improve their daily commute. And on this market, Ninebot wasn’t the only supplier.

Ultron, Dualtron, Swagtron (yes, very creative naming), Zero X, Mercane and many more brands were ramping up the production every month in order to meet the growing demand for scooters in Western countries. And yet, although private scooters sales were just as good or better than shared scooter sales, we were still classifying everything as the last-mile transportation.

Each quintile has roughly equal % of trips made by American drivers. Chart by Horace Dediu and Micromobility Industries

Having only one source of data about scooter trips — reports from scooter-sharing startups, it was safe to assume that all scooters are going to take over 1–2 mile-long trips. So the analysis by Horace Dediu mapped that electric scooters and mechanical bikes will take over distances below 3.22 km — the first quintile in the chart, e-bikes — <6.44km or the second quintile, mopeds — <11.27km, and heavier modes of transportation will take over quintile 4 and 5.

But what if private scooters actually have much longer range and don’t depend on public transportation to the extent we thought? I didn’t have the answer, so I decided to poll people. Here is the data I’ve got:

I’m really engaged in local scooter community, so I polled them first

As you see, the term “last-mile transportation” is pretty much non-existent among scooter owners in Europe. Less then a third of supposedly American respondents use their vehicles for a short distance, but this is still far from the majority.
In Poland, at least 20% of scooter trips fall into 3rd Quintile (<12.87km long trips), assuming scooter users make two trips per day. These numbers mean electric scooters do compete with mopeds and cars.

I also made a poll in France to prove that Europe is consistent in scooter use, and France wasn’t much different from Poland. The data reinforces the fact that electric scooters can be used far outside of the “last mile”.

If we assume that every reported user drives the average distance of their category (eg “<15km” = 12.5km), then we can calculate the average daily range: Poland — 17.50km, USA — 12.52km, France — 17.19km. As you can observe, there are two distinct use cases in the US.

What does that mean? It means that users, without financial constraint for the trip duration, choose longer trips. It means that scooters will have a bigger impact on cities, not only filling the empty last-mile transportation niche, but also decreasing the demand for local-route (non-express) buses, and taking more people than we expected off the cars.

It also means that scooter leasing, offered by GetHenry and to a smaller scale by Grover, Bird, is a totally different business, serving different consumer needs. The leasing business model has yet to prove its sustainability, but we already can see that this is a big market, covering at least 43% of trips from the Micromobility Industries chart vs 22% that theoretically could be covered by scooter sharing.

Although I’m renting a scooter from Acro, I still have a monthly public transportation pass that I use quite often. Thanks to the scooter, my one-way door-to-door commute now always takes 30 min instead of 45–60min. My life satisfaction increased as if I got around 15% salary increase. I feel happier and still can focus on podcasts. So, for the work commute, I don’t really see myself returning back to the bus.

Methodology: I made three polls in Polish-speaking, French-speaking and English-speaking Facebook electric scooter communities. Polish data is quite representative, French didn’t have a significant number of respondents, and English-speaking community a) is skewed towards the US, since scooters are not very popular in the UK, and because I gave polling options in miles b) is skewed towards short-range M365 scooters, because the group is dedicated to them.

Why this is bad research: If a person participates in an online community dedicated to the gadget they bought, then this is either a power user or an early adopter. Also, respondents may give the number of kilometers they drive per workday, rather than per average day of the week. I also did not verify if these people really have electric scooters. Also, there are issues with Facebook Polls not being the right quantitative research software, but I wanted to make all unnecessary steps to get as much data as possible

Why this is good research: This is the only data point you can find publicly right now. Also, the market of private electric scooters is transitioning into the mass-market stage, and there is more diversity, so people answering my polls are not only “tech bros”. Although scooters gained a lot in popularity, they haven’t been popular for enough time for dedicated scooter shops to appear, so all newcomers are often seeking advice in online communities, which reinforces the fact that this data is coming from quite a diverse group of people. Also, since the range of electric scooters very limited, users have to know the distance they are planning to ride very well, so the numbers they report for daily range should be quite reliable.

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Yev Podgayetsky

Written by

Micromobility specialist. Areas of focus: Business Strategy, Product Management, Operations, Urban Planning.

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