Enrique Dans
Published in

Enrique Dans

IMAGE: Aaron Anderer on Flickr (CC BY SA)

Electric scooters and dockless bikes: where there’s a will, there’s a way

Regulatory issues and legal obstacles to new, tech-based business models are usually cited as the main stumbling blocks preventing the adoption of new technologies. Electric scooters are a case in point: despite the many problems getting them onto the streets of San Francisco and other cities, investors and entrepreneurs take the long view and make their plans accordingly.

So-called multimodal mobility: small vehicles designed for short journeys in cities, is spreading, thanks to the improvements in electric motors and batteries, along with the development of apps that allow geolocation to coordinate fleets. In previous articles I have said that I believe the companies behind new modes of urban mobility are here to stay and that in spite of the no-can-do approach of many city halls, reports of their demise are greatly exaggerated. Within months, the signs are that as municipalities such as San Francisco, which initially banned scooters, impounding them by the dozen, is now working on how to adapt legislation to permit their use, the evidence mounts that the world’s cities will soon be awash with electric, two-wheeled scooters.

Aside from the companies mentioned in previous articles, such as Bird, LimeBike or Spin, which are attracting significant capitalization from investors, others are emerging, such as Skip, which has entered the so-called scooter wars by complying with existing legislation, as well as competitors from other areas of urban mobility, such as Uber or Lyft, which aim to launch multimodal mobility services in a San Francisco converted into a mobility test ground.

Meanwhile, investors are racing to capitalize these companies: Bird, created by Travis VanderZanden, formerly of Uber and Lyft, is now valued at almost $2 billion, and is now planning to take its scooters to European cities. Meanwhile, Lime has attracted $250 million in another round of investment, reflecting the need for cash as it floods the market with scooters while trying to educate the market on how to use them, as well as withstanding the losses generated by theft, vandalism or irresponsible use.

Ben Thompson is already talking about a “scooter economy”, one where mobility in cities evolves through logic and responsibility, and where “everything is a service”, and the initial problems of vandalism and theft are left behind as residents realize scooters are here to stay. This is a similar process to that of dockless bicycles, highly criticized and dismissed as unfeasible in light of the mountains of abandoned bicycles in many Chinese cities, highlighting the need for long-term investment to bring about change in society and acceptance of a model with many advantages and that can generate an entire economic ecosystem around it.

Problems and legal restrictions? Theft? Vandalism? These are commonplace responses to disruption. Flooding cities with thousands of bicycles or scooters that can be unlocked with an app and used at a cost of a few cents per minute is a crazy idea to some, while doing it with electric vehicles, which must be collected each day to be charged, seems even more crazy. But when the economies of scale are ramped up, what initially might seem like a crazy idea can be the basis for viable business models, and above all, provide cities with more mobility, more flexible, with more choices about how to move around. You may not see yourself on a bicycle or a scooter yet, but don’t worry: in time, you’ll come round.

(En español, aquí)

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