By on March 31, 2020

Over the last two years, urban landscapes have been marred by a growing number of companies offering street-side scooters for rent. The business model always seemed a little curious, especially as additional players moved into the market. It wasn’t long before plenty of cities had their sidewalks littered with scooters in various states of disrepair and thrill-seekers were using them to dive through traffic, thus frustrating motorists.

They also have to be shared with your neighbors, making them none-too-appeasing in an era where everyone is obsessively washing their hands to avoid the coronavirus. Combine that with cities asking (sometimes demanding) that citizens remain indoors and you can probably guess where this is all going. Scooter providers, already in the delicate position of being “mobility” companies, are reeling things back in. 

Though COVID-19 may just be a good excuse. Several of these companies have had issues raising funding and have been forced to cut staff. While there are questions about the sustainability of a business model that charges a pittance for rides but requires constant maintenance and charging of vehicles left on the street, the real issue seems to be their collective focus on growth. Rather than there being one or two big firms competing for market dominance, there were numerous companies trying to expand as quickly as possible. A lot of these new markets probably weren’t viable longterm. But, according to Bloomberg, the coronavirus seems to have accelerated any hardship already coming their way:

Lime’s CEO and co-founder Brad Bao wrote in a blog post on March 21 that the startup is “winding down or pausing” service in all markets but South Korea. Prior to the pandemic, the company operated nearly 120,000 scooters in 30 countries across the Americas and Europe. Bird announced it is removing its fleets in six U.S. cities: Miami and Coral Gables, Fla.; Portland, Ore.; and Sacramento, San Francisco, and San Jose. It had already pulled vehicles from 21 European cities.

Jump, a subsidiary of Uber Technologies Inc., has paused electric bike and scooter rentals in most of its European markets and trimmed the size of its fleets across the U.S. It stopped service entirely in Sacramento at the city’s request. Lyft Inc. has continued to operate its network of mostly docked bikeshare systems in eight U.S. markets. So far, it’s kept dockless scooters available for rent in all urban markets but Miami. Every company with vehicles in circulation said that they have heightened their handlebar sanitation protocols and are encouraging riders to do the same.

That’s far from a comprehensive list of the scooter companies in trouble. None seem to have gone untouched by social distancing measures in urban areas and few went into the health crisis in top shape.

“I think it’s pretty dire,” Emily Castor Warren, a principal and director of policy at the transportation planning firm Nelson\Nygaard and a former director of policy at both Lyft and Lime, told Bloomberg. “If these lockdowns persist, they’re going to have to, at the very least, undertake major layoffs to core teams, because the one cost they can’t bring down to zero is salaries for headcount and real estate for their offices.”

But the doom and gloom is not omnipresent. A few investors are bound to see scooters as a smart way for urbanites to avoid crowding on subway cars and busses. In fact Jump, Lime, Spin, and Wheels are all trying to find ways to partner with local governments and essential service providers through the health crisis. Smaller players may also be able to carve out a portion of the market for themselves as the larger players recede. But that’s assuming the business model for scooter firms is sound and we’re not positive that’s been the case.

[Image: Karl_Sonnenberg/Shutterstock]

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24 Comments on “Minor Victory: Scooter Companies Abandon Cities Due to Viral Outbreak...”


  • avatar
    Jon

    So, where can one find the used/mothballed scooters for sale?

  • avatar
    bkojote

    I don’t get the hatred for the scooters.

    They’re super useful in mid-size cities like San Jose, Seattle, Denver and keep cars out of dense areas which frees up parking and traffic. Yeah you get the occasional D-bag on them but you get those with anything with wheels.

    • 0 avatar
      bts

      One problem is that private companies are profiting while many are getting injuries while riding (don’t know how to use them since they don’t own them) and are passing that cost on to the public.

      If scooters are used here, they should be made here.

      Not to mention scooters littering cities causing more wasted resources so a private company can make money.

    • 0 avatar
      Serpens

      I’m glad they were never legalized in Seattle. They clog up already crowded sidewalks, they get parked in such a way that makes it difficult for people with disabilities to continue on their path, and don’t mesh well with street traffic during rush hour.

    • 0 avatar
      Garrett

      It’s because they clutter the sidewalks and people ride them on the sidewalk.

      I’m not allowed to ride a motorcycle or a Vespa at low speeds on the sidewalk, and park it wherever I like.

    • 0 avatar
      gozar

      It seems like about 60% of the hate would go away if the scooters had better kickstands. A lot of the comments I read are along the lines of, “They’re just lying around!”

      “you get the occasional D-bag on them but you get those with anything with wheels.” This x 1,000,000.

  • avatar
    dwford

    What a terrible business idea. I don’t understand how it could ever be profitable. Companies spend thousands per scooter, need maintenance teams to keep them charged and running, yet they charge only a few dollars per use.

    • 0 avatar
      bts

      This is a very common business model…

      Scooter companies are profitable, but only because they spread some costs out to the city or public.

      • 0 avatar
        Mydirtisred

        They’re not profitable at the moment. I’m not sure what costs the public are absorbing, but the business model is to collect the information on your phone and sell it. I think this business model worked when only a small number of companies were doing this, but I’m not sure it’s still viable. It’s definitely not viable when no one is going anywhere…

  • avatar
    Master Baiter

    The concept is fine, provided the city has low rates of vandalism and relatively good weather. Here in San Jose, I’ve not seen riders becoming a menace to pedestrians or cars. Whether the companies are profitable…That’s someone else’s problem.

  • avatar
    Russycle

    I like the idea–I rented a bicycle in Portland last year, and it was great–but seems like the scooters have a lot more issues.

  • avatar

    Incredible, on internet there is hatred towards virtually everything. But scooter? Why? They are not made by GM or Ford. As a kid I admired scooters. I think scooters are the future of personal mobility. Not V8s, not V6s, not even I4s – one motor scooters with optional AWD and premium audio system.

  • avatar
    PeriSoft

    The big issue I have with dockless scooter / bicycle rentals is that, as a driver, I have no idea what I’m dealing with when I see someone using one of the things. First off, I think I’ve seen maybe one person on a dockless (whatever) wearing a helmet, ever. And that makes sense: The whole model encourages it, whatever lip service is paid to safety. So if something *does* happen, it’s more likely to be serious when it happens to someone on a short term rental than someone for whom that mode of transport is normal.

    Second, I don’t know if the person on the bike or scooter knows what the heck they’re doing. It might be their ten thousandth hour on a bike or scooter, or it might be their first. If I see some lyra-clad skeleton on a $5k road bike or a grizzled hipster on a $35 Craigslist fixie, at least I know that they probably do it all the time and have some degree of situational awareness. But I’ve seen plenty of people on dockless rentals who clearly haven’t been on a bike or scooter in years, if ever, and can barely travel in a straight line. So I’m terrified they’re going to just suddenly veer off into my path at any moment.

    Dockless scooters/bicycles turn the urban landscape into the predictability equivalent of a whole city full of children playing kickball in the street, and I’m not sure there’s any real way around that problem.

  • avatar
    -Nate

    They’re fun to ride, I had an American made stamped tin scooter in 1968, kit has been manufactured in the 1940’s .

    The problem is : they’re an eyesore as those who use them tend to dump them anywhere and everywhere when finished using them .

    I’d let my foster boys ride them by the beach , some are left unlocked and will begin beeping after a block if you don’t pay but who cares .

    I just don’t like dumping trash in public .

    I’m surprised there’s no photos of the acers of abandoned rental bicycles in China to demonstrate what we’ll have here soon .

    -Nate

  • avatar

    BTW are there Sport Utility Scooters available? My wife demands one.

  • avatar
    JimC2

    I don’t understand the hate for these but at the same time I do. It’s almost the same as the hate for bicycles.

    As a long time bicycle rider who pays attention to traffic laws,* readily yields to vehicular traffic when the law says I’m supposed to yield the right of way, generally tries to make eye contact with drivers in those situations or make obvious body language of my intentions, keeps to the right, and someone who *pays* *attention* *to* *my* *surroundings*, I too despise two wheel daredevils who flagrantly ignore or who ignorantly don’t bother to learn what their responsibilities are. The bad ones ruin the reputation for all of us.

    I’ve rode Birds and Limes in a few cities. It’s really easy- act like you’re a bicycle, follow traffic lights and signs, be courteous to drivers and pedestrians alike. But again, there are some scooter riders who are jerks.

    There are bad drivers out there too- the ones who pull out from stop signs and driveways into the path of a motorcycle, the ones who lane change into one because they weren’t paying attention to their surroundings (and probably never bothered to learn but long ago convinced themselves that they are “good, safe drivers), the ones who don’t know how to accelerate and merge into traffic…

    Hope that makes sense when I say I don’t understand the hate yet at the same time I very much understand the hate.

    * except for coming to a complete stop at a deserted intersection

    • 0 avatar
      -Nate

      “* except for coming to a complete stop at a deserted intersection”

      And making full stops on red when you want to turn right…..

      This is why I gave up riding bicycles ~ it’s fun and good for you but the actions of the many made it far too dangerous for us few .

      Yes, way the hell and gone in the wee areas of the Navajo nation, I stop for those odd looking yellow stop signs because other wise I’d be like all the rest and ignore the law when I felt like it .

      shame on you .

      -Nate

      • 0 avatar
        JimC2

        If there are no cars anywhere within a couple hundred feet of the intersection and there are good sight lines, I think it’s equivalent to driving 5-10 over the posted speed limit.

        When there are other cars nearby, I think it’s obnoxious to roll through stop signs on a bicycle.

        I don’t see it like being a scofflaw or sneaking around when no one can see. I see it as rubbing bad behavior in drivers’ faces or showing good behavior when it’s time to share the road (and any time I’m not alone is when it’s time to share the road).

        You strongly disagree. I respect your opinion. Maybe we should agree to disagree.

        • 0 avatar
          -Nate

          Of course .

          We agree that scoff laws never accept any responsibility .

          Try living in a third world country some time to see how that works out in the end .

          -Nate

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