The uncertain future of shared electric scooters

Cities all over the world have seen an influx of two-wheeled, electric kick scooters on the road over the last couple of years. Scooters from the likes of Bird, Lime, Spin, Uber’s JUMP, Lyft and others are all trying to own the first and the last mile. The first mile is often understood as the distance between a transportation hub and someone’s starting point while the last mile is the distance between a transportation hub and someone’s final destination. These companies want both, and some (Uber, Lyft) also want everything in between.

The rise of electric scooters is often compared to the rise of ride-hailing, but there are some key differences at play. For one, cities are in charge of regulation — not the states. And since these are much smaller vehicles, cities can easily pick them up and throw them in the back of a truck if they become a nuisance. Meanwhile, as part of city regulation, data-sharing is not optional — it’s a requirement in order for companies to receive permission to deploy scooters on city streets.

The startup ecosystem had become accustomed to the ethos of begging for forgiveness, rather than asking for permission. But that’s not the case with electric scooters. These companies have found their entire businesses to be contingent on the continued approval from individual cities all over the world. That inherently creates a number of potential conflicts.

It’s also unclear whether the increase in people riding scooters is indicative of people adopting shared services or simply adopting a new mode of transportation. Some industry insiders wonder if it’s just a matter of time between consumers ditch shared scooters in exchange for their own. 

Between city regulators capping the growth of operators, the vast number of companies going after the first and last miles and the threat of the shift from shared to ownership, it’s all going to come down to the survival of the fittest.

At the mercy of cities

Unlike the ride-sharing market, electric scooter operators are entirely dependent upon cities. These cities, rightfully so, have a number of concerns ranging from safety to sidewalk congestion to equal access to transportation.