Uber and Lyft revolutionized the transportation industry and ushered in the dawn of the sharing economy. However, as history has shown, a new innovation is always on the horizon. And the transportation industry is no different. The dockless scooter is rising.
The scooter revolution has taken an interesting path. E-scooter companies began to pop up following the advent of the sharing economy. The original trend began with bike sharing programs, that scattered bikes in key locations around cities, organized by specially designed bike kiosks. Companies formed on the bike-sharing concept, such as Lime and Zagster, and gained relative success as a convenient alternative source of transportation. This concept led to the birth of a similar program for scooters and the emergence of the dockless concept — where scooters/bikes do not need to be dropped off at a kiosk but rather can be left anywhere and then found and unlocked using an app. This concept allows riders to take scooters right to their destination rather than having end the ride at a kiosk. This system has received much backlash from city officials and residents because scooters are often found scattered in inconvenient places (for pedestrians and riders) and cause issues for vehicular traffic and pedestrian traffic. Since technology outpaced regulation in this sector, dockless scooter companies had a period of free reign, where scooters were left in cities in a sort of trial run without the consultation of local governments. Just like Uber and Airbnb, these companies operated without regulation, until city officials came around. Recently, cities have taken a strong stand against dockless scooters, forcing them off the streets and sidewalks until regulation is established. After an relatively unregulated trial run, cities are working with specific scooter companies to ensure safety and efficiency before allowing these vehicles to populate cities again. How it stands now, city authorities have the unique position of determining who will be the winners and losers in this sector. It seems like officials want to be ahead of the game, as compared to the seemingly endless catch-up that is being played out with dominant companies in the sharing economy, such as Uber and Airbnb.
Just few days ago on August 30th, San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency announced the two electric scooter companies — Scoot and Skip — that it would allow to operate in SF. Three months after removing all e-scooters from SF, city authorities now feel ready to allow these two select companies to operate in the Bay Area. These two companies were selected from a list of 12, featuring notable contenders Bird and Like (two companies valued at over $1 billion) as well as Uber and Lyft. Scoot and Skip both rose above the competition for government officials by focusing on rider training as well as community safety and input. San Francisco is leading the way for American cities, proving that new, disruptive technology can be incorporated into cities while still being regulated. In addition, SF is trying a possible new trend for the introduction of dockless scooters and maybe other new technologies in the future — a pilot program in which city government partners with innovative companies to release a new technology with appropriate regulation.
Pros and Cons
Electric Scooters seem like a lot of fun! No matter what, dockless scooters will find success as a fun way to travel around a city, especially for tourists. Scooters also have the possibility of completely altering transportation by decreasing traffic and turning car drivers into scooter riders. However, at the same time, scooters could negatively affect vehicle traffic by adding a slower vehicle to traffic flow, especially in areas without bike lanes (the ideal place to ride a scooter). Furthermore, scooters could affect pedestrian traffic when scooters are taken on sidewalks, increasing danger and chaos on the side of the road. One of the key aspects of dockless scooters is the ability to leave them anywhere. This system allows riders to travel right to their destination, but it also can cause sidewalks to be congested with scooters. Although new e-scooter apps have algorithms that attempt to force riders to leave scooters out of the way, I wonder how effective they are. Although the kiosk system was inefficient and expensive, it effectively kept scooters/bikes organized and out of the way. Without a kiosk, scooters can be left anywhere in any position, often in a way that is more convenient to the rider than the rest of society. Also, without kiosks, scooters do not have anywhere to charge. Therefore, e-scooter companies hire chargers to pick up scooters, charge them, and return them to hot spots. Although this does create new employment opportunities, it often leads to inconsistency of scooter battery charge. Scooters may be an effective means of transportation for people travelling short distances, but we must consider if the pros outweigh the cons. In my opinion, I think that currently dockless scooters sound much better than they are. Before society fully adopts this technology, I think that serious attention should be paid to rider safety, the storage of these vehicles, and their effects on traffic flow for both vehicles and pedestrians.
Dockless electric scooters are coming. This technology is probably more exciting for the thrill of riding rather than its practicality, but either way I think it is definitely worth a try. Maybe we can ride some in New York! As companies attempt to win the market share in this industry, it is important for them to remember that their most important customers are cities because cities are in the driver’s seat determining how this technology will be adopted.