It’s a toy for short distance joyrides that’s being sprinkled by unicorn startups across hundreds of city centers and tourist hubs around the world. And it is dubbed to be the next big disruptor in last mile transportation around the world, even giving competition to the short distance taxi rides.
But the more you ride the e-scooters the more you realize something amiss in them. While some have a loose break, some have a loose wheel, some are simply rickety, due to vandalism. Still, at just a $1 to start, it has become the cheapest toy which can make you navigate busy districts or beach-sides around the western world.
The e-scooter industry is expected to gross $41 billion by 2030.
Companies such as Bird, Lime, Skip and Spin are sprinkling e-scooters around bus stops, train stations, beach sides, shopping malls, etc across the US, Europe, and New Zealand. Next stop for the companies are markets such as Australia, Singapore, etc.
At nights, when bus or train services stop, e-scooters often become the fastest and cheapest way to roam around city centers for tourists and students alike. While Uber rides may cost not less than $6-$7 for even a 4 km distance, an e-scooter ride is priced on a time-usage basis.
Nominally, it costs about $3-$4 for a 15-minute ride, which is enough for one to reach from point A to point B, or cover a short distance such as a tourist circuit.
Some offer rides as low as $0.10 for a 10-minute ride, while some offer it at 10-15 cents a minute.
Of course, for longer distances spanning more than 5 kilometers, it becomes more common-sensical to hire an Uber. But if you are hard pressed for cash, an e-scooter or e-bike ride might still cost you cheaper, provided its battery lasts the long distance you wish to travel.
Batteries last about 10-15 miles for most e-scooters, on a full charge.
So, what’s holding back the e-scooter sharing industry from flourishing. Besides, the cost of maintaining them, and their lower shelf life, which often lasts less than 500 rides, funnily enough, it is vandalism and theft.
How do e-scooter companies prevent theft? For many companies, as soon as you try and move a locked scooter a few meters, it starts beeping a loud noise, which is enough to wake up the neighbors and their kids.
Thus keeping a stolen scooter at home is never a good idea. An electronically locked scooter anyways becomes useless, if you keep it at home, unless of course, you remove the electronics, without which it becomes just a manual ‘dragging’ scooter.
An e-scooter retails from anywhere upwards of $400-$700 in the retail market.
With laws yet to be framed for the e-bike and e-scooter sharing industries, by transport departments and municipal councils across the world, these machines are not registered as normal bikes and cars. Thus, laws become hardly enforceable.
In normal wear and tear, companies do lose about 4-5 scooters per day, per city due to broken parts, including their body frames, which often cannot withstand rough handling.
Add to that losses due to theft, and costs may render the business, completely unviable.
People also cannot be usually prosecuted for making an e-scooter unviable for use.
Vandalism and theft are becoming key roadblocks to this industry.
Here are a few common cases of vandalism, that are holding back the e-scooter industry:
1.Painting & Graffiti: Often creative users paint the e-scooters with their own oil paints or graffiti, rendering them useless. These paints are hardly washable and destroy the brand presentation for the companies.
2.Drowning them in Ocean: For playful purposes, some users just throw the scooters into rivers and sea, making their electronics non-functional.
3.Sand & Fire: Driving an e-scooter on the beach is never a good idea, The sand enters its electronics and the moisture spoils the motors. Some customers go a level up and make a bonfire of e-scooters after a few beers down on the beach.
4.Tricks and Stunts: Roam around in city parks and you would find kids taking e-scooters on slopes and stairs and jumping off them making their nuts loose and forks break.
5.Hyperlocal Ads: Believe it or not but often local restaurants and businesses start to put their own ad labels on these scooters as they become the best platform to reach their target customer.
6.The Scooter Stealers: Even though GPS trackers inside e-scooters makes them locatable, there are hardly any laws that can help prosecute a customer who has kept a scooter in his house. Staffers often are not allowed to enter gates communities or homes where they are kept.
7.Curiosity killed this startup: Some users start to pull apart the scooters out of curiosity after a ride. Some have even gone ahead and claim to have broken inside the apps and make them ride for free. All this does burn a hole in the already fragile business’ pocket.
Nevertheless, in an ideal world, bereft of theft or vandalism, electric vehicles are the way to go when you wish to navigate the bazaars and bylanes of world’s future cities.
They can be the best option to navigate the bylanes of a Delhi’s Chandni Chowk, roam around the Piazza Navona in Rome, or see the starlit sky under facing Rongitoto Volcano in Auckland’s Mission Bay.
E-scooters could be taken on the narrow lanes leading to Varanasi’s ghats, the paved streets around the Church of Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem or on the Queen’s Wharf in San Francisco.
As traffic increases often most central business districts will have to become pedestrian or bicycle only.
E-scooters have become the buzzword for last mile transport from the bus stop or the metro station to your office in many cities already.
If you’re a tourist, a student in a hurry, or an office goer who does not wish to sweat out on a dusty walk to the office, e-scooters could be the way to go.
Especially in tourist hubs which experience less snow or rain, e-scooters could become the defacto choice to travel from one monument to another.
And when e-bikes are fitted with a carrier, they become a handy shopping assistant.
Wish to pick up grocery and too lazy to take out a car? Or if you are in an area with no public transport after hours, riding an e-scooter can be the best way out.
To conclude, the e-scooter revolution is coming soon in your neighborhood, whether you live in Bangalore or Beijing, but the key for these startups to become profitable is how they tackle the messy problem of vandalism.
(The author is a blogger with Startupanz.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)