Brief update on dockless scooters (and bike sharing)
Earlier in the week I wrote about dockless scooters in Santa Monica, "Dockless scooters as an example of a lot of money sloshing around in venture capital."
It's likely doing this across their entire portfolio, although there are reports about this in Dallas ("LimeBike Plans To Add Electric Scooters And Bikes This Spring," KERA/Public Media) and DC ("First the dockless bikes, now scooters," Washington Post).
As far as e-scooters go, it means that an exclusively e-scooter operation like Bird is likely to be "lapped" by multi-mode sharing operations.
OTOH, Bird can, too, expand into bike sharing. But that requires a lot more capital than $100 million, especially as dockless bike sharing is in its "wild wild west" mode of expansion disconnected from business considerations.
I didn't write about it, but I was thinking about dockless bike share's business story as being comparable to the start of the railroad or interurban electric railway sectors, with various attempts at creating competing services, many of which either never really got off the ground, or ended up merging into other firms.
Apparently, in business schools this is called the "Consolidation Curve" (Harvard Business Review). From the article:
Everyone knows that most new industries are fragmented and consolidate as they mature. But how does that work exactly? Our long-term analysis of mergers around the globe has found that most industries progress predictably through a clear consolidation life cycle—and that companies can plot with some precision where they fall in the cycle.Although the article's research is on larger companies and tends to occur over a much longer period of time than is likely for dockless bike sharing.
Bike-sharing startup Spin is getting into scooter-sharing," TechCrunch), which likely will be copied by other market participants, especially the better capitalized firms like Mobikes and Ofo, makes the e-bike exclusive dock sharing firm, Jump, similarly vulnerable to the firms with multi-pronged sharing platform.
The big question is how many users, who they are, and whether or not they switch from automobiles. The Wall Street Journal ran a positive article about dockless bike sharing ("Bike share brings promise, and pitfalls").
I am still generally leery because the issue isn't access as much as it is willingness to use. Lack of access to bikes or transit or shoes isn't why most people don't walk, bike, or use transit. Although with the WSJ writer, he switched to the bikes instead of using ride hailing cars.
These systems tend to appeal to occasional users, rather than regular adherents to sustainable means. Whether or not the widespread availability of dockless bikes shifts people from primarily using the automobile to sustainable modes is the key question.
And in terms of dockless systems adding functionality to the "sustainable mobility platform," it comes down to whether or not you want to use public funds to do so. One can argue that the participation by for profit firms means public monies aren't required.
But because there doesn't seem to be a good economic model for the business, especially with multiple firms participating in the market, it's hard to see a long term future for this element of the sector.
Switching from "all you can eat" pricing to paying by the ride raises the cost. Note too that by switching from bike sharing membership systems to payment on a per ride basis, users of dockless systems pay 10x more, were they to ride at least twice daily, compared to membership in a traditional bike sharing system.
The Spin program has a monthly membership fee comparable to traditional bike share, but it's almost 4x the price of an annual membership in most places, and still more than double the highest priced system, Citibikes.
Paying more for electric propulsion. With e-scooters, the pricing is by the minute, plus a per use fee of $1. By an e-scooter then, the cost for a 30 minute trip would be $7, while on a regular dockless bike the cost would be $1 and on a Jump e-bike, $2 for the same length of time.
Conclusion. It still makes more sense to own your own bike, as it's a lot cheaper and provides far more trip flexibility. However, in a place like NYC with high rates of bike theft and difficult storage conditions, alongside relatively short distances between activity centers, bike sharing can be a smart alternative.
I haven't used a dockless bike. I don't see a need, since I use an owned bike. But I "found" a LimeBike discarded in a neighborhood alley and so I rolled it out to a location on a nearby street, by picking it up and rolling it on the front wheel.
It started chirping at me to rent the bike or it would notify the police...