They came, we rode, they conquered. What, since the revolution of the automobile, has been as swift, as controversial, and as disruptive to our national mobility ecosystem as the permeance of dockless scooters?
While bike share programs have been around for decades (any visitors to Copenhagen since 1989 have been delighted by them) dockless mobility is a relatively new trend. E-scooters made their appearance just under two years ago and have already out-paced dockless bikes by number of rides, which only validates the abundance of hyperboles describing their arrival: “invasion,” “frenzy,” “viral,” and “explosion” maybe well overused but are undeniably apt in describing them.
So, what have dockless scooters taught us about disruption in today’s mobility ecosystem? More importantly, what can they reveal to us about tomorrow’s mobility, and Tomorrowland’s?
LESSON ONE: COMBINE THE IDEAS, COMPLETE THE EXPERIENCE
Some may argue that their success emphasizes the importance of low cost and high convenience. This is not incorrect, but it is incomplete.
It’s not just that e-scooters are cheap (Lime—whose bikes have virtually disappeared, as is evident by the nearly complete lack of mention on the company’s website—advertises “$1 To Start” on the decks of their scooters); it’s not simply that they are convenient, nor that they use technology already available to nearly all consumers, or that they have excellent customer service, or that, at the end of the day, they’re nothing if not fun… it’s all of this. It’s the experience.
Consider that no feature of e-scooters is revolutionary on its own. Early incarnations of scooters have been around forever. Electronic mobility has been around forever. Credit card processing, QR readers, in-app GPS, policy-evading corporate strategies, shared vehicles… literally nothing that Bird brought to the table in September 2017 was new. What was new was that it brought everything, together.
That’s what makes them novel.
In fact, that’s also exactly what Apple did with its iPhone.
For wings of mobility that cannot leverage the novelty of newness, such as parking and such as public transit, appealing to customers through other experiential dynamics is imperative. After all, elevating the customer journey doesn’t simply mean refining processes, broadening options, or upping brand appeal with unique panache. It also means introducing never-before-seen experiences.
Perhaps that means combining tech and services in appealing new ways or adopting ideas from outside our industry. Each player in the game needs to figure out a way to be unique, convenient, affordable, and—not or—enjoyable, on top of evolving and adapting to our nascent on-demand economy.
LESSON TWO: THE KEY TO THE CITY IS COOPERATION
I also believe there’s another important lesson to be observed, a lesson in cooperation.
Though micromobility options will play a large role in the functionality of future cities, dockless scooter companies today don’t exactly have an outstanding reputation.
Seattle, for instance, despite embracing dockless bikes, has pushed back against scooters as hard as scooters have tried to push in. Santa Monica, CA had an I-love-you-I-hate-you-I-love-you relationship with Bird (and that’s where the company first spread its wings) and cities large and small, coast to coast, have outright banned or refused to work with e-scooter companies. Their stance will change, I believe, when those companies demonstrate they can effectively manage the way riders use and, arguably more importantly, misuse products.
Many cities in opposition point to the inarguable increase in head traumas, vandalization, littering, and clutter that e-scooter brands spend tremendous time and money trying to downplay.
For their part, e-scooter cohorts insofar have done little to address these concerns. Lime, uses iconography to outline its rider rules… to be followed only by the merit of riders.
I don’t know about you, but I have never seen anyone riding an e-scooter while wearing a helmet.
And, despite the responsibility of micromobility companies to collect damaged scooters and ensure parked scooters look tidy, there’s an undeniable image of disregard and outright vandalism almost everywhere scooters are found.
No wonder many cities aren’t so welcoming to the trend.
But what about everyone else in the industry? Can we be disruptive without being dismissive?
Of course we can.
For our part, parking and mobility companies can help minimize the negative impact and preserve brand status by cooperating with cities and the policies they have in place. If no relevant policies exist, it should (ethically speaking) be on companies to be proactive and forward-thinking, instead of blitzing the market through regulatory holes.
For instance, parking companies using plate recognition identification should have answers to privacy concerns before investing in their implementation. Ditto for any sort of data collection, payment processing, or identity technology (such as facial recognition).
LESSON THREE: LOOK BACK, LEAP FORWARD
I’m sure you’re already realizing that proactive cooperation is only part of a much more complex approach to sustainable micromobility management. It’s a coeval necessity with optimization.
In the same way that businesses strive to optimize their processes, communities and local governments can address the above issues of “misuse and abuse” by re-examining their current operating model—and then reversing it.
Instead of charging micromobility companies each time a scooter is used, we should be collecting fees for un-use, i.e. charging a fair dollar amount for idle units.
If this sounds unorthodox, it’s worth pointing out that, though opposite to how we currently do things, it’s exactly the model we use for parking; we charge cars to sit and take up valuable space.
It’s also a stride forward toward intelligent curb management.
Private micromobility companies (Bird, Lime, Jump, Wheelz, Lyft… all the big players in the game) undoubtedly have better management potential of their vehicles. Empowering these entities to self-regulate their unused units provides an efficient means of overcoming many of the most common complaints. For instance, broken units, being unusable, will be collected far faster. The same holds for units left in areas of low use (such as residential neighborhoods) or inaccessible terrain that’s inconvenient or dangerous for pedestrians to get to and/or result in pollution (such as down canyons, in river banks, shoulders of freeways, etc.). In this way, not only can cities help streamline their micromobility ecosystem, they increase the apparent value of, and decrease the backlash from, their communities.
Other organizations can likewise look to such restructuring as a guide for self-auditing processes. Optimization is crucial to the forward momentum—the profitability—of any company today. By reassessing process strategy (even from a 180º vantage), it’s not unlikely that you may discover greater means of profitability and more fluid systems.
Of course, this is all just the beginning of this new chapter in mobility. There will be many more lessons learned along the way, just as there will be many more disruptions and endless changes.
But in the hunt for an evergreen strategy to weather mobility storms, challenging your organization to constantly improve customer experience and align with (or create new) regulations is a good place to start.