Electric scooter sharing seeks to solve a real world problem, but faces numerous challenges
Bike sharing is gaining in popularity all over the world, in China, Singapore and many other countries all around the world. Venture capitalists excited at the popularity of ride-sharing companies have poured millions if not billions into it. Even Southeast Asian rideshare unicorn Grab has stepped into the game. It should only follow that electric scooter sharing – which involves a more comfortable ride with barely any physical exertion – would take off too. But will it really?
Bike sharing provides a great convenience to people, no doubt, and the public is taking to it, especially in Singapore. It has become a common sight to see people riding about in a Ofo or Mofo bikes. However, problems with the business model still exist and bike sharing companies have yet to find a good solution for them.
So… What about electric scooter sharing/renting? Startups such as Popscoot have launched in Singapore to try to grab a slice of the ridesharing pie. The idea is a noble one, but whether it can work in the long run, that remains to be seen. As a commuter, I would gladly pay a dollar or two to ride an e-scooter back to my home from the train station as it would save me a long and sweaty walk.
As much as I would love it to become a common sight in neighborhoods all over Bangkok, here are the three main challenges facing e-scooter sharing companies worldwide:
There have been numerous examples all over the world, from Ofo bikes thrown off buildings to bikes with number plates and locks removed. Start up companies such as Bluegogo – the third largest bike sharing outfit in China - have folded, with vandalism being one of the main reasons. The massive capital it takes to run a successful ride sharing company means that smaller players simply are not able to withstand losses in the short run.
Another example could very well be seen from the story of BlueSG – the first electric car rental service in Singapore. Those cars have ended up suffering a similar fate to mass sharing bicycles in Singapore. Photos of dents on the car and dirty interiors left by inconsiderate users were widely shared by social media shortly after they launched.
These companies that strive to provide a public service or solve a genuine problem would eventually end up with high maintenance costs due to these small but significant number of inconsiderate users. For ride sharing companies that rent out expensive mobility vehicles such as e-scooters, it would be doubly so. Maintenance costs may represent an insurmountable cost for them in the end.
The ugly truth of the matter is: if people don’t even bother to take care of a $100 shared bike, are they any more likely to take good care of a $1000 shared e-scooter?
2. At the mercy of the weather
Electric scooters, as compared to manual bicycles have another disadvantage: they required electricity to run and are therefore are vulnerable to water and weather damage.
In Southeast Asia, where it rains regularly and without warning, an e-scooter would be at the mercy of the elements. Unless it has solid weather and water proofing, with at least with a IP57 rating, water damage may end up being another massive cost for the e-scooter sharing company.
Even then, a scooter with a solid IP57 rating would be hard pressed to weather constant rain and sun, wear and tear without suffering any kind of permanent damage. Eventually, electronics within would need to be replaced, and it would probably need to be done regularly. Constant maintenance needed to keep them in running condition would further add to the costs these companies face.
3. The need for docking/charging stations
One big draw of bike sharing schemes is that bicycles can be parked anywhere, as long as they are parked considerately. E-scooter sharing, however, needs docking and charging stations to work. A 20,000 baht electric scooter simply can't be left anywhere. It would definitely never be seen again by the next day.
And this presents another challenge for companies. The need to build and develop the infrastructure necessary for e-scooter rental to work is yet another barrier to its success. It is not only another cost for e-scooter sharing company, but also an added inconvenience for users.
Singaporeans love electric scooters precisely because it's personal. It can be parked outside their office, locked outside train stations and taken into their homes. It takes you to your destination, without having to walk one step. However, with e-scooter sharing, the user has to make the trip to the docking station before and after using it. And if it adds another 5-10 mins of travelling time for the commuter, he or she may choose another commuting option instead.
Until these docking stations become as commonplace as bicycle stands, bicycle sharing will still have an advantage over e-scooter sharing programs.
This is a world where shared bicycles are thrown into canals, damaged, flung from high places, and left anywhere as one pleases. An e-scooter which is 10 times more expensive than a bicycle wouldn’t stand a snowflake in hell’s chance of surviving these inconsiderate users.
But perhaps, there are ways around these problems and measures that can be implemented to overcome these challenges. If someone manages to figure it out, all the better for everyone who finds commuting a chore. I, for one, would be more than happy to live in a world where e-scooter rentals are available at my fingertips.