About Those Electric Scooters

 

A few weeks ago, my family and I traveled down to Tacoma, WA, to visit the Point Defiance Zoo. We stayed in a hotel right on the Puget Sound, only 10 or 15 minutes away. The hotel was right on an area that had been upgraded from one might typically expect in Tacoma: a nice broad walking path, several restaurants and coffee shops, a clean public restroom … and little electric scooters all over the place. The kids wanted to ride the scooters, so we quickly figure it out: download the app, load some money on it, scan the QR code on the scooter to unlock it, and away you go. Well, that’s the idea anyway. The reality was much different:

First, it was hard to find a scooter that had enough of a charge to ride, for one thing. Then, we learned that one account means one scooter at a time. No way to scan multiple scooters so everyone can ride together.

I wondered about the economy of such an arrangement, but I was on vacation, so the heck with that.

Apparently someone else was wondering about that, and they’ve pulled down some data and did some analysis of the economic feasibility.

The long and the short of it: they aren’t economically viable at all. Each scooter costs somewhere between $360 and $510, and they last, on average, just under a month. At the low end, scooter companies lose nearly $300 per scooter. One wonders if these things are underwritten by the taxpayer. One also wonders if these scooters actually wear out, or if they are stolen/vandalized?

Bottom line: another prog pipe dream.

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There are 28 comments.

  1. Nanda "Chaps" Panjan… Inactive

    What a bummer! WalMart and the neighborhood grocery are excellent field-tests for what a loss-leader these are for public use. Folks who *need* such, even temporarily, have their own; these public ones are not maintained/repaired, etc. Further, those untrained “pilots” who use them in public places are often a safety-hazard to everyday users. Trust me on this…Did you use bikes/segues or something else fun, instead? I hope so. 

    • #1
    • March 3, 2019, at 9:55 AM PDT
    • 3 likes
  2. Arahant Member

    Heh, I liked the bit in the article about emotional baggage.

    • #2
    • March 3, 2019, at 9:59 AM PDT
    • 4 likes
  3. Spin Inactive
    Spin Post author

    Nanda "Chaps" Panjan… (View Comment):

    What a bummer! WalMart and the neighborhood grocery are excellent field-tests for what a loss-leader these are for public use. Folks who *need* such, even temporarily, have their own; these public ones are not maintained/repaired, etc. Further, those untrained “pilots” who use them in public places are often a safety-hazard to everyday users. Trust me on this…Did you use bikes/segues or something else fun, instead? I hope so.

    No…we found a scooter that had a charge and my son screamed around on it for a while.

    • #3
    • March 3, 2019, at 10:11 AM PDT
    • 3 likes
  4. EODmom Coolidge

    @spin I’ll posit that instead of a prog “pipe dream,” it’s worked out just about as intended: taxpayer funded contract + insider vendor = wealth redistribution. The wind farm and solar arrays – oh, and Hollywood movie and tv contracts – all have a similar construct. Amazingly, none of them ever seems to make money and all rely on taxpayer funding. 

    And, @nandapanjandrum – scooters are hideously unsafe. We observe them every summer in a nearby beach resort. And every fall/winter the year round residents work to have the businesses banned. Untrained, oblivious, unfamiliar and on vacation users are real hazards. I’m ready for it to be May but not for the scooters and mopeds. 

    • #4
    • March 3, 2019, at 10:13 AM PDT
    • 4 likes
  5. Jon1979 Lincoln

    My main problem is the scooters bring back the problems in crowded areas that bike lanes were supposed to resolve, of having riders and pedestrians sharing the sidewalk. I was in San Antonio two Saturdays ago, and the scooters do not play well with the pedestrians on the sidewalks above the Riverwalk (and I’m assuming no one’s been stupid enough yet to try and take one of those scooters down on the Riverwalk, but alcohol can do some amazing things….)

    • #5
    • March 3, 2019, at 10:18 AM PDT
    • 4 likes
  6. DonG Coolidge

    EODmom (View Comment):
    taxpayer funded contract + insider vendor = wealth redistribution.

    In my city, they are *not* taxpayer funded. My observation is that they work OK in areas with bike lanes. Without bike lanes, the scooters mix with either cars or pedestrians and neither works well. They are good on the fringe of a university campus or maybe some wide tourist area (eg, Vegas strip or Venus Beach).

    The business model is not that bad. The scooter cost is close to $200. I don’t think anyone makes money yet, but the survivor will. Even if the scooter doesn’t make money, having users install the app and sign away all their data is valuable. Remember, if you are not paying money, then you are paying with your data.

    • #6
    • March 3, 2019, at 10:50 AM PDT
    • 4 likes
  7. Spin Inactive
    Spin Post author

    EODmom (View Comment):
    Untrained, oblivious, unfamiliar and on vacation users are real hazards.

    So you saw my kid, then?

    • #7
    • March 3, 2019, at 10:52 AM PDT
    • 5 likes
  8. Spin Inactive
    Spin Post author

    EODmom (View Comment):
    it’s worked out just about as intended: taxpayer funded contract

    I can’t seem to find anything about it. You’d think that would be a matter of public record. I know that Lime paid close to $30 per scooter to the city in permits.

    • #8
    • March 3, 2019, at 10:58 AM PDT
    • 1 like
  9. Joshua Bissey Coolidge

    It was my understanding that public transportation never turns a profit, at least in the U.S. Even at the high-water mark of train travel (just before WWI, I think), passenger trains did not pay for themselves.

    • #9
    • March 3, 2019, at 11:04 AM PDT
    • 2 likes
  10. Jon1979 Lincoln

    Joshua Bissey (View Comment):

    It was my understanding that public transportation never turns a profit, at least in the U.S. Even at the high-water mark of train travel (just before WWI, I think), passenger trains did not pay for themselves.

    In New York, the private transportation companies running the subways and els were profitable until post-World War I inflation hit. Then they asked the city to allow them to raise the price of fares about a nickel, but were denied, and both companies were eventually taken over by the city 20 years later (after the city spent hundreds of millions of dollars to build their own subway system, not out into new parts of the city, but right next to existing subway and el lines, in order to bankrupt the private companies faster).

    The private firms’ problem 100 years ago is the same as companies tied to government regulation today, in that they’re only quasi-private companies, since they have to go to government to set their pricing, and since customers have to pay that price twice a day (compared to once a month for utilities), the pols are far less likely to allow rates the reflect costs. You see something similar today with private toll roads, where pols are far more likely to react to people yelping about the rates than they are with state-run toll roads, where the price may be just as high, but where the state’s keeping all the money).

    • #10
    • March 3, 2019, at 11:16 AM PDT
    • 2 likes
  11. RushBabe49 Thatcher

    About those toll roads. Today, the governments do NOT keep all the money. Even the state-run roads are actually managed by private companies who install all the equipment and collect the tolls. The states pay them up to 40% of the toll income for managing the roads.

    • #11
    • March 3, 2019, at 11:59 AM PDT
    • 2 likes
  12. Jon1979 Lincoln

    RushBabe49 (View Comment):

    About those toll roads. Today, the governments do NOT keep all the money. Even the state-run roads are actually managed by private companies who install all the equipment and collect the tolls. The states pay them up to 40% of the toll income for managing the roads.

    I was thinking mainly of the New York State Thruway system, where the state announced in the 1980s that the tolls would come off in the 1990s when the bonds were paid off, and then kept the tolls on the roads. AFAIK, there’s still no private contractor running New York’s system.

    • #12
    • March 3, 2019, at 12:02 PM PDT
    • 1 like
  13. Full Size Tabby Member

    From the linked article:

    General costs, based on reporting by The Information

    • Bird spent $1.72 per ride on charging costs

    • It spent another $0.51 per ride, on average, on repairs

    • Credit card fees cost $0.41 per ride

    • Customer support adds $0.06 per ride

    • Insurance is $0.05 per ride

    Does the $1.72 “charging costs” include the labor of the people going around finding the scooters that need recharging? The labor of finding and charging things that may be scattered hither and yon has always struck me as making the economics uncertain. (Yes, I know the scooters have GPS to make finding them easier, but still someone has to go around doing so, and labor is a continuous expense.)

    • #13
    • March 3, 2019, at 1:09 PM PDT
    • 2 likes
  14. DonG Coolidge

    Full Size Tabby (View Comment):
    Does the $1.72 “charging costs” include the labor of the people going around finding the scooters that need recharging? The labor of finding and charging things that may be scattered hither and yon has always struck me as making the economics uncertain. (Yes, I know the scooters have GPS to make finding them easier, but still someone has to go around doing so, and labor is a continuous expense.)

    I have a buddy that does charging for Lime. On a weekday he gets $4 to charge one and put it back in a usable location. It takes about $0.02 of electricity. The payment to charge one depends on the charging level (nearly out pays more) and the location (left in an inconvenient location pays more). On a rare occasion Lime will pay $9 to charge a scooter. From all that I assume that they get 3 or 4 rentals per charge. 

    • #14
    • March 3, 2019, at 1:28 PM PDT
    • 3 likes
  15. Arahant Member

    DonG (View Comment):
    From all that I assume that they get 3 or 4 rentals per charge.

    Never a good bet assuming.

    • #15
    • March 3, 2019, at 1:35 PM PDT
    • 1 like
  16. Doctor Robert Member

    My daughter and I rented one of these in San Diego last summer.
    Death wish.

    • #16
    • March 3, 2019, at 6:33 PM PDT
    • 1 like
  17. Spin Inactive
    Spin Post author

    Full Size Tabby (View Comment):

    From the linked article:

    General costs, based on reporting by The Information

    • Bird spent $1.72 per ride on charging costs

    • It spent another $0.51 per ride, on average, on repairs

    • Credit card fees cost $0.41 per ride

    • Customer support adds $0.06 per ride

    • Insurance is $0.05 per ride

    Does the $1.72 “charging costs” include the labor of the people going around finding the scooters that need recharging? The labor of finding and charging things that may be scattered hither and yon has always struck me as making the economics uncertain. (Yes, I know the scooters have GPS to make finding them easier, but still someone has to go around doing so, and labor is a continuous expense.)

    Lime has an interesting bit: you can get credits for the service by charging them up. I assume that means you take one home and charge it and use it the next day, so get credit for charging it yourself. Not sure if anyone goes around collecting them up.

    What I did see in my limited exposure was that, while the scooters were spread hither and yon that night, the next morning they were are lined up at attention in various spots.

    • #17
    • March 4, 2019, at 11:11 AM PDT
    • 1 like
  18. Spin Inactive
    Spin Post author

    DonG (View Comment):

    Full Size Tabby (View Comment):
    Does the $1.72 “charging costs” include the labor of the people going around finding the scooters that need recharging? The labor of finding and charging things that may be scattered hither and yon has always struck me as making the economics uncertain. (Yes, I know the scooters have GPS to make finding them easier, but still someone has to go around doing so, and labor is a continuous expense.)

    I have a buddy that does charging for Lime. On a weekday he gets $4 to charge one and put it back in a usable location. It takes about $0.02 of electricity. The payment to charge one depends on the charging level (nearly out pays more) and the location (left in an inconvenient location pays more). On a rare occasion Lime will pay $9 to charge a scooter. From all that I assume that they get 3 or 4 rentals per charge.

    That’s actually not bad. Maybe I should do that for a living. Let’s say I charged 10 per week day, that’s $40 a day, so $200 a week. I would probably have to live out of my car, but hey, there’s upsides: no rug rats. Well, I’d have to get rid of them first.

    • #18
    • March 4, 2019, at 11:13 AM PDT
    • 3 likes
  19. Joshua Bissey Coolidge

    https://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2018/05/charging-electric-scooters-is-a-cutthroat-business/560747/

    • #19
    • March 5, 2019, at 11:52 AM PDT
    • 3 likes
  20. Skyler Coolidge

    I don’t think city governments had anything to do with these. They just showed up and most cities were surprised.

    • #20
    • April 5, 2019, at 10:46 AM PDT
    • 1 like
  21. TBA Coolidge
    TBA

    Nanda "Chaps" Panjan… (View Comment):

    What a bummer! WalMart and the neighborhood grocery are excellent field-tests for what a loss-leader these are for public use. Folks who *need* such, even temporarily, have their own; these public ones are not maintained/repaired, etc. Further, those untrained “pilots” who use them in public places are often a safety-hazard to everyday users. Trust me on this…Did you use bikes/segues or something else fun, instead? I hope so.

    That reminds me; what happens if you don’t wear a helmet? Can you be cited? 

    • #21
    • April 5, 2019, at 11:53 AM PDT
    • Like
  22. TBA Coolidge
    TBA

    RushBabe49 (View Comment):

    About those toll roads. Today, the governments do NOT keep all the money. Even the state-run roads are actually managed by private companies who install all the equipment and collect the tolls. The states pay them up to 40% of the toll income for managing the roads.

    My understanding is that there are relatively few of these managing companies and that they are professional rent-seekers. 

    • #22
    • April 5, 2019, at 12:01 PM PDT
    • 2 likes
  23. TBA Coolidge
    TBA

    Jon1979 (View Comment):

    RushBabe49 (View Comment):

    About those toll roads. Today, the governments do NOT keep all the money. Even the state-run roads are actually managed by private companies who install all the equipment and collect the tolls. The states pay them up to 40% of the toll income for managing the roads.

    I was thinking mainly of the New York State Thruway system, where the state announced in the 1980s that the tolls would come off in the 1990s when the bonds were paid off, and then kept the tolls on the roads. AFAIK, there’s still no private contractor running New York’s system.

    This is my shocked face. 

    • #23
    • April 5, 2019, at 12:01 PM PDT
    • Like
  24. Concretevol Thatcher

    Spin: One wonders if these things are underwritten by the taxpayer.

    I would guess most definitely. Those things are all over Nashville, saw one the other weekend who’s handlebars had been ripped off….and at a bus stop a group of millennials gathered around a girl from their group who had obviously taken a tumble from her scooter. Those things are a nuisance and an eyesore so of course Knoxville has plans to get their own scooter fleet asap! Ugh…..government makes people dumb. 

    • #24
    • April 5, 2019, at 12:21 PM PDT
    • 2 likes
  25. Gary Robbins Reagan

    I am the Chair of the Flagstaff Transportation Commission. I can’t speak for other cities, but in Flagstaff, the City doesn’t underwrite the cost of rental bicycles or scooters. We do try to limit one vendor per season.

    • #25
    • April 5, 2019, at 1:52 PM PDT
    • 1 like
  26. Spin Inactive
    Spin Post author

    I wrote this post a month ago and it got promoted to the main feed just yesterday? They must be getting desperate!

    • #26
    • April 6, 2019, at 7:06 AM PDT
    • 2 likes
  27. TBA Coolidge
    TBA

    Spin (View Comment):

    I wrote this post a month ago and it got promoted to the main feed just yesterday? They must be getting desperate!

    It’s kind of like a life-time achievement Oscar. 

    • #27
    • April 6, 2019, at 2:49 PM PDT
    • Like
  28. Spin Inactive
    Spin Post author

    TBA (View Comment):

    Spin (View Comment):

    I wrote this post a month ago and it got promoted to the main feed just yesterday? They must be getting desperate!

    It’s kind of like a life-time achievement Oscar.

    They give those to old dudes who never did anything great. Seems about right!

    • #28
    • April 8, 2019, at 8:49 AM PDT
    • 1 like