By: Ryan Citron
While major micromobility companies such as Lime and Bird have deployed e-kick scooter sharing services in over 100 cities globally, the technology faces several hurdles to continued expansion. These barriers include safety concerns around usage on sidewalks and profitability issues related to vehicle quality, durability, and reliability. e-Kick scooters have also received increasing scrutiny around the sustainability of their operations because most services use gas-powered vans to collect and recharge the vehicles.
Addressing Barriers Through Tech and Policy
Major technology developments and policy initiatives are underway to address the most pressing barriers to e-kick scooter sharing. For example, a number of companies are working on detection technologies that would keep e-kick scooters off sidewalks. DxHUB, a partnership between Amazon Web Services and California Polytechnic State University, has developed a prototype solution. It uses surface categorization algorithms to detect cracks in sidewalks and accelerator sensors (that cost less than $1) to detect when the scooter is used on asphalt roads versus concrete sidewalks. Bird is developing a chip solution to stop e-kick scooters from entering pedestrian spaces. Meanwhile, Lime is using AI, an accelerometer, and speed data to determine what type of road a user is traveling on with 95% accuracy.
In Chicago, several best practices are being integrated into its 2020 e-kick scooter pilot. The city requires vendors to deploy 50% of their devices in Equity Priority Areas. Additionally, all e-kick scooters are restricted from sidewalks and must come equipped with built-in cables for securing to bike racks or poles. As a result, the city has seen a 60% reduction in scooter-related complaints and has increased access to e-kick scooters in its underserved communities.
Significant quality improvements are also being made to e-kick scooter vehicles themselves. While the industry initially used consumer-grade vehicles that would typically last 2-3 months, operators are turning to commercial grade, purpose-built vehicles for the sharing environment. e-Kick scooters from newer sharing services such as LINK (from Superpedestrain) are longer lasting, offering over 2,500 rides or 1 year assuming 6-7 rides per day. They also have improved electric range (55 miles/charge), electronics for theft and vandalism protection, and onboard computing software to identify what components need servicing—reducing parts and labor costs.
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Becoming More Sustainable
Micromobility sharing companies have also increasingly committed to sustainability targets for their operations. Some key examples include:
- San Francisco, California-based Lime committed to transitioning its operations fleet to electric vans by 2021 in Europe and globally by 2023. The company will also power its offices and warehouses with 100% renewable energy.
- Sweden-based Voi Scooters aims to reach carbon neutrality in 2021 with an all-electric operations fleet of e-vans and e-cargo bikes.
- Estonia’s Bolt is dedicated to carbon-negative scooter operations by the end of 2020, using recyclable e-kick scooters and renewable energy to power warehouses.
e-Kick Scooter Growth Potential
According to Guidehouse Insights, the global installed base of shared e-kick scooters is expected to rise from roughly 400,000 vehicles in 2020 to 1.3 million by 2030, at a 12.7% CAGR. For this type of growth to occur, technology and policy improvements will need to continue making e-kick scooters more desirable for consumers and municipal governments alike. Detection technology to keep e-kick scooters off sidewalks, purpose-built vehicles designed for the wear and tear of sharing, mandates for built-in cables for parking, a focus on equity, and sustainability improvements will go a long way toward making this growth a reality.