If you look at the headlines about the shared scooter industry — with service shut-downs and cratering valuations — you easily could predict the long-hyped sector's demise. But what if now is the moment for scooters to really shine and deliver the unique transportation value that the new world needs? At least for a company that remains standing.
For Andrew Savage, Lime's head of sustainability and impact, the time for scooters has arrived, in a similar way that online meeting platform Zoom, food delivery services and connected biking company Peloton are exploding during the shelter-in-place order. "I believe that post-pandemic, it will be micromobility's moment," said Savage in an interview.
If you haven't been following the roller coaster ride of Lime lately, here's a recap. The company, along with some of its peers, shut down most services when the pandemic hit, laid off some employees, ended up raising a $170 million round led by Uber and in the process also acquired Uber's shared bike service Jump. Plus, the funding forced it to reportedly lose 80 percent of its valuation.
But in recent weeks Lime has started to open up services, as more of an essential operation, in Paris, Tel Aviv, Berlin, Copenhagen, Warsaw, Oklahoma City, Austin, Columbus, Washington, D.C. and other cities.
It appears that riders in these cities are turning to scooters as a major transportation service. Lime has seen median trip times double in Oklahoma City and Columbus since reopening, indicating that riders are using scooters for full commutes instead of just first mile and last mile.
Now more than ever, people are demanding open-air, single-occupancy transportation.
Part of the shift obviously comes from consumer need and preference. "Now more than ever, people are demanding open-air, single-occupancy transportation," Savage noted. It also has to do with distrust in the safety of public transportation, which has seen spikes in operators falling ill to COVID-19 in places such as New York.
Another part of the transformation has to do with policy. Some cities such as Paris are working hard to make sure that a post-pandemic world isn't overrun with single occupancy vehicle driving. Paris is building 404 miles of lanes for micromobility, including bikes and scooters, and last week Lime relaunched its 2,000-scooter service as the city has started to ease its lockdown.
The scooter companies are being forced to adapt to the new world in order to survive. "We spent the first two years as an industry as disruptors of the status quo. What we've seen during the pandemic is scooters are being established as more of an essential service," Savage said.
City leaders and transportation planners have long called for scooter companies and cities to align more closely to offer riders better service. It looks as if a crisis might be able to make that a reality.
Of course, this can only be a big moment for scooters if the operators make it through the hard times. For Lime, the pandemic shut-down came at a particularly inopportune time for the company. "We were on the doorstep of being the first micromobility company to reach profitability and be cash-flow positive," Savage said.
Post-pandemic, Lime might be a smaller company with a lower valuation, but it has the opportunity to grow its position as the dominant micromobility provider. It has the Jump bikes, a new round of funding, a deeper partnership with Uber and the most widespread reach. Savage said: "I think we're in the best position to take advantage of the moment."
What do you think? Will scooters surge like Zoom? Funny, I always thought Uber and Lyft eventually would dominate the scooter market.
This article is adapted from GreenBiz's weekly newsletter, Transport Weekly, running Tuesdays. Subscribe here.