Coronavirus: Has it dampened our desire for rental scooters?

 A Lime rental e-scooter stands alone on a city street.

Commuting is in the midst of a revolution. The great cities of today’s world are dominated by a young and environmentally-conscious professional class, and more than ever they are turning to electric scooters as their primary way to get to work. It’s a trend that looks set to continue; when the dust settles from the Coronavirus crisis, will people want to force themselves into mucky tubes in poorly ventilated tunnels underground? Already offices are telling employees they should only return to worksites if public transport can be avoided. Seeing cycle lanes with motorised scooters could prove to be a defining image of post-Covid city life.

The pandemic has transformed our notion of what it is to share space; as a result, the idea of renting a scooter seems less appealing. How can we be sure that a rental scooter has been properly cleaned? What if it runs out of charge and we have to get another one? In the new world, many of us will be looking to minimise our contact with communal surfaces, especially in the bustling ant-colony of the modern mega-city. Owning is back in fashion; and Taur’s scooters are being built to own.

The short-term effects of Covid-19 on rental scooters

The scooter industry’s meteoric rise of recent years is inexorably tied to the rental model; so when Coronavirus hit, it hit hard. Analysis of US Credit Card data, collected by the New York Times, shows spending on scooter rentals dropped by nearly 100%; the biggest fall across all methods of transportation. The two biggest rental companies, Lime and Bird, have gone through mass layoffs, losing 580 positions, with Lime’s valuation dropping by 80%. Globally it is thought the scooter and bike rental industry has lost 1,000 full-time jobs since March.  

Although as lockdown eased, so did the bad news. Since Lime returned its scooters to South Korea, trips are up 14% on pre-virus levels and in the US, early data indicates that riders are taking longer trips than before the pandemic, suggesting a turning point is looming.  

A dockless rental e-scooter is parked next to a statue, while a woman rides a rental scooter in the background.
Photography by Darshan Patel

The e-scooter: the green, Covid-secure future?

Data from across the world shows that public transport is being used 75% less than it was in February, while driving is recovering from its initial slump at a much quicker rate. Although this makes sense at a time of individual bubbles and portable hand sanitizer, we also live in a world where the Arctic Circle recently recorded temperatures 18℃ higher than the seasonal average. Climate change is real, its effects are happening now, and before Covid-19 the world’s focus was on reforming existing ways of life to prevent environmental catastrophe. We’ve all gotten used to bluer skies over the past few months, just one of the environmental benefits of Coronavirus that we also discuss in a previous post on how coronavirus will change our approaches to transport and climate change. If cities aren’t careful, years of green initiatives and nudging people towards carbon-neutral transport will be gone overnight, as people retreat into their cars to avoid infection.  

Luckily, the UK is taking action. Local councils are preparing a pilot scheme for e-scooters across 30 cities, while London has activated a £250 million active travel fund to build pop-up cycle lanes and wider pavements. UK authorities have clearly realised how far they have fallen behind other European countries. In a recent survey, one in five Finns said they had used e-scooters for business trips, with 41% of respondents saying they had used e-scooters for journeys normally completed by taxi. 

However, this pilot scheme will make rental scooters legal; privately owned e-scooters are still banned until further notice. But this presents the consumer with a problem. As demonstrated by their fall in value, rental companies have no way to convince the casual rider that every scooter they pick up has been cleaned since the previous user. The whole point of casual micromobility is the freedom to hop-off wherever you like, and while it might be technically possible for a rental company to track and clean vehicles, convincing riders they have done so may prove impossible. The result will leave potential customers with a disarming question: whose health do I risk, my own or the planet’s?

A line of dockless rental electric scooters are parked haphazardly on a patch of grass.
Photography by Zera Li

The turning point

The demographic of e-scooter riders tends to be young, city-dwelling professionals. We know, from recent electoral data that these people care passionately about the environment. They also have disposable income, more so after a blanket lockdown, and are being asked to return to work and support their local pub.

Although we are behind other countries in adopting the electric scooter, the UK can use this to its advantage by learning from others’ mistakes. Many European cities have suffered from giving out too many contracts with excessive scooter quantities to provide the dockless rental service, causing pavements to be crowded with vehicles as riders thoughtlessly hop off. A crowded pavement is not something that is going to be tolerated in the new age of social distancing. 

The idea of young people solving these problems by buying a car is absurd. The world’s appetite for micromobility is here to stay, but concepts of personal space have changed dramatically in a matter of months. On top of this, the idea of scooters as disposable is not one that will survive the public’s greater awareness around sustainability. 

The view from the Taur

Put simply, the tide is shifting towards ownership. It’s why Taur scooters are built with this in mind. Our electric scooters are focused on portability, safety and being roadworthy in the long-term. Owning an e-scooter is an investment, and may not be the right option for the casual rider; but for those who need a method of transport that is both green and socially distant, owning your e-scooter is the best way to guarantee control over who rides it, and how often it gets cleaned.


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