Anyone can ride an electric scooter, but is it better to buy a scooter or pay for ride-sharing?
Electric scooters are a fast, fun, and inexpensive way to travel short distances. They are a great way to get around, ideal for commuting to work or off-roading at the weekends with your boys. But are you better off owning or sharing electric scooters?
Because they’re such a cheap, easy, and convenient ways to travel, it’s not surprising that in a recent study undertaken by UC Berkeley’s Haas School of Business, and Unagi Scooters, it was suggested that the electric scooter industry will have annual revenue of between $34 and $42 billion during the next five years.
With virtually no barrier to entry, anyone with a mobile phone, and the relevant App can unlock a scooter, pay for it, and be on their way in a matter of minutes.
It’s easy to see why electric scooter companies are taking the world by storm, and why dockless e-scooter tech companies are the fastest growing sector in history.
Electric scooters are reaching 500 million users. With valuations of over $2bn, US-based companies including Bird, and Lime are offering urban mobility ride-sharing solutions for less than a few dollars a day.
Prefer to own than rent
However, while it is expected that ride-sharing will take a large chunk of the phenomenal growth in the electric scooter market, they won’t have it all to themselves.
As the Berkeley study also reported that between 35-40% of regular riders would prefer to own a scooter rather than rent one.
So now we’re left with one simple question, when it comes to electric scooters, what’s better – sharing or owning?
Consider the costs
Less than your daily cup of coffee
A typical rideshare two-mile commute in most major cities around the globe is equal to about $3.25 per trip. The activation charge is around $1 per ride and the usage rate is about on average $0.15 per minute, which on the face of is not that expensive, it’s less than a daily cup of coffee in Starbucks.
Time-wise, it takes around 15 to 20 minutes to travel two miles. So, on the surface, short term renting does make sense and it’s not likely to break the bank.
But how does that compare with buying a scooter?
Quick return on your investment
Well, let’s say you were to invest in something like Swagger 5 from Elite, which is fast (up to around 15 miles per hour), has good battery life (approximately 10 miles per charge ), is easy to use, and currently costs around $350.00. You’re going to break even on the initial cost versus renting a scooter after approximately 55 days ($3.25 multiplied by two trips a day equals $6.50 x 55 days).
It’s not all plain sailing
Look at the cost of ownership versus renting this way. Because of changes in the weather, changes to your daily routine, the days when you need to travel by public transport or go by car or annual holidays – you will probably not use your scooter 7 days a week, 365 days a year.
So you should consider additional travel costs if you’re doing a like for like cost comparison before you buy.
There is no doubt that the benefits of scooter rentals are abundant, the ability to open an app, rent a scooter in less than two minutes, and ditch it (a subject we will cover later) when you’re finished, is the epitome of convenience.
Not always available
But there’s a downside to this convenience. Inconsistent availability – rentals are not always available or conveniently situated within walking distance of your location. So you could end using another form of transport to get to the location of the scooter, which does seem to defeat the object.
However, when the scooter is yours, this is not an issue. You are safe in the knowledge that you have a ride when and where you need it. So you can plan and there’s no risk of a scooter not being available.
This is especially convenient if you’re using your ride to get to work and for traveling to other parts of your schedule. Or if you need a quick trip to the store. And if you’re using your scooter as part of your daily commute, it’s easy to store it under a desk
However, owning a scooter does require a few extra considerations that are not factors when you rent, including the fact that you’ll need to charge the battery, which could be annoying if you don’t have a garage or if you have to carry your scooter up flights of stairs to your home or office.
So while there is a degree of convenience in renting, it may not be a good solution when you need to rely on a scooter.
‘Customize’ versus ‘One size fits all’
One size fits all
The electric scooter ride-sharing business model is all about keeping the stock inventory costs to a minimum, meaning the majority of rental scooters are the same in terms of style, size, weight load, suspension, brakes, and overall build quality. Little consideration is given to the fact that their customers are all different, in terms of size, height, and weight.
Not always quicker than walking
As a result of this model, most rental scooters are designed for riding on flat even surfaces, they are unlikely to be able to tackle anything more than a gentle slope, let alone a hill or any rough terrain. Furthermore, in some instances, they are speed restricted to no more than a brisk walking pace.
So, while the ‘one size fits all’ model may work from a business perspective, it pays little or no attention to individual rider needs, comfort or safety.
Talking about safety, anyone who rides an electric scooter without wearing a helmet has either a ‘death wish’ or has never face planted into the pavement at 15mph.
But, it’s so often the case, that the rental companies don’t supply safety equipment, and they leave it up to the individual hirer to provide their own.
So unless you’re one of the above, or you’re extremely confident that you will be sharing an electric scooter, you might want to give some thought to how carrying a helmet around with you, just in case you’re going to rent a scooter might impact on your day?
How reliable is a rental scooter?
Because they’re a business tool to be actively engaged, rain or shine, most rideshare electric scooters are kept outdoors. As a result, they’re exposed to all the elements that cause wear and tear. So it can have a major impact on their reliability.
For example, most electric scooters are not waterproof. So it’s only a matter of time before water can destroy its electrical components. Water can also negatively affect the electric motor, brakes and wheel bearings. This can have an impact on the steering, and overall handling.
Dust & Grime
Besides water, all sorts of dust and road grime can find its way into the smallest of gaps. And when dust gets into components like the electric motor – the motor may not only be severely damaged it could also seize up.
Hot and cold temperatures also play a role. Lithium-ion batteries can be easily damaged if they’re exposed to very high temperatures. Cold temperatures force electric motors to work harder which can result in overheating and long-term damage.
Along with battery and motor issues, abuse of brakes, tires, and suspension can also impact the overall reliability and rider comfort.
Did the last rider care?
Lack of responsibility
Riding with excess weight, through potholes, over rocks and dropping down the curb is just part of the daily punishment a rental scooter can expect to go through. And what’s worse – the next rider will never know any of this has taken place.
Because rideshare electric scooters are notorious for being abandoned almost anywhere – including sidewalks and busy streets, they quite often fall over hitting the hard concrete sidewalk or rough grounds.
This type of constant shocks, not only decreases the lifespan of the scooter but any damage inflicted can also affect the overall long-term performance of the scooter.
Impact on the Environment
When you’ve finished using your rental scooter what do you do with it?
Ideally, you want to dispose of it quickly and safely. But you also want to be a friend to the environment. So you return it to the closest docking station – sadly that’s not always the case.
Dumped on the side of the road
As we mentioned earlier, far too often rental scooters get dumped on the side of the road or discarded across the pavement. This is usually a result of them either running out of battery or the rider has arrived at the destination.
And there is no obvious place to leave the scooter or worse-still, the rider simply can’t be bothered to act responsibly.
(On this point, and in the interest of a balanced argument, it should be pointed out that this behavior isn’t exclusive to electric scooters, bicycle rental companies face the same issues).
The strain on the environment
As a result of this poor behavior, rental companies have been forced to employ increased numbers of scooter collectors who have to drive around nightly to charge batteries and check for damage. This results in more emissions from the collectors’ vans and a greater strain on the environment.
Banned in a number of cities
Irresponsible uses have also impacted on public health and safety issues. There have been many cases of vandalism and the abandonment of scooters. These cases caused accidents to pedestrians and other road users. Several major cities, including London, have banned scooter ride-sharing companies.
Theft, broken and discarded scooters may be considered by the rental companies as simply the cost of doing business. But the carbon embodied in the manufacturing of this product and replacing them is a factor to consider.
1-3 month lifespan
Recent in-depth research conducted by leading independent online investment analysts concluded that the average lifespan of a shared electric scooter is between 1-3 months. They run this long before they need to be replaced, compared to the lifespan of a privately owned scooter which is around 3 years.
Think of it this way, owning a scooter means it does not have to be collected by a van in the evening to be charged, only to be redistributed again by a van in the morning.
So what’s the answer
When it comes to sharing or buying an electric scooter there is no definitive answer to what is the best option. Both have their advantages and it’s down to your individual choice and what works best for your lifestyle. To help you with making the choice that’s right for you, let’s take one last look at the pros and cons of buying, and sharing.
- Always available
- Customized to suit your individual needs
- Fully maintained
- One-off payment
- Long term money-saving
- Initial cost outlay
- Unable to use 365 days
- Still a need to pay transport costs
- Not always practical to use or store
- Relatively low daily ride charge
- No up-front investment
- Hop-on/Hop-off to suit your need
- Poorly maintained
- Previous rider abuse
- Negative impact on the environment
- Lack of availability
The Last Word
Electric scooters are a great way to have fun and to get out, whether it’s for daily commuting or just taking in the sights and sounds. So deciding whether to share or buy is a personal choice dependent on your daily routine.
Whatever you decide, remember to take care and ride safe.