Electric Scooter Share Business ‘Scoot,’ Grows in San Francisco

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Scoot rider in San Francisco

Back in October 2012, we reported on a new urban mobility service operated by Scoot Networks, which at the time had just beta-launched in San Francisco. While similar to the numerous bike-share operations that have sprung up in hundreds of cities around the world, Scoot modified that model; from its website, “Scoots are shared, electric, smartphone-activated motor-scooters you can ride in the city.”

As a membership-based service, riders can use Scoot’s app to locate available scooters from numerous locations around the city, check the state of charge of any given vehicle, and by docking their smartphone, unlock a ride to go about their business.

Sixteen months on, this week I spoke with Michael Keating, Scoot’s CEO, to hear how their business is developing. Things appear to be on the up.

Following their September 2012 launch, 2013 saw the company move through a steep learning curve — figuring out how to operate the service, work out the kinks and as Keating says, “raise a bunch of capital.”

This year will see the company build out the service in San Francisco, with the aim, Keating says, “to make it a fully fledged service for the city.” Growth has already been significant. At launch, Scoot operated from four staging locations in the city’s South of Market neighborhood, with just 20 Scooters. Since then, they’ve expanded to 12 locations, and with a further five opening up this week, Scoot will offer members 17 locations throughout San Francisco to pick up a scooter.

In addition, the company is expanding its fleet this week, bringing the number to more than 50 scooters available for members to use. Better still, they are lowering their pricing to $3 for the first half hour and $1.50 after that, which Keating tells me, makes any trip under an hour now cheaper than before.

Significantly, the new pricing reflects changes in usage patterns that Scoot has observed since they offered “one-way” rides between staging locations last summer. Initially, the service required that members begin and end their trips from the same location. Now, people can take a scooter from one location and drop off at another, which has tended to make trip duration shorter. Since offering one-way trips, they have rapidly become the majority of rides taken, and the new pricing makes the service even more affordable. At the same time, with shorter, one-way trips, scooters go back into service for other members to use sooner, making the network more efficient.

For a relatively small fleet of vehicles at the outset, over the past 16 months, Scoot has enabled 10,000 rides while covering an aggregate distance of more than 50,000 miles. The company estimates its service has kept 62,000 pounds of CO2 from the environment.

Based on the Scoot team’s experience so far, I asked Keating if they had come across any surprises. He told me they were, “surprised by the variety of usage.” As expected, many members use the service for commuting, but they also found a significant number of people using the service on a once-per-week or once-per-month basis, to run errands, go to the gym or simply check out a new neighborhood. Also, many members who initially used the scooters for recreation then began to realize they’re also a fast and economical way to get around the city, leading them to start using the service for more practical purposes.

Of course, there are many ways to get around tech-infused San Francisco. In the 16 months since Scoot has been in business, the Bay Area bike share program has started, while app-based taxi substitutes such as Uber and Lyft have proliferated. I asked Keating whether these alternatives had made growing Scoot more challenging. Instead he said, “we see them as complements.” Taxis are useful if people have been out drinking, for example, and bike share is cheap, but you quickly run into hills in San Francisco, so, “We play our own role.”

Going forward, I asked about plans for expansion to other cities. “We’re looking to explore, but probably won’t be in other cities before 2015.” However, Keating says they are informed by bike sharing programs that have exploded in recent years, explaining that since Paris launched theirs in 2007, that model has been copied in more than 700 cities worldwide in less than seven years. If the market for shared electric scooters is even a fraction of that, it paints a potentially rosy future ahead.

Image Credit: Photo courtesy of Scoot

Phil Covington holds an MBA in Sustainable Management from Presidio Graduate School. In the past, he spent 16 years in the freight transportation and logistics industry. Today, Phil's writing focuses on electric vehicles and sustainable business matters in general. Twitter: @PhilCovBlog