“The question is: How do we get the people who aren’t using the scooters to feel the system is working for them?” Dastoor said.
One step is a lock-to system that Skip is developing, which will keep scooters attached to existing bike-locking infrastructure—and off of sidewalks. Another is rider education, especially trying to get people to ride in the street like they are supposed to do. But riding in the street without a bike lane can feel dangerous, so Skip has committed $500,000 to lobby for improved infrastructure.
There’s also just basic responsiveness to citizen concerns. In Washington, Skip asked the city’s department of transportation to tell it where the big trouble spots were for citizens, Dastoor told me. It found that most of the complaints were not about scooters in motion, but what they’re doing when they’re not getting used. So, Skip did something simple: It offered a phone contact for the people making complaints to the Washington DOT. It’s not rocket science, but it is antithetical to the way that most start-ups work.
“It’s really easy to not want to listen to those folks,” Dastoor said. “If you’re growing really quickly and serving your riders, it’s easy to say, ‘We’ll return your call later.’”
And that really is the rub. The many mobility start-ups could make life much easier for city residents who don’t use their services, but that has not been their top priority. In the first San Francisco rollout debacle, Lime claimed it was only “popping up” its service, but that caused Bird to jump in, guns blazing, despite the city asking the scooter companies to wait on regulation. And Spin didn’t want to be left behind and deployed, too. It was a messy scramble for customers. “Other companies think this is like software companies: Acquire as many users as possible, then later we’ll figure out how to make money,” Scoot CEO Michael Keating told us. “That mentality isn’t really sustainable.”
Blowback from local governments could slow adoption beyond scooters, including a variety of new vehicles that also promise to change the way we move around the world’s cities. Scoot’s Keating estimated that all the different small, electric vehicles (including future autonomous ones) could make up 25 percent of all travel within global urban centers over the next 10 or 20 years. Those services would aspire to push people away from owning their own cars powered by fossil fuels. The larger system could deliver the same or greater mobility for people, as each different kind of electric vehicle meets a particular tranche of uses.
Read: A new bible for bike lanes
In the meantime, however, there are so many things that need to be worked out. Who, for example, should regulate small electric vehicles? Departments of Motor Vehicles could be pressed into service, but that might be overkill for a one-wheel or an electric scooter. After all, bikes need not be registered with the DMV. At the same time, it feels like someone should be checking these things for roadworthiness.