Scooters are so retro that they are almost brand new.
That might seem, from certain angles, a decent problem to have: A mode of transportation often associated with the same 1950s culture that celebrated the Davy Crockett cap and the vanilla voice of Pat Boone is being remade for 21st century, digitally sophisticated, socially conscious consumers — people in need of temporary, short-distance rides, who are otherwise full participants in the ridesharing and Mobility-as-a-Service (MaaS) culture.
However, with the sense of the new (or, in this case, the sense of something long gone that is finding its way back onto crowded city sidewalks), there always comes an associated sense of reluctance or even low-level fear. How does one use such a thing that, until now, has only been seen in old movies and TV shows? More importantly, how does one use such a thing — or even a bike — and operate it in an urban environment without falling off, getting hit and suffering injury?
It’s hardly an academic concern.
In late September, a Lime scooter rider was killed on by an SUV in an accident around Washington D.C.’s DuPont neighborhood. The news came on the same day that the San Francisco-based scooter-sharing company launched a pilot program in Tacoma, Washington, and less than one month after a 24-year-old Dallas, Texas man fell off the scooter he was riding and died from blunt force injuries to his head.
To provide current and potential Lime customers a deeper education on how to use its scooters and bikes more safely, the company is launching a $3 million marketing campaign — the company’s largest campaign so far, according to Taylor Bennett, Limes’s director of public affairs — centered around safety. The campaign is not explicitly tied to that September fatality or any other mishap. However, Bennett told PYMNTS in a Wednesday (Nov. 7) interview that the effort could help bring a larger sense of comfort and familiarity to this growing part of the mobility ecosystem.
Lime and its rivals are gaining popularity — the company said customers have taken 11.5 million bike and electric scooter rides in the 14 months it has been in service. Bird, a company focused on e-scooters, provided more than 10 million rides in its first 12 months of operation. Lime added that it is gearing up to launch in an additional 50 cities around the globe before the closeout of 2018.
So what’s going on with this campaign, which Lime is calling “Respect the Ride?”
The company will place ads on social media, billboards and posters that will not only promote greater education about the safe use of scooters and bikes (areas in which ridesharing pioneers such as Uber and Lyft have become active), but encourage greater situation awareness about cars and pedestrians. Large billboards will go into these markets: San Francisco/Oakland, Columbus, Dallas, San Diego, Portland, Los Angeles, Denver, Atlanta, Reno and Nashville.
Lime will push out instructional videos about how to use its products safely. The company will host a summit for what it calls “shared mobility,” which will “include key stakeholders and officials to discuss topics such as safety, transportation and policy engagement.” Lime will send out “brand ambassadors” to do community outreach and distribute 250,000 helmets over the coming months.
During the PYMNTS interview, Bennett brushed away any suggestion that the campaign, which launched this week, was designed to gain new customers, spark more interest in scooters and bikes, or boost revenue. However, it’s hard to miss how teaching on-the-fence consumers — perhaps a 40-something dad who used to ride bikes in the city, but now worries about breaking a wrist during an accident, or a cautious college student who thinks scooters are hip — about how to better use Lime’s products can lead to customer acquisition.
It’s also hard to miss how the campaign could assuage the concerns of some local public officials, tasked with potentially regulating these shared scooters and bikes, and tempted to impose draconian restrictions on their use in response to constituent complains about reckless riders. After all, both Uber and Lyft still face significant political pressures, and those companies have more money to use for lobbying, and are likely much more familiar to the officials making the decisions at the local level.
“The more people feel comfortable” with the use of these scooters and bikes, Bennett said, “the more cities will feel comfortable, and that will be better for the entire ecosystem.” In fact, when asked to look ahead eight or 12 months, Bennett said he anticipates something akin to “scooter mania” as this form of shared mobility catches on. That may seem too optimistic to some observers, but there is no denying that when it comes urban development and plans for “smart cities,” scooters — along with bikes, rideshares and even self-driving cars — are standard features of those visions.
Bennett gave no details about how many accidents have taken place with Lime users, but said they are “not frequent” and that customers can report such incidents via the Lime app, social media or email. Statistical reality promises that the increased use of a transport mode will indeed lead to more accident and injury, but there seems little danger in trying to tackle that problem from the front end — and perhaps gain some customers and political support while doing so.