It’s not exactly Ali vs. Foreman — or Anakin vs. Obi Wan, if you prefer. Yet, when it comes to the next big thing in mobility-as-a-service, the scooter-vs.-bicycle storyline is getting interesting.
The investments, for instance, are heating up.
Electric scooter-sharing startup Bird recently said it might raise another $200 million in a funding round. Observers are anticipating that the company’s valuation could approach $2 billion. That would follow a reported $150 million funding round in May that was led by by Sequoia Capital.
“The rapid pace of Bird’s fundraising suggests that some in Silicon Valley are convinced it will be more than a fad,” said a report this week (June 11) in the Financial Times.
However, though the spotlight in recent days has turned to scooter, bicycles — or, more accurately, bike sharing — are certainly not being left behind. Earlier this month, for instance, Lyft said it would buy the bike-sharing company Motivate in a deal worth at least $250 million, according to reports. That news came after Uber spent $200 million to acquire bike-sharing operator JUMP.
So, what’s the deal with scooters?
Read local reports, or talk to users in the cites where scooter sharing has started, and you’ll easily find enthusiasm for the “next big thing,” or even a sense of sunny nostalgia for transportation devices that are typically associated with childhood. In addition, scooters are small — smaller than bikes — and, for some riders, require less skill to operate safely than bicycles. And scooter-sharing programs enable users to simply leave the devices on the sidewalk when rides are complete instead of, say, finding a docking station.
Then again, resistance is building against scooters. Pedestrians have complained about the relatively speedy machines presenting a safety hazard, and the unused machines taking up space on clogged sidewalks.
Not only that, but observers are asking how scooter-sharing companies such as Bird and Lime are really making their money, and if they are keeping their promises to consumers. Those companies have repeatedly said they are not selling consumer data — and continued to do so in a recent article in the San Francisco Chronicle that questioned those promises.
San Francisco Supervisor “Aaron Peskin is highly dubious about these scooter companies and how they really intend to make money,” the report said. “After all, they charge just $1 per ride and 15 cents per minute, which is cheaper than pretty much every other thing in this exorbitant city.”
He went on to tell the paper that “they’ve all denied to me that they are selling the data, but if you look at the fine print, you see they can sell everything. Of course, they haven’t sold it yet. They’ve just entered the marketplace.”
Of course, ridesharing firms, such as Uber and Lyft, have faced — and still do — their own challenges from local officials and consumers worried about data privacy, and those companies have managed to find ways to deal with that while making money. The interest in scooters shows no sign of fading anytime soon, as the Financial Times noted.
“As the transport industry faces a wave of technological changes, from self-driving cars to ridesharing, one investor in the industry likened Uber and Lyft to early web pioneers such as Yahoo, suggesting Bird would prove as disruptive an upstart to those multibillion dollar companies as Facebook did to earlier internet companies,” the article said.
That means the battle for what analysts call “micro-mobility” is just getting started.