From Santa Monica to Miami and from Portland, Oregon, to Providence, R.I., electric scooters kicked expansion into high gear, covering sidewalks and streets across the country in 2018. Since then, e-scooter companies have gone international, expanding into locations from Australia and Latin America to Israel.
How did these companies grow so much so fast? Scooter companies leveraged investor money and smartphone technology-as-inventory-control to expand rapidly, going from fewer than five to more than 70 cities in 2018. The map below shows just how quickly that expansion took place.
The dockless scooters, which riders can rent with a smartphone app and park almost anywhere, became polarizing after popping up in earnest last summer. Transit advocates hailed how easy the scooters were to use and their potential to decrease road congestion by providing an alternative to cars and taxis for short trips. Critics complained of riders speeding through sidewalks and of parked scooters cluttering cities. And hospitals saw a rise in scooter-related injuries.
Scooter operators aggressively expanded using moves from ride-hailing giants Uber and Lyft’s playbooks (note that Uber acquired e-scooter company Jump in August 2018 and Lyft launched its own e-scooter service in September), often launching fleets in cities before securing permits in the hope that riders would pressure local politicians into greenlighting their use.
That approach paid off. Bird and Lime, the two largest operators, both reached $1 billion valuations within a year of launching their companies.
It also drew pushback from municipal governments. Several cities, including San Francisco, Austin, Texas, and Indianapolis, either banned scooters outright or issued temporary injunctions before rolling out limited pilot programs. In January, accessibility advocates sued the city of San Diego and three e-scooter companies over the hazard the vehicles on sidewalks presented to the disabled. Also in January, Denver introduced regulations requiring scooter riders to ride only on the street.
But the scooters proved popular with the public. Riders in Santa Monica, California, which introduced a scooter pilot in fall 2018, took 150,000 trips in November 2018. And in Denver, a poll conducted by the city’s public works department found that 55 percent of respondents had a positive opinion of the scooters.
The scooter companies have since set their sights abroad. Bird, Lime and an e-scooter company founded in 2011 named Scoot, have all launched in cities in Europe and Latin America. Bird has launched in Tel Aviv in Israel, while Lime has started operations as far away as Australia and New Zealand.
Bird has also signaled intentions to invest in public bike lanes. In August, the company announced plans to fund protected bike lanes in its cities of operation. And in January, TechCrunch reported that Bird chief executive Travis VanderZanden told an audience at a Los Angeles technology conference that he expected to focus more on infrastructure in 2019.
“The deeper I get into transportation, the more I realize we don’t need autonomous vehicles, we don’t need tunnels, all we need are more bike lanes,” VanderZanden said.