A New Way Forward: The Rental Model

by Alexandra Pacurar

How does the rental business model for e-scooters and e-bikes fare mid-pandemic? We’ve been starting to wonder about this potential solution to the transportation challenges that the coronavirus outbreak has brought upon us. With most offers launched a year or two ago (oh, we were so naive back then, thinking about an amazing 2020 ahead), we looked at how things changed over the last months.

Single-rider transportation options continue to gain popularity in major U.S. and other global cities as the effects of the COVID-19 outbreak still linger on the public transportation system. This is why using electric scooters or bikes to commute seems like a good solution. What would make things easier is always having the vehicle ready and close by, at your doorstep. There are some micromobility providers who understood this need (way before the coronavirus story popped) and rolled out offers for riders to rent e-scooters on a monthly basis. And it wasn’t just this need that fueled the business experiment, but also the urgency to find a solution to make the industry more profitable as many micromobility providers announced layoffs and losses way before the COVID-19 crisis due to significant losses.

Increased demand encouraged other providers to expand to new markets or launch new products mid-pandemic, even if not all are monthly rental models. Here are some of the ones we looked at:

Bird

Bird was one of the first that launched a monthly payment plan for riders who would have the scooter delivered at their doorstep. However, those who tried it were not satisfied. The biggest problems were the smaller battery capacity compared to those that are usually available to ride directly from the street, the speed limitation—also lower compared to regular shared scooters—and, overall, the quality of the vehicles. One of the biggest pros was the affordable price: $24.99/month.

While the company’s scooters were banned on the streets in San Francisco, you can still join a waitlist for a Bird rental. The waiting is probably down to the coronavirus and other issues related to using a scooter—especially in San Francisco, recently under curfew due to protests—rather than increased demand. No further details on the monthly rental offer are available on the company’s website.

Scoot

In the meantime, Bird operates in the city through Scoot, which it now owns. Scoot does not provide monthly rentals, but it does provide a subscription program for its motos (electric motor scooters). However, Scoot’s mopeds have not been available since the pandemic started. San Francisco will soon welcome Scoot rival Revel, which will offer electric mopeds for $0.39/minute plus $1 to unlock the vehicle. Apparently, Revel does not have a rental program that allows the riders to take the moto home with them.

Spin

Spin provides a monthly rental program at a considerably higher price compared to Bird—$2/day or $59 for 30 whole days. In this case too, there is a waitlist as “rentals are currently full,” according to the company’s website. In exchange for the rate, Spin+ promises a premium electric scooter, unlimited maintenance, charging cable and free delivery, among others.

Skip

Skip, formerly the most popular scooter rental app in San Francisco, seems to have chosen to stay quiet recently as it was among the companies that was not permitted to operate in the city and, in the meantime, the pandemic grew stronger in the U.S. With no official updates on its social media pages since April, the company’s latest news was the announcement regarding its high maintenance costs and decision to invest in more sustainable vehicles.

Lime

In June, Lime announced the expansion of its LimePass subscription program—users are now able to purchase daily or monthly passes. Each of these include a limited number of scooter or bike rides for costs ranging from about $14.99 to $29.99, but pricing varies depending on market. Riders also have the option to buy an Unlock Pass, which saves the cost of the unlock fee. While this was announced as a measure to counteract the effects of the outbreak, offering people a safer and more affordable commute, the company did not announce any package for renting a vehicle for a certain period of time (like Bird), but industry insiders do expect this trend to grow.

According to data from Lime, scooter and bike ridership increased post-lockdown. For scooters, the increase from the month prior to the lockdown to the first month after stood at 34 percent—from 9.72 to 13.1 minutes. The jump is more notable in cities like San Francisco or Berlin, according to Lime CEO Wayne Ting.

JUMP

The COVID-19 pandemic has translated into a cycling boom across the U.S. and not only for leisure but for commuting too, as The Guardian reported in May. JUMP e-bikes are now slowly returning to the streets after Lime bought the business from Uber. As this process is now underway, there is no clear news on how the bikesharing program will unfold going forward.

What all these services have in common is their drive to grow amid the coronavirus crisis and their free ride programs to support health-care professionals and other essential workers. We will be watching the scene closely as things change and progress.