I was reflecting on the May 8 Chart of the Day post on micro-mobility that mapped the middle 68 percentile of trips for 18 modes of transportation, and I collected a few thoughts on the future of mobility. I have written several posts recently on bike share, ride share, and electric scooters, the rented side of mobility from about 0.5 miles to 10 miles on the log chart above. As the steep devaluations of Lyft and Uber post-IPO have shown, it’s still an open question whether the future of micro-mobility and short trips will be rented. Bird recently introduced its model One, “the Bird you can own,” for $1,299 (or 337 average scooter rides) and other manufacturers are upping their game. Right now, 61.0% of Minneapolis workers commute alone in a personal vehicle, and with average ownership costs adding up to over $8,000 per year (or $23.20 per day), clearly dollar costs aren’t holding people back from the choosing owning over renting or taking public transit (about $3.95 a day when getting an unlimited Go-To card).
First, I started with some predictions of what the future may look like.
The future will be electric.
The future will minimize human labor costs.
The future will be won by those who have to raise the least capital.
Let’s explore these in more detail.
The Future will be Electric
Remember when GM CEO Rick Wagoner told 60 Minutes that the company was investing $1 billion into hydrogen fuel cell technology? Now GM’s revenue is about one-fifth of what it was in 2003. The hydrogen bet didn’t play out and now Tesla is valued at 78.8% of what GM is even though it rolls out a fraction of the new vehicles. This prediction really ties into the third prediction because in 2019, creating a product that runs on electricity requires very little capital investment. Every home has 110-volt outlets, and adding a 220-volt to the garage requires just a trip from an electrician and some equipment. The grid of power lines, generating stations, human capital, and intellectual know-how is already all there. With hydrogen, it wasn’t on all counts, and that’s why the bet failed.
Looking to the future, what if Nice Ride stations rented power via the city’s streetlights and other street electrical infrastructure and were able to charge electric bikes in docks?
The Future will Minimize Human Labor Costs
Right now, electric scooter-share companies like Lime, Bird, Lyft, Jump (Uber), and Spin (Ford) hire meagerly-paid independent contractors to charge batteries for their fleets of scooters and place them in prime real estate to make real dollars the next day.
Human labor is expensive, especially with minimum wages that operators are fighting against every day. With a tight labor market, there are increasingly other, better paid, opportunities out there. What is a transportation network operator to do?
Eliminate human labor as much as you can. We already know Uber’s dream is to have driverless taxi cabs prowling the streets. Having driverless vehicles that charge themselves is the end goal. Having users plug in the old scooter in for you will do as well. Expect to see parking garages convert to Uber ramps with vehicles that dock in like a Nice Ride classic green bike.
The Future will be Won by Those Who Have to Raise the Least Capital
Remember the debut of the Boring Company test tunnel? Elon Musk had to raise over $100 million in financing to build that. And it still was an incomplete, bumpy ride with no car elevator.
The future will be won by start-ups that don’t need to make huge capital investments to get off the ground and fly. Websites like Google, Facebook, and Twitter started small, got some servers, and grew fast. Uber never had to buy fleets of cars, it just handed out refurbished phones to drivers, then switched to an app on driver phones. Drivers provided the huge fleet of cars.
One of the big problems right now with electric scooters is the cost of the machines themselves. According to a Quartz analysis of Bird data from Louisville, Bird loses $293 per scooter over the course of its average lifespan of 28.8 days. The high cost of charging, juicing, repairs, and government fees makes operator ownership of scooters difficult.
What if you, the user, rented that $1,299 Bird scooter for about $48 per month and paid to charge it? That would be equivalent to about a dozen trips per month.
Would you like to rent a scooter for the cost of a phone plan? Would you like to be a Uber landlord and covert your garage into an autonomous ride charging station? Share your dreams and nightmares on the future of mobility in the comments.