Electric scooter companies’ explosive growth in ridership was brought to a screeching halt by the coronavirus pandemic. Ridership is now rebounding, but it’s reflecting the pandemic-driven realities of many people working from home and seeking to avoid crowded public transportation. Riders are taking longer rides that start and stop in outlying neighborhoods instead of downtown streets.
Scooter companies have long-term growth opportunity here. Cities can make downtown areas vibrant again — by making them less car-intensive. Central to those efforts is creating more designated riding space to keep scooter riders away from sidewalk pedestrians, and distracted car drivers away from scooter riders.
To best make their case, however, one of our favorite PR firms has come up with a sweeping analysis that suggests that the scooter companies should leverage their riders to engage with their local officials, who have ultimate say in where scooters can go — and how many there can be.
Tigercomm, the clean economy marketing and public affairs firm, spent over a year examining scooter companies’ public affairs programs. Their resulting analysis, Micromobility’s Opportunity Era, makes the case that public officials hear little in the way of organized rider communications.
“Scooter companies have more customer data than perhaps any other clean economy sector. But the act of riding is a temporary, low-commitment act,” said analysis co-author Mike Casey. “The key to engaging riders is organizing them by level of enthusiasm, then asking them to take easy, quick steps that accumulate to real pressure on elected officials. We call it ‘micro-activism’.”
Casey and his co-author, Nat Schub, show that scooter (often called “micromobility”) companies have significant similarities to other clean economy sectors that are locally regulated. Many companies followed the early model of Uber, which entered cities to gain market share and worried about cooperating with local authorities as an afterthought. The “Uber hangover” came in the form of increased wariness and aggressive crackdown by local officials on the scooter companies.
However, micromobility companies have significant differences as well, including:
- There is no incumbent industry pushing back against scooter and bike sharing.
- There are more purchases than in other clean economy sectors, generating far more customer data than that possessed by solar, wind, PACE lending, or even homesharing companies, such as Airbnb.
- Riders can be mobilized far more cheaply through smartphones.
- However, renting a scooter for 15 minutes is a much less committal act than taking out a PACE loan, putting solar panels on your roof, or buying an electric car. There’s less customer commitment to leverage for taking public affairs actions.
The analysts argue that this set of differences creates the opportunity to design a “micro-activism” program that:
- Uses rider data to categorize riders by the enthusiasm a rider demonstrates through his or her riding patterns.
- Creates a “ladder of engagement” for riders to take, starting with the easiest step and going to the most time-consuming.
- Uses rider apps on smartphones to engage the riders, which is how they now access the scooters.
- Designs those actions so they can accumulate to real engagement pressure felt by elected officials, who now hear far more citizen complaints against scooters than they hear from riders.
- Actions taken should be counted and bundled for elected officials, so they are bigger than the sum of their parts.
“We work across several sectors that are exposed to local regulation of their growth. Time and again, we see that elected officials have to first see political safety in an action someone wants them to take, before they’ll overcome perceived political peril,” said Schub. “Right now, those officials are getting yelled at in public meetings because riders leave scooters in the way of pedestrians, and riders go to the emergency room because they ride without helmets and get hit by distracted drivers. The equation of what officials are exposed to needs to change.”
And to alter that equation more favorably, the report authors make the case that the scooter companies need stronger coalitions that advocate for riders. They examined the current validating structures and found that many were too early stage and limited to be effective.
The scooter companies are an increasing presence in cities. However, the report authors argue that they need to have the locals they benefit be part of the voices officials hear on a continuous basis. That can take the form of both individual riders, enabled to conveniently engage public officials right on their phones. It can also take the form of purpose-built coalitions that involve people with direct and indirect financial stakes in the growth of micromobility companies.
“The first company to seize this opportunity is going to stand out in the eyes of public officials, setting a new bar for partnership with people who are in office because they are sensitive to public opinion. Micromobility has the numbers on its side. It just needs the programs to match,” said Casey.
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