As New York City prepares to launch e-scooter share, Bird CEO Travis VanderZanden previews the lessons his firm has learned in its short, rollicking ride.
Shared e-scooters didn’t exist four years ago. Now they’re on track to surpass half-a-billion rides and provide an environmentally friendly alternative to the ride-hailing industry led by Uber and Lyft.
As New York City develops a launch plan for e-scooters this coming spring, now is the perfect time to assess where the industry’s been and what we’ve learned along the way.
First, the scooters themselves. No city should accept or consider cheap, “off the rack” scooters that cannot endure scooter share. As we’ve learned, riders need specially designed, extra rugged e-scooters that can withstand near-constant use and demanding roadways.
Custom scooters are expensive to design and manufacture — but they’re worth every penny. They enable operators such as Bird to invest in advanced diagnostic systems, waterproof batteries, and seamless designs with fewer parts and better fault checks. They also enable us to make good on our sustainability goals, such as reducing the carbon footprint of each e-scooter by keeping them on the road as long as possible and minimizing battery requirements (thanks to safely and securely embedded long-lasting batteries in each vehicle).
Custom-designed scooters are also safer to operate. Unlike a personal e-scooter, shared e-scooters must accommodate riders of different ages and abilities and be stable enough for even novice riders to enjoy themselves safely and confidently. The same qualities make custom shared scooters safer for pedestrians, because riders can maintain control better, thus reducing crashes. Finally, scooters must be durable enough so that riders can depend on your fleet and operators can run a viable business. Without that, everything else crumbles.
Second, equitable access. It’s not enough to deploy a fleet of scooters in cities’ highest traffic areas. Micromobility companies have a responsibility to serve neighborhoods that have been cut off from mass transit and denied access to innovation. Two years ago, we hosted a demonstration in Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn; the local council member told us that Bird was the first tech company to come into his district and pledge to give his constituents access to innovative technology on the same day as the city as a whole. That’s meant a lot to me ever since, and I’m proud that we’ve lived up to that pledge with our global Community Program.