Are Scooters Here to Stay?
Love them or hate them, electric scooters are unavoidable at UT. They first showed up on street corners about a year ago and have already become a part of campus culture—an incredible feat considering how slow change is at a big university. However, this also comes at with no surprise. Scooters are not one of the many fad technologies to sweep through college campuses and disappear in a year - like hoverboards or Pokemon Go. For these vehicles, the economics lean heavily in their favor.
Scooters may be a good source for cheap humor and light-hearted evening news segments but to a could-be investor, scooters seem like Apple stocks in the 90’s, an opportunity you spend everyday regretting you did not take. Scooters are cheap. Dirt cheap. The most popular models used by Bird and Lime cost at most a few hundred dollars. Factor in an average profit per scooter per day of $20 and after two weeks, the scooter has completely paid for itself. Most startup companies spend years, even decades, trying to be profitable. Even massive companies like Uber still have not been able to reach this point. The whole start-up is to not go bankrupt long enough to be bought by a bigger fish, but the scooter companies have turned this trend upside down.
Scooter companies are incredibly profitable, and you should already be beating yourself up for not investing in them, but what makes them “here to stay?” The answer is the last mile problem. The last mile problem is that when moving people or things to a destination, the last part of the journey is always the most difficult. For city commuters who do not own a car, or maybe do not want to deal with traffic, public transportation is a valuable tool except that the bus never stops right outside your house or place of work. Though the bus is convenient once you are on it, getting to it is not always like that as there’s always some distance you have to cover to make it to the bus.
Walking is slow. Bikes require you to carry them around as well lock them. And besides, who wants to show up somewhere sweaty? Cheap, convenient, and a bit of fun, scooters perfectly solve the last mile problem, which is why they are so popular on college campuses. Most students at UT live within a mile of campus, but even then, that walk can be a bit of a trek, especially in the Texas heat and a backpack full of textbooks. Scooters are unlike other fad tech because they target an age old transportation problem.
So are scooters a good thing then? Well it always depends on who you ask. Students seem to love them, but city governments never seem too pleased about having sidewalks occupied by them. Drivers find them infuriating, especially given people on scooters seem to neither follow the rules for cars nor the rules for pedestrians. Scooters do solve a problem though and if that means fewer cars on the streets and more public transportation use, we should all be happy.