The E-Scooter Market is in High Gear, But Are Commuters Pumping the Brakes?

by Jamil Siam
March 27, 2019

The “last mile” mobility revolution promises to make the experience of getting to and from work better than ever before. Bird, an electric scooter startup that launched in sunny Santa Monica in 2017 with just 10 scooters, has since gained “unicorn status” faster than any other startup before its time. The company earned a $2 billion valuation within one year of launch! To put this into context, it took Uber four years to reach a $1 billion valuation.

Bird’s CEO, Travis VanderZanden, says that the company’s mission is to help reduce the earth’s carbon footprint and alleviate traffic by reducing the need for cars in congested cities. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, if drivers walked or biked half of their trips shorter than a mile, drivers would avert 2 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions a year and save $900 million annually.

Bird’s breakout success and noble mission has inspired Alphabet, Uber, Google Ventures, and even Ford to explore opportunities in the last-mile mobility market and make major investments in electric scooter startups.

The transportation market is changing rapidly, and large investments are being made in the space, but what do consumers think about electric scooters? What would inspire more commuters to use these new means of transportation instead of driving, walking, or hailing an Uber? We used Alpha to test these ideas with over 370 people who commute to work. Here’s what we learned about e-scooters and the future of transportation.

What do consumers dislike most about current transportation options?

People who drive to work described their commutes as long and exhausting and said that traffic was the major culprit. People who commute by train, subway or bus were mostly satisfied with their commute but lamented that bad weather can cause problems when they’re going to and from their transit point.

One commuter commented about how the weather prevents them for using other methods of transportation:

“I’m waiting for it to get warmer out that way I can bike to work instead of drive. It’s only eight miles and would be good for my health and I’d save on gas. I currently don’t mind how long it is just that I have to use my car.”

Overall, the results showed that consumers aren’t exactly thrilled with their current commuting experiencing. This is hardly a surprise, but are e-scooters the right alternative?

Are e-scooters a viable solution for commuters?

When we asked people what they think about last mile solutions such as e-scooters, 35% responded positively, 39% had a negative reaction, and 25% were on the fence. Younger segments responded more favorably than older segments.

Last mile mobility options offer a number of potential benefits. Here’s what people said was most appealing:

People who had a negative perception of last-mile mobility options cited the following concerns:

    • Safety
    • Bad weather
    • Impractical for long commute
    • City infrastructure

One person described how difficult it would be to use such an option given their current commute:

“It doesn’t do anything for people who don’t live downtown. I’d still have to drive to a place to get the thing, still have to find a place to park, and at that point I might as well drive to my destination. Plus, outside of downtown the roads are unsafe for riding those things.”

E-scooters provide a number of benefits to consumers, but they also have their downsides, particularly for segments of the market who have a long commute or live in cities that regularly have bad weather. Last-mile mobility innovators maybe need to find solutions for these concerns if they want to gain more widespread adoption and achieve their mission to reduce the earth’s carbon footprint.

We asked consumers how they would improve this emerging transportation concept and we gained some fascinating insights that could be used to improve the experience.

Consumers suggested adding seats, a basket for storing items, a way to cover from inclement weather, and better city infrastructure such as dedicated lanes for sharing the road with cars. City infrastructure may be the most important piece of all. “Ensure widespread use to enhance safety of sharing roads with cars and other vehicles”, one person said.

Cities can contribute to the last mile mobility revolution and their role may be nearly as important as the billion dollar companies that are building the products.

What features would increase consumer adoption of e-scooters?

We tested a concept that offers money for using these alternative transportation methods. Alpha’s design network prototyped a landing page for the concept:

The response was overwhelmingly positive. Compared to the original concept, 8% more people rated the new concept “extremely positive” and 16% fewer people rated the concept “extremely negative.”

Financial incentives could provide enough benefit to motivate commuters to change their existing behaviors and help make last mile solutions safer by increasing adoption.

What’s the next iteration in last-mile mobility?

The mission of last mile mobility solutions is to reduce carbon emissions, reduce traffic congestion, and improve the experience of commuting, but with any new change to a decades old status quo comes frustrations and challenges.

Most people believe that these options have strong benefits, but our findings show that gaining more market share will be a bumpy and winding road.

Using Alpha, we gained the insights for this report within days. Innovators in this space should run follow up tests on how to make e-scooters safer, usable during inclement weather, and practical for people who don’t live in a major city or have a longer commute.

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Jamil Siam

As Senior Director of Sales at Alpha, Jamil helps clients use Alpha’s on-demand insights platform to rapidly explore new markets, validate growth opportunities, and build better products faster.