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Micromobility companies wanted to change the world. Did they succeed?

People ride away on electric scooters as vacant ones stand nearby.
REUTERS/Hannah McKay
Your chariot awaits.
  • Alexandra Ossola
By Alexandra Ossola

Membership editor

Published

In 2018, a number of US cities were dealing with a new scourge: electric scooters and boosted bicycles strewn on sidewalks and roadways, inhibiting the flow of traffic. These vehicles were often parts of new companies that offered users the ability to rent a means of transport for short stints. Competition heated up so dramatically that year that some started calling them the “scooter wars.”

These companies had sprung up to help people move within cities. Public transportation can’t keep up with the growing number of people living in cities; these companies want to help people get to and from the nearest public transport option, to solve the so-called “last mile problem” with as few carbon emissions as possible. Electric-powered scooters, mopeds, and bicycles, the thought goes, could help people more easily navigate cities in a sustainable way (though some have questioned just how green these operations really are). Companies began offering fleets of these vehicles, which users could book via an app; they’d spend just a few dollars per trip, making the cost comparable to public transport.

Today, it’s a lot less common to see a scooter discarded on a sidewalk (this is likely due to a mix of regulations keeping the vehicles off sidewalks, and rider education on where to park the vehicles when they’re not being used). The scooter wars, however, are far from over. As serious money has flowed into the space, competition has heated up; though more affordable shared transportation can be found in more cities worldwide, it’s not clear if these companies have permanently changed the way people move through cities. By April 2021, total US ridership has surpassed pre-pandemic numbers.

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