Electric scooter networks charge up as Scoot drives into Barcelona

As the controversy over dockless e-scooters heats up in San Francisco, the Bay Area’s first electric scooter company is expanding both within its headquarters city and also over into its first city in Europe.

On Wednesday morning, six-year-old Scoot Networks announced that it’s launching its promised scooter and e-bike sharing network in Barcelona, Spain, which includes 500 high-performance electric scooters, and 1,000 electric bicycles.

The European city is the first new market for Scoot Networks after it has gained a foothold of 700 electric scooters and tens of thousands of riders in San Francisco. It’s also the first city where the company is deploying e-bikes.

Scoot Networks CEO and founder Michael Keating said that Barcelona is a natural market for the company because it’s a “big scooter town.” Kids in Barcelona “grow up riding scooters,” Keating said. In addition, the city has wide sidewalks, handy for locking up e-bikes, and it previously banned Uber (although the ride-sharing giant is giving the city another go).

Scoot Networks is also expanding its San Francisco fleet, with plans to add 500 electric scooters around the city next month. To help with its expansion plans, Scoot Networks closed on a funding round of an undisclosed size late last year, Keating told GreenBiz.

The company’s growth highlights just how popular new mobility services and sharing networks are becoming around the globe as startups and entrepreneurs develop last-mile solutions and urban residents and commuters give up more single occupancy cars. Investors are eager to fund these ventures, despite the sometimes costly nature of funding infrastructure startups, pointing to the explosive growth and valuation of ride-sharing companies Uber and Lyft.

At the same time, automakers, corporations and transportation organizations are also adopting these sharing models and experimenting with ways to offer new services to users who are swiftly becoming accustomed to using transportation-as-a-service and having a variety of options to choose from.

For example, in San Francisco — ground zero for last-mile experiments in the United States — people looking for transportation can use their cell phones to hail an Uber or Lyft; rent shared bicycles, e-bikes and electric scooters; and use car-sharing services such as Getaround.

Scoot Networks has grown its business more slowly. With a friendlier relationship to the city of San Francisco, it is often compared to the renegade dockless e-scooter startups Bird, Spin and Lime. The trio have dropped scooters off on sidewalks around a variety of cities and are now contending with big growth but also major pushback from some municipalities and certain residents.

The city of San Francisco is banning all the sidewalk e-scooters unless the companies have permits as of June 4. The new permit guidelines will enable five companies to have 500 dockless e-scooters each in a year-long pilot program.

Other cities such as Honolulu have said the scooters are illegal, and the companies are subject to jail time and fines. Lime, which earlier this month launched 200 scooters around Oahu, temporarily suspended service to try to work with the city.

In contrast to the sidewalk scooter bonanza, Scoot Networks uses mostly larger electric mopeds in San Francisco, which customers drive on streets and park in parking spots off of curbs and in parking lots. In Barcelona, users also will have access to e-bikes, which have built-in locking systems.

Learn more about the vehicle sharing economy at the VERGE Transport conference in Oakland, California in October.

Scoot Networks wanted to have its e-bikes available to customers in San Francisco, but the city did an unusual exclusive deal for docked bikes with the company Motivate. Later, San Francisco also created an 18-month pilot program for Jump Bikes, which allowed for 250 dockless e-bikes around the city (through an arbitration).

The ride-hailing companies, with their massive networks and sky-high valuations, have taken a shine to the bike and scooter sharing networks. Earlier this year, Uber announced that it’s buying Jump Bikes, and Lyft is reportedly investigating launching a scooter-sharing network in San Francisco.

To Uber and Lyft, adding different types of mobility options makes sense as a way to grow their customer base and also offer vehicles that don’t clog urban areas. Many cities have faced increased congestion due to the growing number of ride-hailing drivers roaming downtown city streets.

Between the new startups and the well-funded ride-hailing firms, Scoot Networks has a lot of competition for users and market share. Some of the new companies seem to share Uber’s playbook of asking for forgiveness rather than permission, as well as Facebook’s adage of “moving fast and breaking things.”

While that mentality has drawn the ire of some residents — scooters can be found in the bay, in trees and vandalized — the companies are also growing quickly. This week, Bird was anointed the first “unicorn” (billion-dollar valuation) scooter startup.

Scoot, on the other hand, has operated as the good guys so far, actively working with cities and avoiding breaking city rules. It will be interesting to see if Scoot’s nice-guy strategies will help or hurt the company in the long term.

Lyft has sometimes opted for more of the “good guy,” role in comparison to Uber’s aggressive and sometimes bad behavior, and Lyft has significantly smaller market share than Uber.

At the same time, it’s not all about competition. The emergence of so many mobility options also could be growing the pie for all the vehicle-sharing companies.

Before all the mobility options, “getting around San Francisco was really hard. It seemed like urban transportation was intractable,” Keating said. Now, “it looks like it’s a solvable problem.”


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