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E-Scooters: Boon or Burden to Cities and Commercial Real Estate?

July 17, 2019

Cities have a love/hate relationship with these two-wheelers

Once an oddity only seen in America’s tech centers, e-scooters have now become near-ubiquitous across the U.S. and around the globe. From Columbus to Nashville, Lisbon to Paris, these two-wheelers are taking over the urban world as we know it. Startups like Lime, Bird, and Scoot once had the field to themselves, but are now being muscled around by transit giants Uber, Lyft, and Google Maps, who all want a piece of the action.

But it isn’t all sunshine and roses. While they can have some concrete benefits, scooters are often divisive—pitting residents against each other, adding fuel to the already tense relationship between tech companies and municipalities, and, if used recklessly, unsafe.

The Pros

  • A solution for “transit deserts.” E-scooters provide a viable transportation option for areas out of the reach of public transit. And in areas that do have buses and subways, scooters can be a useful solution to get you that last couple of miles—too short for a car, too long for a walk. For residents of smaller cities like Nashville, TN or Scottsdale, AZ, scooters may mean that having a car is no longer a requirement to live there.
  • More affordable than a car. Scooters provide accessibility at very low cost—typically around $1 to unlock and 15 cents a minute after that.
  • Eco-friendly. By reducing the need for a car, at least for the kind of short trips that are the most common, e-scooters can bring down emissions, save money, and reduce the number of automobiles stuck in traffic. Scooters also use far less energy than cars and public transportation.
  • Supplemental income. Scooter companies often hire locals to round up and charge their two-wheelers overnight.

The Cons

  • Town/tech conflict. Entrepreneurs and municipalities have been at odds almost from the start as this innovation has arrived in cities. Startups would simply drop scooters wherever they pleased; opting to apologize later, rather than ask permission. Many cities—including some in South Florida—initially pushed back, but are now working with these companies, rather than fighting them.
  • Unreliable technology. Many models have short battery life and don’t do well with repeated exposure to rough terrain, bad weather, and the grind of city streets.
  • Dockless chaos. By many accounts, the dockless nature of these two-wheelers creates a free for all with scooters left in the middle of streets and sidewalks, in buildings and on private property. Riders are known to zoom along pedestrian walkways when they are required to stay on bike paths or streets. Which leads to…
  • Safety concerns. Scooter injuries are on the rise, and many riders don’t wear helmets. In 2018, nearly 250 people reported to the ER in Southern California with scooter-related head injuries, bruises, bumps, and broken bones. Twenty-one of these folks weren’t even riding a scooter, rather tripped over or were hit by one.
  • Eco-friendly? While there are tangible benefits once the scooters are on the ground in cities, the process of getting them there is fraught with environmental issues. Bird sources its bikes from China and ships them in containers, which produce a growing percentage of global CO2. In addition, the lithium battery needs to be replaced every 300 to 1,000 charges. Unless your town has a means of processing these batteries, more shipping is required.
  • Vandalism. Los Angeles and San Francisco have both seen scooters vandalized in a variety of “creative” ways.

Scooters seem to be good for cities and CRE, despite the hurdles

The verdict in South Florida is generally positive. Cities like Miami, Fort Lauderdale, and Coral Gables are partnering with startups to roll out these programs safely—although Fort Lauderdale beach has banned them for the summer. Morris Southeast Group is well aware of the key role efficient and cost-effective transportation plays as part of successful commercial real estate and property management in South Florida. For a free consultation on our property management services or commercial real estate investment opportunities, call us at 954.474.1776. You can also reach Ken Morris directly at 954.240.4400 or via email at kenmorris@morrissegroup.com.

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