Escooters have been a buzzy topic over the past two years in transportation, mobility, and energy circles. Even when talking with people outside these industries, the topic inspires passionate conversation. People seem to either love them or hate them, but public perception is not the only challenge facing micromobility companies. Just a few weeks ago, Lime announced it was pulling out of 12 markets (domestic and international) and laying off 14% of its workforce. Meanwhile, Bird, one of several dockless escooter competitors, raised $275 million in a recent funding round and is refocusing on profitability over growth. While I fall on the side of a positive outlook for escooters (optimal use of escooters could mean less air pollution, quieter streets, and less traffic!), I appreciate the valid criticism of them.

Scooters taking a break, somewhere in Austin.

In downtown Austin, escooters litter the streets. People are careless about where and how they park them. They’re often vandalized, and even thrown into Lady Bird Lake. 58% of respondents in Zpryme’s study said they felt escooters are unsafe. These concerns are well founded, as a recent CDC study (conducted in Austin) found that 99% of people who were injured while riding an escooter were not wearing helmets. Most cities lack sufficient infrastructure to safely accommodate escooters – the CDC study found 50% of injuries were caused by poor road conditions. And with shelf lives of less than a year, just how environmentally friendly are they?[1]

With so many questions around the safety and business model viability, are escooters here for the long haul? I sat down with Julia Steyn, CEO of Bolt Mobility, to ask just that.

The eponymous Bolt Mobility (backed by Olympic multi-gold medalist Usain) launched in early 2019. Julia joined as CEO in December. Prior to Bolt, Julia was founder and CEO of Maven, an EV car sharing startup that spun out of GM.

In the video, Julia mentions solving the problem of the last 50 yards (also often referred to as ‘the last mile’ problem). This seems to be the best opportunity for escooters to prove their worth. In a city like Austin that doesn’t have the most user friendly or robust public transportation system, escooters are a huge time saver (either getting from home to the bus stop or bus stop to final destination). On those 105°+ days, walking even less than a mile feels impossible. Having the option of a short scooter ride might replace a car trip on those days.

Stylish and eco-friendly Walking Area BEV (battery electric vehicle) from Toyota.

People who would benefit most from new technologies are often excluded from the conversation, but if escooters and other micromobility providers want to stick around, they should prioritize underserved communities. All of the major escooter companies do offer programs to serve low income populations or others who might be hindered by lack of a smart phone or bank account (Bird Access, Lyft’s community pass, Lime Access, Spin Access, Bolt Forward).

These companies should also work to serve people with disabilities who can’t ride the standard escooter. A great example is Toyota Tsusho’s Walking Area BEV line that includes micromobility devices for wheelchair users.

It’s a thrilling time to be studying mobility with the industry changing so rapidly and watching a glut of companies vying to find the most sustainable business model. It’s hard to imagine an Austin absent of escooters; to think they arrived less than three years ago is almost astonishing. I’m excited and curious to see how the micromobility landscape evolves over the next three years. For what it’s worth, I agree with Julia that escooters and other forms of micromobility can solve challenges around transportation and will be around for a while.

[1] Bolt claims a 2-year shelf life by designing scooters that have interchangeable parts and swappable batteries.