By Dave Reed, Zagster’s Director of Sales
About three years ago, I wrote an article for the Zagster blog stating that bikeshare, far from being a fad, was here to stay as a viable form of transportation. I’m happy to report: I was right. Since that piece was published in March of 2016, shared personal mobility has exploded across the country and around the world. Systems now offer docked and dockless solutions and have grown from just pedal bikes to now include electronic bikes and scooters as well as push scooters. If you’re a modern, forward-looking city, you simply must have a bikeshare system.
But before I get knots in my shoulders from patting myself on the back, I have to admit there were a couple of things I either got flat-out wrong or failed to anticipate. Who could have foreseen the explosion in the use of scooters and e-bikes and the arrival of companies like Uber and Lyft in this space?
Let’s start with what I got right.
First, the sharing economy. Technology and the explosion of shared services have danced in step even faster and more elegantly than anybody could have anticipated, allowing the creation of new capabilities that have only further enhanced mobility services. For example, the ability to use cell towers and GPS to create geo-fenced, go/no-go service areas for its shared scooter service, or to automatically regulate throttles and thus control speeds in designated areas seems almost futuristic, but is currently deployed in Denver and at Duke University, among many other places.
Dockless sharing services, also made possible by tech developments, have spurred the growth of mobility sharing in a way docking stations can’t. If users can simply find a ride right at their doorstep and then leave the ride wherever they end up (within limits, of course), it only makes sense that services, along with demand, would grow. This has caused some well-documented problems, of course, but the good outweighs the bad.
Zagster presciently predicted that a huge opportunity existed in creating technological and operational platforms best-suited for small- to medium-sized cities, and that universities, corporations and real estate developments would want to provide shared transit as an amenity that spurs economic growth or as a viable long-term solution to congestion. How right were we? We now operate 245 programs, more than 90 of which are municipal or university programs, many of them with fleet sizes of more than 100 bikes. That’s tremendous expansion progress since March 2016.
It would be a huge stretch to say that bikeshare has killed the auto industry, but we can say with a straight face that young people have embraced shared services with such passion that car manufacturers have been forced to sit bolt upright and pay attention. Teenagers no longer race to get their drivers licenses the day they can legally drive in their states. And sales of certain types of vehicles, typically thought of as entry-level autos aimed at younger buyers, are down so far that Ford will no longer make passenger cars—just SUVs and trucks. Another bit of Ford news: the auto giant bought e-sccoter maker Spin.
Commuting by bicycle has grown by leaps and bounds, whether the rides are on personal or shared bikes. Part of the reason is that cities have built bike-friendly infrastructure to both accommodate and attract bike riders. Cities like Fort Collins, Colorado, Rochester, New York, Bloomington, Indiana and Washington, DC have seen huge increases in the number of people commuting by bike. And two of our markets, Fort Collins and Carmel, Indiana, have been named best cities for cycling in the United States by the influential website Streetsblog.
Okay, so now about those things I whiffed on, or neglected to foresee.
Who could have predicted the tsunami of private equity and venture capital money that would sweep into the bikesharing business? And further, who could have foreseen the black eye that the ubiquity of bikes and scooters—especially scooters—would give our field? The boom and bust cycle pedaled by Ofo in particular saw tons of bikes and scooters dropped into cities with little planning and even less support, leaving piles of scooters in the wrong places, and angering city leaders and planners just when the industry most needed their support. In some respects, we’re still undoing the damage this caused to our reputation as a viable transportation alternative.
And I—and probably everyone else—failed to predict how quickly Uber and Lyft would pivot into the bike and scooter space and become transportation companies that have reshaped the way we move around cities. What was once a field crowded with scrappy startups could come down to a slugfest between two titans.
Regardless of what happens, I think I can safely predict that cities will need to continue to be the force that drives the much-needed changes in transportation infrastructure as the federal government continues to either turn a blind eye, or, at best play catch-up. There’s a lot of smart policy being made at the local level; my hope is that the public and private sectors can continue to work together in a way that allows us all to continue to improve transportation.