The release last week of findings from Portland, Oregon’s shared scooter pilot program caused a lot of excitement in the micromobility world, and for good reason. We got to see the headline we were all hoping for: Scooter Share Can Work! The findings—two-thirds of Portland residents had favorable opinions of the scooters, almost three-quarters of all rides were for transit, not recreation, and replaced car trips—were all undeniably good. So good in fact that the study suggested an additional program be conducted in 2019.
But one thing really jumped out at most of us who operate micromobility programs for a living: the cost of recharging and rebalancing the Portland scooter fleet seemed really high. Eliot Brown, a reporter for The Wall Street Journal who covers startups and venture capital, took to Twitter to proclaim the study showed the companies that operated the program must have lost money during the trial.
While I can’t speak for those companies, I can tell you that Zagster operates a much different model in the cities in which we run scooter fleets, one that we’re sure is sustainable, beneficial to the local community and a sound business practice. Rather than paying freelance rebalancers by the piece, we hire local part-time as well as full-time employees to handle local maintenance, rebalancing and recharging operations.
Why use PTEs and FTEs rather than paying for piece work? Simple. When Zagster comes to a town to operate a microtranist program, we make a commitment to that community to become a part of it. We honor that commitment in a variety of ways, but the principal way is by having the right vehicles in the right places at the right times and in the right condition. Giving users what they want when they want it allows them to adopt bike and scooter sharing more quickly, and to make that use a habit. We want our systems to be woven into the fabric of a community, so we make it as easy as possible for people to use them.
And our employment model enables that because from the day we arrive in a city, we have control over our program in a way some other operators don’t. When a worker knows he or she will be making a set hourly wage to help with rebalancing, or a full-time salary to work in maintenance or supply, it’s easier for us to guarantee that bikes and scooters will be in the right places—and not in the wrong places—when users expect to see them. In a recent launch of a 500-scooter program, we hired and trained 15 local workers who are deployed on 70 shifts.
But more than just a way to exert control, our hybrid employment provides workers with valuable skills they can use in other parts of their careers, and in other parts of the economy. We also provide a meaningful career path for employees, who can see they have a way to grow their careers at Zagster in a way gigs can’t provide.
And one more benefit: hourly and salaried employees become ambassadors for our brands and for micromobility as a whole. As we learned very well with our program in Knoxville, TN, our employees can take the time to answer questions from community members, help them learn how to use and navigate the system, and even participate in community events that help establish a presence and personality for the program. Piece workers, more often than not, feel the need to rush on to the next task in a way our folks don’t.
Again, I can’t speak for the companies that operated the Portland pilot, but I can tell you that with almost 260 programs now in operation, we know that Zagster is doing something right—and right by the communities we serve.