For a few years, it seemed as if city streets would soon belong to shared electric scooters and bikes. The prospect seemed to enrage as many people as it excited, and there was much wrangling over the new micromobility transportation landscape. Even if you managed to stay above the fray, you surely saw a photo or two of discarded rental scooters piled high, maybe on fire, in symbol protest.
Then something happened. Or several things, rather. Cities governments and share companies ironed out many of their differences. And, maybe more importantly, commuters, tourists, and every kind of urban traveler embraced what seemed to be a convenient, fun, and, most of all, affordable transportation revolution.
The Rising Costs of Shared Scooters
Shared electric vehicles solve many a last-mile problem at a very reasonable cost that, until recently, rivaled the costs of public transportation. But as Alana Semuels reported at Time magazine last year, price increases became “part of a larger trend across the sharing economy” just as widespread adoption of shareable electric vehicles took hold in cities worldwide. “On-demand services of all kinds have been significantly subsidized by investors as a means of attracting users with low prices,” Semuels writes. “But as companies like Uber and Lyft go public and face shareholder pressure to make money, those subsidies are ending.”
Sam Korus, an analyst for investment firm ARK Invest, put it this way: “The amount that venture capitalists are subsidizing people’s lives right now is much higher than people realized.” That includes the costs of shared personal electric vehicles from companies like the Uber-owned Lime. As the pandemic hit, companies already straining to make a return on investment found themselves on laying off employees en masse and seeing “previously sky-high valuations… almost wiped out.” Is this the end of shared scooters? Probably not.
Several experts argue that cities should subsidize shared services, which would in turn bolster public transportation systems themselves facing plummeting revenues due to the coronavirus. But at the moment, “that scooter ride is going to cost you more,” The Washington Post explains. In one example, a Washington, D.C. area commuter found that a ride previously costing $2.80 had increased to $7. “Now I don’t see this as a commuting option at all anymore because it is outrageously expensive,” the government contractor told the newspaper. “It’s more expensive to rent a little electronic scooter than hire an Uber car.”
At that price, he could expect to pay upwards of $280 for a month of round-trip commutes. Annually, that adds up to more than triple the cost of purchasing a premium, high-performance scooter like the Unagi Model One, and more and more commuters are choosing that option. The convenience and peace of mind of owning an electric scooter for a fraction of the cost of renting has become particularly attractive now that public transportation seems like a risky proposition to commuters.
Will Subscription Services Save Sharing?
To bring their costs back down to reasonable levels, and now encourage ridership again amidst COVID fears, several share companies like Lime and Bird have recently started offering far more affordable subscription services. The LimePass, a weekly subscription service announced by the company last year in cities in the U.S., Australia, and New Zealand, waived the unlock fee for rentals for a cost of $4.99 per week in San Francisco. As of June, that service has expanded to include daily and monthly flat fee passes.
An unlimited day pass will cost around $14.99, The Verge reports, while “a monthly pass with five rides a day would cost $16.99 or 10 rides a day for $29.99.” Subscribers to the service still ride rental scooters, and are subject to all the limitations of sharing, including a lack of control over whether a vehicle is available when they need it. Moreover, the daily ride limits might leave high-use, high-mobility subscribers—those, for example, who use electric scooters to make deliveries—constantly wondering whether they’ve exceeded their quota.
Bird’s subscription, also launched in 2019, does much more for less than Lime’s premier option. For a low fee of $24.99 a month, the company delivers a scooter to subscribers that they can use as much as they like until they decide to cancel. The problem, The Verge found, is that the scooter is a cheaper, inferior model to their rental models, with a smaller battery and slower top speed. “If you want the best scooter Bird provides,” they note, “you’ll soon be able to buy one outright for $1,299.”
How Unagi’s Subscription Service Beats Sharing
For less than the Bird One, riders who want to own a scooter can purchase the dual motor Unagi Model One, one of the best reviewed, most stylish electric scooters on the market. Unagi offers incredible incentives for ownership, including a 30-day, no risk, “no questions asked” trial and financing for under $50 a month. But for those not yet ready, or unable, to commit to the cost of ownership, Unagi will soon offer a subscription service in major cities that beats the best available options from share companies. For riders in New York and Los Angeles, Unagi All-Access has been available since early August.
For less than $10 a week, subscribers can ride a high-performance Unagi scooter—the same scooter available for purchase—delivered assembled to their door within 24 hours for an initial $50 setup fee. Subscribers can choose to pay $39 monthly or a discounted annual fee that works out to around $34 a month. The monthly option is less than a 30-day unlimited MetroCard in New York City and a 30-day Metro pass in L.A., and far below the cost of riding shared scooters regularly without a subscription.
While share companies’ subscription services may cost less at the moment, they also offer far less in return. Included in the Unagi subscription is total peace of mind. Subscribers can ride their scooter as little or as often as they like; the scooter is insured against theft and damage; and if anything goes wrong, Unagi will send a replacement within in 24 hours. And if for some reason it doesn’t work out, subscribers can cancel anytime, with no questions asked. Look for Unagi’s subscription service to expand soon to meet the needs of millions of commuters wary of public transportation and justifiably concerned about rising greenhouse gas emissions.
New forms of transportation are sorely needed now. The news of sharing subscriptions services is welcome for commuters, but Unagi’s All-Access service will offer the ultimate in flexible, fun commuting, or just riding around town: A fully insured, Tesla-quality scooter at less than the cost of most monthly subway passes.