Welcome to movmi’s Financial Fridays micro-webinar series. Every other month, Venkatesh Gopal, movmi’s Business Development and Partnerships Manager will be inviting an exceptional panel of experts to join a discussion on shared mobility operational financials and business models. In the series we will explore key financial aspects of a diverse range of business models from sharing to subscription and even integrating MaaS along the way. The goal is to get a deeper understanding of operational management, utilization, electric vehicles, customer loyalty, technology, insurance and much more.
For the second session of our Financial Fridays series, Venkatesh is joined by Ben LaRocco from Superpedestrian, Elliott McFadden of McFadden Mobility Consulting and Molly Millar from The Alinker Inventions Ltd. for a conversation on micromobility financials and profitability.
Watch the micro-webinar below! Keep reading to learn more about each guest panelist and for a brief summary of our first Financial Fridays discussion!
Financial Fridays: Ben LacRocco, Elliott McFadden, Molly Millar & Venkatesh Gopal
FINANCIAL FRIDAYS session TWO: the PANEL
COO – The Alinker Inventions Ltd.
Molly is a consummate business development and partnerships professional who is passionate about urban mobility and technology and knows that one of the greatest challenges we are facing today is finding better ways to move people around our cities.
She has spent the last several years focused on the smart mobility market working on projects ranging from selling urban cycling data to city planners and engineers to establishing strategic partnerships with Fortune 500 companies. Her 10 years in sales, marketing, operations and market research have provided her with a powerful skill set including communications, client management, account management, project management and revenue growth.
Director, Government Partnerships – Superpedestrian
Ben has more than 15 years of experience in government relations and public policy working on Capitol Hill and in state capitols across the country as a staffer, communicator and lobbyist in tech, transportation, manufacturing and consumer products. His work has been featured in the New York Times, Boston Globe, Baltimore Sun, Columbus Dispatch, and tweeted about by Jeff Bezos.
Ben is an advocate, connector and strategic decision maker, who understands the way political and policy decisions affect an industry’s ability to deliver customer value.
Founder of McFadden Mobility Consulting
Elliott is a shared use mobility industry leader with over a decade of experience bringing innovate solutions to market in the transportation space. As the Greater Minnesota Shared Mobility Program Coordinator, he helps communities and transit agencies throughout the state of Minnesota plan and pilot new services using shared used mobility options including car share, ride share, bike share, scooters, and micro-transit.
financial fridays – session TWO: THE PROFITABILITY OF MICROMOBILITY
Three areas come to mind while speaking about profitability in scooter sharing; vehicle life cycle, city policies and utilization or rebalancing. Question is, how should we rank these?
Vehicle life cycle has been under the profitability radar for some time and a lot of advancements have taken place. At the beginning of the e-scooter trend, the life cycle of e-scooters was around 4 weeks, at an average of 100 rides per scooter – which makes it impossible to make money from. Today providers are doing a better job, with an average use of 700 rides. Case in point: Superpedestrian. The scooter manufacturer put a large investment into the manufacturing of their shared scooters and estimated at least 2500 trips as the average scooter life cycle, which means a minimal depreciation cost.
Higher utilization rates can pay for maintenance, rebalancing and even steep permit fees. Depending on the city, permit fees vary like in Miami or Santa Monica (high density/ridership cities), or may not exist at all (Detroit, Michigan.) While permit fees can quickly add up to a larger chunk of costs, they must be looked at as an investment into this new mode of transportation with regards to infrastructure, data analysis, etc. This in turn will support rider safety, boosting ridership and thereby profitability. City policy and utilization go hand in hand. It’s hard to be successful in a city unless you have a partnership with the city. The fees, the vehicle restrictions can hinder private companies rolling out an equitable service, unless they have a good relationship with the city.
At times totally unplanned externalities affect business quite adversely. In Victoria, B.C, the dockless bike sharing service had an asset limit of 100 bikes, but over a period of 9 months the operator had to make 700 bikes available just to replace stolen bikes. While this is an externality, the city’s response wasn’t too effective as little action was taken to counter this. Without the city’s help in such cases, the operator’s profitability slumps.
Shared mobility is generally not the easiest to turn profits. Micromobility relies on volume and focuses on providing quality vehicles supporting the urban transportation space. There are cases where good initial investment of design and manufacturing can make a difference, like Bixi in Montreal, Canada. 8 years into their system, bike number one is astonishingly still in service. For cities to look at it as an established industry that they can tax can be argued to be short-sighted because the revenue cities receive from the permit fees is relatively low compared to the potential benefits gained by reducing them.
In the post-pandemic world, how is public-private-partnership shaping up especially in micromobility?
What you see as a practice emerging from this lack of profitability is scooter sharing operators begin focusing on services in profitable markets typically big cities and avoiding smaller, suburban areas. In the long term, outside of profitable markets, we are going to start seeing more public/private partnerships. Which flips the outlook of how much money can the operator make, to how can the operator make a longer term investment in their business so that it is available in all areas and making a real difference to first and last mile solutions.
Due to the adversarial relationship between companies and the city at the beginning of dockless scooter and bikes, the space has been hindered development in this space. You need a long term commitment to make these business models work and coming out of the pandemic, we need to work on getting people out of cars but still allowing them to feel safe. Even though public transit has been proven not to be a major source for spreading COVID, people still perceive it unsafe to an extent, so we really need to start working more with cities and see cities stepping up to help us more as well.
Working with cities can also allow us to access underserved areas that would not normally receive micromobility options by just private companies alone. Cities can now use GBFS real time data and MDS data, that is now shared by most operators, to help plan services. Many European cities are so micromobility friendly because it’s part of public policy and they made the choice to really invest in that infrastructure. When you see how popular scooter sharing became an overnight success 3 years ago and how thousands of new people started to use those services, city planners should use that as political capital for making investments into liveable, walkable streets.
Amsterdam and Copenhagen in the 70s were becoming very car dependent cities and now they are biking havens. That took decades of work and advocacy to create. Private sector companies need the assurance from cities that they will not need to compete to get a permit fee every year in order to make this an achievable, long term goal.
Can we expect to see more from cities to support micromobility? Similar to rebates offered to individuals against buying electric cars, can cities allocate funds to support electric scooter sharing operators?
Many cities have rebates for electric bikes and these are applicable to fleet owners too. However planning and building bike lanes, charging stations, mobility hubs are investments the city must consider more. Highways served as favorable infrastructure for car ownership which fuelled the emergence of today’s suburbs. Electric charging infrastructure should play that role in cities today and the authorities must turn their attention to optimizing such infrastructure to support micromobility too.
Within the US, the 25% tariff for importing bikes and e-bikes from China is a difficult fee to swallow at the moment, especially during the bicycle boom we are having. This affects profitability. This is something that cities could help address.
A new bill has just been introduced to US Congress, the e-bikes act, which allows for up to $1500 of credit for individual e-bikes if it passes. Even as a shared mobility provider, the more people using the mode means more political capital for creating better infrastructure. Electric car credit in the US is $7500, so you are getting 5-10X the number of vehicles for the same amount. Similarly, in B.C in Canada the Scrap-it program provides upto $1500 as rebates towards e-bikes for individuals against scrapping (getting rid of) their cars.
How critical is rebalancing when talking about profitability for operators?
Depends on a city’s density. Case in point, Santa Monica (US) is very dense and rebalancing isn’t that big an issue. Columbus, Ohio (US) on the other hand is huge (areawise) and not so dense and scooters as a result are spread over this area. Rebalancing communities spread across the outer edges is expensive compared to that in the inner city. In some places Superpedestrian uses e-bikes with trailers to rebalance their scooters within the city. This is cost effective, but only to an extent. Rebalancing in general is the problem because we haven’t quite solved the parking issue yet, which is partly due to not having enough infrastructure. As cities and operators evolve together, this will hopefully be resolved.
A lightweight vehicle that can be picked up and moved, which means there will be theft and damage. Fundamentally, dockless is more expensive to run than station-based systems, which means you need to find a balance between both to earn profitability. Setting up and operating docking stations can quickly become expensive too. When you start to get more and more vehicles, having a warehouse filled with chargers isn’t the best way to do things either, so perhaps a hybrid of docked and dockless is the future.
As closing comments, the focus for profitability in micromobility is…
Public/private partnerships. We know this is a form of transportation that people want to use. Certain people prefer bikes, e-bikes, others like e-scooters. There is a place for all of them within our city. It’s going to take (longer) runway, flexibility and continued conversations between cities and operators, but when we start solving these issues, cities are going to be so much better in the long run.
We need to see the public sector step up, and that’s in making long term commitments to partners, not just season by season, but multi-year commitments, that possibly include some funding support, especially in areas that won’t be profitable but have a community need. I think the place cities can really step up is in that infrastructure space, building charging infrastructure, protected bike lanes, changing the land development codes so that we are building denser and interconnected communities that support active transportation and shared mobility and funding a first class transit system that serves them as well.
I think the two biggest drivers of profitability are depreciation and charging/rebalancing cost. Transit integration is hard because integrating payment systems is complicated from a legal, technical and engineering standpoint. This needs resources from both the operator and the transit agency side. In many cities you can’t even find someone in the transit agency to talk to or to coordinate with. There is a lot that goes into making a seamless transportation system. It’s amazing how far transportation agencies have come in the past few years. I think we have more to go but I am hopeful that the people such as the panelists and those watching this will help solve these challenges that we face.