Automotive > Connected Mobility Blog

Trailze to Jumpstart Scooter Revolution

by Roger Lanctot | Jul 31, 2019

In his book “Fighting Traffic: The Dawn of the Motor Age in the American City,” Peter Norton describes the onset of motor vehicles in the first two decades of the 20th century and its impact on urban infrastructure. By his account, city streets were designed for pedestrians, horses, and trolleys. Cars were seen as intruders and actively opposed.

In time, cities came to terms with cars, corralling pedestrians into crosswalks; introducing stop signs, speed limits, traffic lights, and “silent policemen” (to enforce proper left turns); and making room for on-street parking. In his telling of the tale, though, Norton fails to anticipate the dawn of the Scooter Age now unfolding across the world.

The onset of scooters is no less of a revolution than the shift from horses to “horsepower.” With that shift is coming correlated changes to the urban landscape and the need for a new kind of navigation manifest with a new solution from a company named “Trailze.”

Trailze is offering a software-as-a-service model for scooter riders navigating the nooks and crannies of cities not accessible to cars. Trailze optimizes routes based on the exigencies of scooter-based transportation and integrates discounts for optimized pickups and drop-offs – i.e. rewarding riders that observe proper scooter parking etiquette or who ride scooters from low usage to high usage areas.

Trailze is in the early stages of becoming a critical part of the scooterfication of cities around the world. Peter Norton’s book is important because it describes the evolutionary process associated with fundamental changes in transportation. In many cities around the world the arrival of the car led to the ripping up of tram lines and the rapid elimination of horse-based travel. Now, in the 21st century, city planners are instituting “road diets” – reducing the number of lanes (and speed limits) on city streets in order to create more room for pedestrians, bikes, and … inevitably … scooters.

Cars are increasingly being hemmed in, taxed, or banned entirely from city centers in the interest of reducing fatalities, emissions, and traffic congestion. It is in this context that the arrival of the electric scooter – a global phenomenon now in its second boom year – needs to be considered.

A recent dust-up between scooter operator Bird’s CEO, Travis VandenZanden, and The Information over a reported $100M first quarter loss at the company provided an occasion for VandenZanden to share operating revenue and growth figures showing the company grossing $4.27 per ride and netting $1.27, after accounting for most, though not all, operating costs.

The apparently positive profit picture, something that VandenZanden giddily contrasts with the per-ride losses of Uber and Lyft, arrives in the context of 4-5x revenue growth, he claims. It is important to note that Bird is not a public company so all of the figures are self-reported by VandenZanden.

There are good reasons to believe that this growth will be sustained even in the face of daunting barriers. The latest positive contribution arrived with Germany deciding, last month, to allow scooters to operate – leading to an instantaneous flood of scooters from half a dozen companies exploding onto the streets of German cities. Could London be next? Could a metropolitan area allow itself not to open its doors and streets to micromobility and pay for that daily with traffic and fatalities?

The barriers to the growth and widespread adoption of scooters are many and revolve around regulations, human behavior, business models, and the scooters themselves. Those barriers include: vandalism, misuse, and theft; retrieval and charging; cost; durability; city infrastructure; safety; weather; rules and regulations; and navigation.

There isn’t much scooter operators can do about the weather, which means that scooters will likely remain a seasonal business which peaks in the summer and fall – i.e. right now, in the Northern Hemisphere. But a range of factors are falling into place – in the context of already improving financial metrics, according to Bird – that suggest that scooters are here to stay and may, in fact, be displacing automobiles.

A couple of the biggest indicators are the proliferation of dedicated traffic lanes and parking and storage areas for scooters popping up in cities around the world. While German scooter riders are typically using on-sidewalk bike paths, most other cities are seeing scooters operate on city streets. Additionally, major scooter operators such as Lime, Wind, Voi and Spin are in the process of introducing a next generation of scooters that are sturdier and heavier (over 20 kilos), with suspension systems, swappable batteries, improved braking, longer range (up to 40 miles) and built to last for months in the streets, without the need to be picked up at night.

The last piece of the puzzle for widespread scooter adoption will be the introduction of new usage models such as all-you-can-eat flat fees and incentives built around purpose-built navigation applications, like Trailze, that will reward riders for entering destinations and depositing their scooters in preferred locations.

The key to Trailze’s transformative contribution is the requirement that users enter their destinations in the operator’s application while re-leasing the vehicle. Using that information, the application provides scooter-optimized guidance along with discounts designed to reward proper scooter use etiquette.

Scooter riders that use Trailze in the future, where Trailze has been implemented by the scooter operator, will be rewarded for riding scooters into the center of town from remote locations and for parking in properly designated locations. Payment provider Passport is developing similar solutions –without the navigation – all intended to further improve the operating margin picture for scooter companies.

While 2018 was described as the summer of scooters, the summer of 2019 is shaping up as an even greater expansion of scooter use. All indications are that Bird is reversing its first quarter losses and rapidly overcoming the range of operating costs including refunds, discounts, disputes, account credits, charger-related payments/incentives, facility overhead, labor, spare parts, gig repair tasks, logistics, in-market support, vehicle transport, in-market labor, gig payouts, and expected and accelerated vehicle depreciation.

Add in regulatory support (and alignment) from cities seeking to discourage automobile use and an incentives-based business model enabled with new applications - such as Trailze and payment provider Passport - and a very rosy picture emerges for scooters. It’s very likely there is a scooter in your future – provided you’re traveling less than 5 miles, which represents 60% of all trips.

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