UC Berkeley study finds electric scooter market divide

A man riding an electric scooter on a sidewalk during a rainy day.
Sunny Shen/Staff

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With electric scooter ride-sharing on the rise and a Berkeley pilot program on its way to the city and the UC Berkeley campus, a recent study conducted by the Haas School of Business revealed that nearly half the market may prefer owning to renting electric scooters.

The study, which was conducted in collaboration with Unagi Scooters, attributes the aversion to ride-sharing to shared electric scooters’ unreliable availability and potentially poor condition. Owning an electric scooter may even be safer and more cost-effective, the study suggests. The industry — including prominent companies such as Lime and Bird Rides — has also faced community backlash throughout California regarding traffic blockage and safety complaints, prompting regulations and bans.

In Oakland, where Lime and Bird are among the leading providers of electric scooters, officials implemented regulations on electric scooter corporations, requiring distributors to ensure that the scooters are not parked blocking sidewalks or traffic and that they are equitably distributed throughout Oakland communities. San Francisco temporarily banned electric scooter ride-sharing companies until permits were approved, after an outcry of public complaints. The city then approved permit requests from only two companies — Skip and Scoot. Neither Lime nor Bird received approval.

“There are many who find (ride-sharing companies) to be problematic for many reasons,” said Unagi CEO David Hyman. “If they were to be on campus, there should be rules and regulations for how they operate.”

According to the Haas study, the electric scooter industry could reach annual revenue of up to $42 billion by 2025. While Hyman estimated that about 70 percent of the market will belong to ride-sharing companies, a Haas survey found that up to 48 percent of adults aged 18 to 45 prefer electric scooter ownership to rental.

In December 2018, the Berkeley City Council voted in favor of a yearlong motorized electric scooter pilot program to be implemented in conjunction with the campus. While the contracts for the electric scooter providers have not yet been finalized, Lime, Bird and Razor offered input on Berkeley’s proposed program during public comment at the City Council meeting.

David Sorrell, the campus’s transportation demand management administrator and manager, said in an email that the campus pilot program will include safety regulations when it is implemented in fall 2019. The electric scooters will be organized in “parking corrals” throughout campus and will be prohibited from operating in unsafe areas, according to Sorrell. He added that he anticipates the program will provide significant price reductions for Educational Opportunity Program students because of an existing offer extended through the Ford GoBike system.

District 7 City Councilmember Rigel Robinson, who represents the campus area, said the program will also help decrease the community’s reliance on cars, limiting congestion and negative environmental impacts.

UC Berkeley will not be the first UC campus to see the emergence of electric scooters. At UC Santa Barbara, or UCSB, the administration banned all electric scooters — including those from Lime and Bird. According to UCSB senior Jazz Smith-Torres, the ban was largely because of the danger and disorganization that electric scooters posed on campus.

“People were getting injured, and (the electric scooters) were being left all over,” Smith-Torres said. “I think a pilot program could’ve made it better. … I wish it did work out here.”

Contact Rachel Barber and Ben Klein at [email protected].