↑ first step on a journey of ten thousand steps or more? GETTY IMAGES
It seems pretty obvious that micro & shared mobility is here to stay in pour cities. It’s now time to optimise operations and infrastructure in cities to optimise and integrate these new modes of mobility
by John Frazer – 23 Sept. 2019
Did Lime Just Herald The Micromobility Tipping Point?
With every successful technology, there comes a time when a tipping point is reached. Malcolm Gladwell addressed this when he popularized the principles of system dynamics in his turn-of-the-century bestseller The Tipping Point. Gladwell posited that the three criteria that must be fulfilled before a trend reaches “epidemic” status are the presence of a stickiness factor, an appropriate and receptive context for the trend, and the availability of connectors, mavens and persuaders. It is arguable that all three of these criteria have been recently and amply fulfilled by the micromobility vertical.
On Monday, Sep 16 2019, Lime announced that they had surpassed 100 million rides with their global fleet. This may very well be a powerful confirmation that the stickiness factor for shared scooter micromobility has both depth and potential longevity. Place this event against the context of a surging demand for micromobility solutions (which I have written about previously) and Lime’s milestone might be the bellwether that consumers, enterprises and investors were looking for in this space.
This writer had the opportunity to speak to Joe Kraus, the president of Lime, on the topic of Lime’s recent milestone and the broader implications for micromobility and smart cities. Kraus expounded on what the 100 million ride threshold meant for both Lime and the mobility space; it should be noted that scooters were introduced by Lime in February of 2018, a very short time ago in the context of a company’s lifecycle.
About two-and-a-half billion people are moving into cities over the next 30 years…how are we going to move those two-and-a-half billion people around?
Joe Kraus, President, Lime
“[Reaching this milestone in such a short period of time] gives me a tremendous amount of hope. The primacy of doing everything with the car and having the possibility of reshaping our cities globally…I think there’s real life behind that vision,” said Kraus, referring to the way that our cities have been shaped for over a century to favor the automobile over every other form of transport.
“I think the other piece that is a reframe of how I think about the 100 million rides is that it’s less about [Lime] and more about users,” continued Kraus. “I commute on a scooter every single day, and in so doing I save 10 minutes on each leg of my commute, versus taking a car, as I transit inside San Francisco where the traffic is pretty bad. If I do the math, that’s potentially 83 hours of time I get back a year.”
Kraus noted that this time-saving across Lime’s fleet anecdotally translated into interesting and heartening outcomes: “They can [use that time] for a productivity increase, but more what I’m personally excited about are the stories about how somebody had the time to make it to a piano recital for a kid or going and having a coffee with a friend, or this idea…about the reconnection of people in these cities, and making these cities more about people and less about cars.”
The form factor of a car to go a mile in a city is poor. The form factor of a scooter to go a mile is incredible…
Kraus also said that micromobility’s current success is driven heavily by two global trends, the first being massive world-wide urbanization. “[A]bout two-and-a-half billion people are moving into cities over the next 30 years…how are we going to move those two-and-a-half billion people around? I think there’s a broad agreement that adding more cars in already congested places isn’t good for quality of life or the environment…it’s just not what is desired.” The second global trend is the unbundling of services provided by the private automobile. “Uber was really the first to challenge the idea, not of the car, but of ownership. You can have access instead of ownership.” Kraus pointed out that given enough availability and efficiency of a given service, access could be better than ownership. This bodes well for the future of the broader new mobility movement, as members of our currently youngest generation with spending power question their need to own a private vehicle. Additionally, Generation Z is more aware of the environment and their impact upon it than the older generations. This awareness makes micromobility services desirable to the roughly 2 billion members of this generation, due to their suitability and kinder footprint in urban cores. “The form factor of a car to go a mile in a city is poor,” said Kraus. “The form factor of a scooter to go a mile is incredible, because I get there a lot faster and it’s fun. It’s cheap, easy, convenient and fast, has less environmental impact, and ultimately improves quality of life for you and others in the city.”
Worth noting for prognosticators is that the 100 million rides achieved by Lime likely represents a mere shard of the tip of the iceberg for micromobility. “The vast majority of the world has never tried a scooter,” said Kraus. “And we have seen again and again, scooters are a visceral experience for people in addition to being practical…I have not met a single person who, on their first scooter ride, doesn’t have a smile.” The introduction of new users to shared scooters is obviously a priority for Kraus and Lime, and efforts to lower the friction in getting new customers on board are under way. For example, Lime’s new group ride offer permits one user to unlock up to five scooters, an ideal way for a family to ride together, or for a scooter-savvy individual to introduce their inner circle of friends to the joys of micromobility (which helps satisfy one of Gladwell’s criteria for a trend epidemic, namely the need for connectors and persuaders).
Peering further ahead, we may see some business model experimentation in micromobility. It’s arguable that the entire shared scooter vertical is in price-finding mode at the moment, as they work out the kinks of their own unit economics and test price points in the ever-shifting factors across markets. Beyond the distance- and time-for-a-fee models that are currently being used, ideas about a subscription service or even trading a user’s personal data for a ride have been floated among micromobility thinkers. Kraus couldn’t offer anything definitive about what other business models (if any) Lime might be considering for the near future, but he was clear that the company would go in whatever direction that would best allow them to provide a world-changing service that was economically sustainable. “We’re always looking for ways to align the value we provide to our users to the value we receive as a business,” said Kraus. A sensible approach, especially for a company riding a global trend that looks to be only just starting on a hockey-stick curve.