SALT LAKE CITY — A new e-scooter player arrived on the streets of Salt Lake City recently, but the newest addition to the local, rentable electric two-wheeler market is taking a slightly subtler approach.
San Francisco-based Spin entered the networked transportation realm in 2017 as an app-based renter of dockless bicycles, but later segued to electric scooters and was acquired by auto giant Ford in a $100 million deal announced late last year.
Now, supported by the financial heft of the country's No. 2 automaker, Spin is planning on rolling into 100 U.S. cities this year. But unlike some of its market competitors that have built reputations for launching service first and figuring out pesky details like legal operating agreements later, Spin says it wants to earn new customers by playing nice.
"We take a little more of a measured approach in figuring out what markets we want to go into," said Spin general manager Ryan Larson. "We prioritize being permitted and fully legal and working with the cities ahead of our arrival."
Spin joins competitors Bird and Lime in Salt Lake City, and all offer electric-powered scooters that can be located and rented via a smartphone app. All three companies are, for the time being, price-matching each other with rates that are $1 to unlock the scooter and 15 cents for each minute of operation.
Salt Lake City is currently capping the total number of vehicles, be they e-scooters or bicycles, that any networked transportation vendor can offer for rent in the city at 500. While Bird and Lime appear to both be at or near that cap on a regular basis, Spin is slow-rolling its deployments, and Larson said the company will likely take the next month to build up to the cap.
In the meantime, however, Salt Lake City has a set of new proposals under consideration that could give all three companies the ability to exceed those caps by up to 20 percent in cases when usage comes close to maxing out available vehicles.
Salt Lake City Transportation Director Jon Larsen told the Deseret News the changes, which will include the so-called dynamic capping and opening up Research Park, a University of Utah property previously off-limits to vehicle deployment by the e-scooter operators, are nearing the end of the approval process and could go into effect in a matter of days.
Larsen said Spin appeared to be taking a measured approach to entering the Salt Lake market and has been "eager to play nice and be a good partner."
While Lime, like Spin, procured an operating license before launching service in the city, Bird, the first of the companies to alight in Salt Lake City, opted for a more cavalier entrée with an unexpected, and unpermitted, scooter deployment late last June. The company took a brief hiatus after a couple of weeks of unsanctioned operation to work with the city on obtaining an operating agreement and was back on the streets with a permit at the end of July.
We take a little more of a measured approach in figuring out what markets we want to go into. We prioritize being permitted and fully legal and working with the cities ahead of our arrival. – Spin general manager Ryan Larson
While the question of how many e-scooters is too many remains unanswered, and the new dynamic capping could lead to as many as 1,800 of the two-wheelers being deployed in Salt Lake City, a survey conducted late last year reflected mostly positive feedback from e-scooter riders. One ongoing issue, according to city officials, is reducing the volume of negative interactions between pedestrians and scooter riders on city sidewalks. While current statute bans both scooters and bicycles from sidewalks in the central business district, a set of proposed ordinance changes aiming to establish rules specific to the new transportation option continues to make its way through the city legislative process.
As to why the companies just keep coming, a glimpse of the potential market for so-called micromobility options offers some illumination.
A just-released report by tech market analysis platform CB Insights noted that micromobility, which refers to short-distance transport, usually less than 5 miles, is increasingly becoming shorthand "for the growing crop of bike and scooter-sharing companies that are poised to remake the urban landscape."
And with an estimated 60 percent of all car trips falling into the 0-5 mile range, the report estimates the U.S. market for networked transportation companies that offer short-term bike and/or scooter rentals will be in the range of $200 billion to $300 billion by 2030.