Innovative Startups Battle for their Place in Making Mobility History

Written by Charlie R. Tyson

Here’s a surprising fact: An estimated 90 percent of Americans will choose to reside in cities by 2050, according to the United Nations. This means more rural communities will see a significant population decline while traditionally less dense downtown areas, like Detroit and Cleveland, will see population surges.

Community developers are rapidly planning for this shift as 90 percent of American cities don’t appear ready for such a population surge. The folks designing future cities aren’t the only ones preparing for more traffic, fewer parking spots, and harder drop-off points for Lyft or Uber rides.

Inno Detroit Katelyn Crain

Innovative startups like Bird, Lime and Spin are also seizing the moment and cashing in on their opportunity to make mobility history with dockless scooters.

But not without opposition.

Currently, dockless electric scooters are the most headline-grabbing micro-mobility solution. Anyone who has spent time in a major city in the last six months has either seen or have almost been hit by one of these two-wheeled motorized thrill-rides cruising down a sidewalk.

Rides usually start at $1 to unlock a scooter and 15 cents a minute afterwards. Most trips end up costing around $2-3, which is similar to the cost of using public transportation.

After a recent round of investment led by Uber and Alphabet, Lime was valued at $1.1 billion in 2018. In November, Ford acquired Spin for over $40 million.

A nationwide survey found that 70 percent of city-dwellers like having access to dockless electric scooters and recent studies have shown the adoption rate of scooters is exponentially higher than other shared mobility options.

So why the opposition?

The real issue is that cities are designed and governed for cars first, other vehicles second. And, at least in the year 2018, these scooters were having trouble fitting in.

New mobility solutions, like e-scooters, e-bikes or e-rickshaws, are needed to alleviate congestion and parking. And most citizens like having these solutions nearby.

However, many city officials continue to grapple with the startups creating these solutions because of a perceived lack of communication around when scooters are dropped into a community. Dozens of community leaders are putting a cap on the number of scooters that can be operated at one time (due to sidewalk collisions leading to injuries). These scooters can go as fast as 15 mph within a range of 38 miles.

Bird Scooter Katelyn Crain

Should this opposition discourage similar startups from entering the mobility industry?

Absolutely not.

Instead of banning new technologies, we need to better understand how crucial their impact is on cities.

Tech Innovators: Be Prepared for Backlash and Simultaneous Momentum

Yes, ride-hailing is still a popular option and bike shares continue to gain momentum, but scooter companies like Bird, Lime and Spin are becoming the most convenient urban mobility trend – despite the controversy they are causing.

Lime and Bird are both growing at a faster rate than Uber or Lyft in their early days when you compare investment levels and customer adoption.

Meeting the quality of life needs of growing city populations in Middle America is directly tied to offering alternatives to a still-prominent car ownership culture. And, this will take time as it continues to take a toll on road infrastructure, revenue models and energy systems.

With urbanization on the rise, micro-mobility options reduce car usage for short trips, fill first mile/last mile transportation gaps, and alleviate city parking issues.

My advice to the next generation of tech startups: Be bold in making your mark in the future of mobility.


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About The Author

Charlie R. Tyson

Charlie R. Tyson

Project Manager, PlanetM

Charlie Tyson is the Project Manager of PlanetM at the Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC). Launched in 2016, PlanetM began as a global marketing campaign to showcase the entirety of Michigan’s autonomous, connected, electrified, and shared transportation ecosystem. In 2017, PlanetM morphed into a business development platform to attract the world’s best mobility startups and connect them to the Michigan automotive ecosystem. PlanetM connects emerging mobility companies to Michigan’s automotive and advanced transportation industry through testing and pilot opportunities, matchmaking engagements, and through the PlanetM Landing Zone, a co-working space in the heart of downtown Detroit. In addition, Charlie leads PlanetM’s effort to connect founders in all industries to Michigan’s vast network of engineering and manufacturing firms to build their products for success. Charlie has been affiliated with the MEDC since 2016 when he joined PlanetM’s sister program, Pure Michigan Business Connect (PMBC). PMBC is the state’s premier B2B program that has facilitated $5.7 billion in contracts between local and global buyers and Michigan suppliers, resulting in 27,941 jobs created or retained since 2011. In his free time, Charlie enjoys coasting along the Great Lakes on his motorcycle.

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