The Ride-Sharing Plot Thickens, with Scooters


Sometimes the economic lessons come in real time.  Just this morning, I posted on a new government-subsidized bicycle-sharing in Providence, and while sifting through my news feed shortly after hitting “Publish,” this story appeared on my screen:

Three New England cities are figuring out how to respond after a California company left dozens of electric rental scooters on public sidewalks without warning.

The scooters appeared Friday morning in Providence, Rhode Island, and the Massachusetts cities of Cambridge and Somerville.

The company is Bird Rides, and according to the Providence Journal, more than 50 of the scooters have been spotted around Rhode Island’s capital.  Not being subsidized by government (at least not in Providence), Bird scooters are more expensive than the JUMP bikes to which the city just gave its blessing.  Whereas the JUMP bikes are $2 per half hour, with discounts for bulk purchases and low-income, the Bird scooters are $1 plus $0.15 for every minute of use, which would be $5.50 for that half-hour ride.

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On the other hand, while JUMP appears to be a destroyer of gig-economy jobs, Bird creates opportunities for people to make money:

Kristin Gaudreau said she also plans on becoming a charger, taking the scooters home at night to recharge the batteries earning up to $100 a night.

According to the company’s Web site, that task entails going out and collecting the scooters, charging them, and then leaving them where they might be in the most demand the next morning.  Bird also pledges to pay host cities $1 per day per scooter as “revenue sharing.”  The arrangement for JUMP isn’t as clear, although the company is advertising an operations manager position open in Providence, which may entail some of the same tasks in a less disaggregated way.

The City of Providence is currently “in talks” with Bird.  We’ll see if $1 per scooter is sufficient palm greasing for city hall or if it uses its power to eliminate competition to its own, subsidized offering.