goUrban, an Austrian e-scooter sharing startup, received a six figure investment

Recently, the Austrian startup scooter sharing startup goUrban received a six-figure investment. The startup wants to deploy 50 NIU e-scooters in certain parts of Vienna focusing on local recreation areas and inner-city travel. The scooters are free-floating and goUrban will swap the empty batteries. The scooters have space for two people and come with two helmets and a net to put over your head for hygienic reasons.

With car sharing, public transportation and bike sharing, the most pressing question is which — if any — role can scooter sharing play. There are two general aspects. Scooters are either a tool for getting from A to B (like public transportation) or they are recreational vehicles (like sports cars). As goUrban positions their scooters as a low priced way to avoid parking issues while driving through the city, let’s look at scooter sharing as a tool for getting from A to B.

Based on scooter sharing’s vague relative advantage goUrban should offer lifestyle instead of practicality

In this context the success of scooter sharing depends on whether it is better than the other means of transportation it competes against. It competes against car sharing and public transportation. In comparison to public transportation it is equally good and thus does not replace public transportation but only complements it. In comparison to cars they are worse and only “scooter people” (i. e. people who like driving scooters for fun) will use it.

In sum this mean that scooter sharing will be successful if:

  1. Public transportation is sparse
  2. There are enough people who like scooters more than cars
  3. It costs less then car sharing
  4. Public transportation is sparse and people compensate by using bike sharing (instead of using public transportation and a bike for the last/first mile, people could cover the whole distance with scooters)
  5. People really want to avoid traffic and public transportation is sparse. If people can really avoid traffic better with scooters than cars, it might not matter that they dislike scooters.
  6. The parking situation is really band and public transportation is sparse. If people can really find a parking spot better with scooters than cars, it might not matter that they dislike scooters.

As these factors are not present in goUrban’s area of operation, the company should focus on lifestyle instead of practicality. However, a paradigm shift (people will start liking scooters because they have more access to them), might tilt the odds in goUrban’s favour.

Scooter sharing competes against public transportation and car sharing

Firstly, scooter sharing is a flexible means of transportation which competes against car sharing (flexible) and public transportation (static). Flexible refers to individual, door-to-door transportation that you can use whenever you need it (on-demand). Static modes of transportation follow a fix schedule and are represented by public transportation. Scooter sharing does not compete against bike sharing due to these vehicles’s different ranges. For the most part people won’t bike more than 5 km (in their free time) [1] and shared scooters are usually used for distances of 5 km and more [5]. (There might be an overlap between biking and driving at around 6 to 7 km.)

Overview of means of transportation and factors people use to choose between them

Scooter sharing only complements public transportation

Although Roland Berger reports that bike sharing replaces public transportation in some cities this does not apply to cooter sharing because it is more expensive. A monthly card for Vienna’s public transportation costs around 50€, goUrban’s cheapest package, which gives you 500 minutes of driving, costs 70€. As a supplement to public transportation, people will user scooter sharing for two reasons. Firstly, they will opt for scooter sharing for longer distances (5–20 km) where public transportation is either totally unavailable or just unavailable at the time you need it.

Secondly, they would use a scooter when they instead would have used public transportation and bikes in tandem. Very often bikes are used for the last or first mile when the distance between your station and final destination is too long for walking. In such scenarios users could circumvent the use of two modes of transportation and get around with just one.

Because scooters are only a little bit better then cars, scooter sharing will only be successful if people prefer scooters over cars

Although the amount of two-wheeled vehicles including all types of motorcycles and scooters has risen since 2004 (see chart below), there are still only about 800.000. This only a fraction of the 7 Million registered cars () or the minimum of three million bikes.

Amount of two-wheeled vehicles in Austria since 2004

This highlights that people either dislike two-wheeled vehicles because of their low relative advantage compared to cars. People prefer cars because they are safer, faster, easier to drive and more comfortable (in-car entertainment) than scooters. Also, cars convey a certain image (even when shared) and are weather-proof. Furthermore, car sharing (car2go) and scooter sharing (goUrban) cost the same [2]. All this negates the fact that it is easier to find a parking spot with scooters than cars and that you can avoid traffic better with scooters than cars (depending on the street, however, you might be able to pass between cars but if you unlucky you share your traffic-faith with cars).

goUrban’s area of operation and scooter availability make positioning as tool difficult

goUrban positions their scooters as a low priced way to avoid parking issues while driving through the city, let’s look at scooter sharing as a tool for getting from A to B. However, their low density and free-floating system makes this difficult. Through this combination scooters will be scattered all around town resulting in high uncertainty about availability. This will derail users. Furthermore, goUrban’s area of operation where you can park the scooters has only a few areas with low density of public transportation (see the three black areas below).

A map of goUrban’s area of operation where scooters can be parked (orange lines; map from here). Black areas spaces with low density of public transportation

Because these areas are relatively small (the longest circumference is 7 km), people will opt for bike sharing there, especially as the Vienna bike sharing company Citybike offers free bike sharing for durations under one hour.

In this context, area #3 points at goUrban’s second option, namely the focus on lifestyle instead of practicality.

goUrban should offer lifestyle instead of practicality

That area is the space around the Schönbrunn Palace, one of Vienna’s most important sights. In the context of sightseeing visitors could rent the scooters to enhance their tour. Although I have criticized this approach in the context of Jaano, a scooter sharing startup, it makes sense here given the local circumstances.

Paradigm shift might tilt the odds in goUrban’s favor

In all that one must not underestimate the possibility of paradigm shift in behavior that technology brings. Only with the rise of online gaming people shifted from playing LAN parties to playing online. Or, to stay in the transportation industry, only the rise of the smartphone allowed the rise of sharing companies which in turn lead to the shift from owning a car to sharing a car. Furthermore, the Management Consultancy civity found (German link) that 50% of the ranges covered with Free-Floating-Carsharing-Systems (FFC) in Berlin where less than five kilometers long. As you could also use a bike or public transportation for these distances, it is reasonable to assume that FFC made us lazier. Similarly, this means that the availability of scooters could also make use lazier and we will start using scooters for distances we would have biked or even walked.

Notes

[1] Statista reported that in Germany in 2015 about 80% of the population drove less than 5000 km annually by bike. If we break that down on a daily basis (admittedly not a 100% correct approach) we get a distance of 14 km daily. Considering that the majority of the study’s participants uses their own bikes we have to halve these 14 km (they must get to a place and back). Furthermore, if we consider that 50% of the population used their bike less than 2500km we reach a daily driving distance of 4km one way.

[2] Based on prices per minutes goUrban is €0,07 cheaper than Vienna’s cheapest car sharing DriveNow.Despite this marginal difference in the first place, goUrban and DriveNow cost the same () when you compare them on a per-KM basis due to car’s higher speeds (see screenshot).

Price/distance-comparison goUrban and DriveNow

[3] According to a comment from here it will be NIU-scooters.

[4] The average distance for car sharing is 7.5 km

[5] Coup, a German scooter sharing company, repots that their users’ average distances are between five and six kilometers.

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