How bad is the traffic in your town? The data is in, commutes are getting longer, with the average commute in the U.S. inching up to 27 minutes, which means the average driver spent about 97 hours in stop-and-go gridlock—or the equivalent of two-and-a-half work weeks. Depending on where you live, those numbers could be lower… or they could be much higher. Older cities tend to have more congestion, since they weren’t designed for cars. Many urban areas outside the U.S. have up to twice as much traffic. Moscow drivers spent an average of 210 hours sitting in their cars last year.
The numbers represent not only a significant loss of productivity, but also a major loss of time better spent doing virtually anything else. You can try to find new, untapped routes to work, get up hours earlier in the morning, or wait out the rush by staying later at work, losing even more time you’d rather spend with friends and family. Public transit, where reasonably accessible, is usually a better option than sitting in the car.
But for many, getting to a train or subway stop can be a headache in itself. Even commuters within major cities face last-mile problems when deciding to ditch the car and take a train instead. In the past few years, micro-mobility options like bike and scooter shares have successfully bridged the gap in cities worldwide, where millions can now hop on a Lime bike or Bird scooter and be at the train station—or at the office—in minutes, avoiding increasingly longer and more costly commutes.
This development promises to reshape the way we get around, and the way we design cities. Share companies now regularly lobby city planners to expand bike lanes for more bike and scooter safety. They are getting results in some cities, though an inevitable backlash has set in elsewhere. It helps that commuters have largely embraced the explosion of bike and scooter shares. Bikes and scooters now account for 60% of trips under 5 miles in the U.S., with scooter shares poised to outpace ride sharing in major cities by 2025.
Sharing vs. Owning
Shares, whether docked or dockless, have their drawbacks. One of the biggest issues is reliability. Since there’s no way to reserve an electric bike or scooter in advance, you can’t know if you’ll find one when you leave the house or office. Moreover, since the scooters and bikes are ridden by hundreds of other commuters, they are subject to damage and disrepair, another factor completely outside of commuters’ control, and one that drives a significant amount of waste in the industry.
Increasing numbers of people have chosen to buy their own electric scooters rather than trust their mobility to unpredictable dockless shares. Think the cost is prohibitive? Consider that in the U.S.—where fuel costs are low by comparison with most of the world—the average commuter spent about $2600 in 2014 commuting to work. That number came down to $1400 two years later. Gas prices have been steadily climbing since, and are expected to rise higher. These averages do not include the costs of parking. Nor can they account for the environmental impact of daily heavy car traffic.
Such commuting concerns led one electric scooter owner, Profitero strategy leader Keith Anderson, to conclude, “I wasn’t ‘stuck in traffic’–I was traffic.” He used shares, but then decided to buy a scooter, “as a way to reduce my carbon footprint, but in the process I’m saving an average of $30 and 30 minutes each day—and having more fun, too.” Those daily costs are consistent with surveys of thousands of sharing commuters, who average $30-50 per day on ride shares, bike shares, or scooter shares. Like Anderson, many of those share riders are contributing to the steady growth of the electric scooter market worldwide, and more and more commuters decide it’s better to own.
Maybe, as Anderson writes, if we’re sitting in our cars for hours a day, burning thousands of dollars of gas each year, then we are the traffic. How do we get out? By getting out of the car. Bike and scooter shares are forcing a change in the way we commute in cities around the world. And more people are finding that owning their own electric scooters makes it even easier to avoid traffic like a boss.