How to find profitability in the e-scooter sharing industry – a conversation with Bullride

When it comes to the future of e-scooter sharing, there are some pretty conflicting opinions out there. Some say it's the future of micromobility, others are less optimistic.

Ultimately, the success of scooter operators all depends on their ability to find profitability.

Let's be honest – this industry has higher-than-average overhead costs. The hardware itself is a major investment, and profits are further seeped by the maintenance workforce, storage, relocation costs, and new regulatory requirements that are regularly introduced.

But profitability is possible. 

We spoke to Heiko Hildebrandt, co-founder of Bullride, which helps mobility companies offload their assets from their balance sheet to keep them in the black. 

The state of the scooter industry – hopeful

The economy is just starting to stabilize as we exit the Covid slump and enter the new normal. How did Covid affect the micromobility sphere?

A study published in Bloomberg found that monthly ridership fell drastically in 2021, but made a comeback in 2022 when people returned to office.


Source: Bloomberg


Source: Bloomberg

Now, that's using US-based brands as a model.

Heiko Hildebrandt shares that the scooter operators he's worked with have experienced a similar effect:

“Corona was the greatest fuel you could pour onto the micromobility fire. During Corona times, people hardly used public transport, and most people switched to scooters. We saw two of the biggest micromobility brands in Europe, Bolt and Tier, raise record-setting VC investment at the end of 2021 – totaling 1.4B EUR – a clear sign of traction. And since Covid has ended, we've seen a 30%-40% slump in demand. So was Covid bad for business? Not according to my perspective.”

However, according to Heiko, the real challenge is to make the unit economics work. Because the question is not about whether the product is in demand. The question is does it make sense from a business perspective. 

The challenges the scooter industry faces

The scooter industry, while in demand, must face challenges that directly impact their unit economics. For some businesses, it pushes them over the edge and drives them into insolvency. 

By knowing what those challenges are, scooter businesses can better set up their business models to protect their profitability. 

Rising hardware costs

In order for a scooter's lifetime to be profitable, it has to be in use for at least 2 seasons – some even say, for 4 years. That means that the scooter has to be durable, easily maintained, with cost-efficient replacement parts. 

“Scooters are usually imported from abroad (mostly China), and shipping costs are now 8x higher than they were two years ago. The costs of electronics components are ever increasing.”

Jürgen Sahtel, Manager of the ATOM Vehicle Marketplace, agrees that the prices have gone up over the past two years. 

“For example, hardware prices for the new Segway models have increased more than 40% over the last 16 months. And this trend is across all manufacturers – new scooters could be obtained starting from 650EUR and up, while more advanced models readily available in EU are priced at around 1000EUR per unit.”

The hardware is one of the biggest up-front investments that a scooter operator faces. But it's also critical to balance cost with quality, as you need to be so resilient that it can withstand public use over the course of 2-4 years. 

Expanding regulation

When the e-scooter sharing industry took off, the industry was so fresh that there wasn't any regulation in place to keep it in check. It was the wild west, and operators were able to take advantage of the regulatory grey area. 

Now, municipalities are starting to crack down on the industry and putting laws into place. Regulation, overall, is a good thing. However, the way it's done now shows a lack of understanding about the unit economics and its regulation that is being enacted.

“Most municipalities are limiting the size of a fleet that one scooter competitor can have. Their goal is to reduce the amount of scooter clutter on the streets. But that number is often too low to ensure what we call “natural floating” – the process of humans moving the scooters around the city. This puts a larger strain on relocation and charging teams.”

Other burdens placed on scooter brands is the stricter demarcation of allowable parking zones. This is a factor that impacts relocation teams – those responsible for bringing scooters from less popular zones back to city centers and transport hubs. Additionally, mandatory tenders with the municipality are usually offered only for one year, making planning rather difficult.

A new trend that Heiko mentions seeing from a regulatory perspective is the emergence of mandatory insurance. 

“Scooters used to be classified as bikes, and thus, similarly regulated. Now, they're being reclassified as motored vehicles, which have different regulatory requirements, including mandatory insurance.” 

This further skews the unit economics of each ride.

On the other hand, regulation can also play an enabling factor. Heiko shares that if tenders could be extended for, say, 3 years, it could provide scooter brands with planning stability. If municipalities limited only 2 competitors in a city, this would ensure enough demand to make the unit economics work.

Finding profitability in unlikely places – Bullride's unique business model

Heiko believes that the future lies in the shared economy. He's among the 4 co-founders of Bullride, an investment platform that shoulders the burden of the hardware investment and splits the scooter rent with the operating brand.

How does it work? 

  1. The Bullride platform crowdfunds the costs of the initial scooter investment. These people become your investors. Instead of giving away equity (ownership) of your company, they end up “owning” one of your scooters (1 scooter = 1,000 EUR). 
  2. The order is made into one of the top scooter manufacturers that have the best longevity – Bullride does this for you.
  3. You split the rental income – 55% for you, 30% for investors, 15% for Bullride.

The idea works for a number of reasons. 

  1. You'll need money. A bank is unlikely to fund a scooter venture (because of historically low profitability), and a VC will ask for equity. This way, you get the investment, while retaining full control.
  2. Bullride has very specific requirements. They know what works, and what doesn't. They only work together with entrepreneurs that meet their very strict requirements. That includes entering a city that has no more than 2 competitors, and a city that has no more than 100,000 inhabitants. 30,000 is the ideal sweetspot. You also only have one employee – and that's you. 

The operating brand then may use a leading vehicle-sharing platform ATOM Mobility, to fast-track their time to market. ATOM takes profitability even further with its unique pricing model. Instead of the common model of cost-per-vehicle, ATOM uses a cost-per-ride model. That means that if you have less demand (and as a result, less income) in a certain month, then you pay less for use of the ATOM platform. 

But scooter sharing is just the beginning. This same model, Heiko believes, can be applied to e-bikes, e-scooters, carsharing, even wind turbines and major investments like that. Why shouldn't a community be able to jointly invest in and co-own the infrastructure that they need to live? 

This is a unique model that hasn't been commonly seen elsewhere. It's more than just scooters – Bullride believes that at the heart of it, what they're doing is democratizing asset ownership.

If you're looking to launch or scale your own vehicle-sharing business, contact the ATOM Mobility team to learn more abut this opportunity.

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Everything you need to know about micromobility fleet insurance
Everything you need to know about micromobility fleet insurance

Discover why fleet insurance is important for shared micromobility operators. Learn how the right coverage provides peace of mind against unexpected challenges.

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For shared mobility operators, fleet insurance should be one of the top priorities. No matter the size or composition of your fleet, having the right insurance can offer peace of mind by protecting your business from unforeseen situations

However, the insurance question can sometimes seem daunting – especially if you're new to the industry. In this article, we will explore the key things you need to know about insuring your shared micromobility fleet.

Why you need insurance

Operating a shared mobility fleet isn’t always smooth sailing. Accidents can happen – whether it's a minor fender-bender or something more severe. Insurance serves as your safety net, offering financial coverage for repairs, replacements, and even potential legal obligations after an incident.

Here are the main reasons why insurance should be one of the top priorities for shared mobility fleet operators: 

Legal compliance: In many places, insurance for shared mobility fleets is a legal requirement. You probably want to comply with these regulations to avoid any potential fines, penalties – or even the suspension of your operations.

Financial security: Insurance also helps keep your business going financially, no matter what happens. Without insurance, accidents, vehicle damage, or theft can seriously impact your finances. Comprehensive insurance coverage can ensure that you're not left scrambling to cover any unexpected expenses.

Understanding shared micromobility insurance

When it comes to insuring micromobility fleets, part of the challenge stems from the fact that the market is relatively new. Some insurance underwriters avoid dealing directly with micromobility because it's seen as an unfamiliar market. 

This is where brokers like Cachet and others specializing in micromobility insurance come in. They partner with various insurance underwriters to provide coverage for operators in this field.

When it comes to shared micromobility, insurance coverage generally has a twofold role: safeguarding assets and handling third-party engagement in the event of accidents.

person riding bicycle during daytime

Liability coverage: Securing third-party public liability insurance for shared mobility fleets is not just a matter of choice – in some places, it's mandated by law. This insurance serves to protect pedestrians and riders in the unfortunate event of accidents, providing financial coverage for injuries and damages that may arise. In other words, it's a safety net that offers peace of mind to operators.

When it comes to mandatory third-party liability insurance, the negotiations with the insurance company usually begin by figuring out what the local authorities require to give them a permit. After that, the insurance policy is adjusted to meet the specific demands outlined by these authorities.

Physical damage coverage: This covers the repair or replacement costs of vehicles if they are damaged due to accidents, collisions, vandalism, or theft. Depending on the policy, physical damage coverage may also extend to equipment like GPS devices, charging stations, and other hardware.

What decides your insurance premium payments?

The amount you'll pay in premiums depends on various factors that are specific to your business This includes your fleet's makeup, where and how you operate, and the level of coverage you're aiming for.

Fleet usage: The more a shared micromobility fleet is used, the more chances there are for things to go wrong. When a fleet is in high demand and used often, there's a greater likelihood that something might happen that requires insurance coverage.

Rider behavior: Insurance companies also consider the fleet's ability to predict and manage undesirable rider behavior. Reckless riding, improper parking, or violating traffic rules can significantly increase the risk of accidents and incidents. Operators that have better measures in place to anticipate and mitigate such behaviors can demonstrate a lower risk profile to insurance providers.

black metal train rail during daytime

Value of the fleet: How much your vehicles are worth individually and as a fleet will affect how much you pay for insurance. If your vehicles are expensive, your insurance premiums will be higher because it would cost more to replace them if they get damaged or lost.

Size of the fleet: Operators can often negotiate more favorable insurance rates for proportionally larger fleets. As the number of vehicles increases, the overall expected risk is distributed and “diluted” as a result – which translates to lower premiums per vehicle. 

However, some brokers like Cachet have embraced a broader approach, ensuring that smaller and medium-sized fleets can also benefit from insurance coverage.

Technology implementation: Shared mobility services that employ technologies like GPS tracking, telematics, and IoT devices can provide insurers with valuable data. This data can then help assess driver behavior and usage patterns, enabling insurers to offer more accurate and tailored premium rates. This also takes into account how simple it is for scooters to be stolen and how well the recovery processes function – which can also play a role in insurance expenses.

Where you operate: The location in which your fleet operates is another important factor. From the insurer’s perspective, different areas pose varied levels of risk. For example, urban mobility – which is associated with a higher risk of accidents – may incur higher premiums compared to vehicles used in rural areas.

Level of coverage: The level of coverage you choose directly affects how much you pay in premiums. Opting for higher coverage limits means you get more comprehensive protection, but obviously, it also means your insurance costs go up.

a scooter parked on the side of a bridge

Choosing the ideal insurance for your fleet

Every shared mobility fleet and business is different, so your insurance needs will depend on things like the type and size of your fleet, where you operate, how much risk you're comfortable with, and of course – how much you are willing to pay. 

For example, do you require coverage for specific risks, like vandalism, or perhaps your fleet is composed of premium vehicles that are more expensive? To make it more relatable, let's dive into a practical case of a shared micromobility operator's experience with insurance.

How Hoog found the right insurance with Cachet

The concept behind Hoog Mobility is to revolutionize transportation in smaller Estonian towns. They recognized the need for efficient and eco-friendly local travel and brought a shared mobility solution often seen in big cities but missing in smaller communities: electric scooters.

Cash-strapped mobility startups often worry about potential damage or vandalism happening to their shared vehicles. This concern is shared by traditional insurance companies too. As a result, these insurers might hesitate to provide coverage for shared scooters, and if they do – it's usually at a higher cost.

Faced with this challenge, Hoog initially operated without insurance due to the steep expenses. But that changed when Cachet provided them with a customized insurance solution that perfectly suited the company's needs. Hoog also realized that the initial worry about vandalism wasn't as much of an issue as they thought. But still – having insurance for their fleet turned out to be a sound financial decision that gave them peace of mind.

Concluding remarks

Don't underestimate insurance – it's just as crucial as having a top-notch fleet and solid software. Insurance is best approached proactively – discovering you've cut corners after an unforeseen event will cost you significantly more.

Getting insurance for shared micromobility might be a bit trickier since it's still a new concept, but we've seen that even smaller fleets can make it work – it's just a matter of finding a suitable partner who understands your needs.

At the end of the day, insurance isn't merely about meeting legal requirements – it showcases your dedication to safety, responsible operations, and the well-being of everyone involved in your mobility business.

Why and how should authorities promote shared mobility
Why and how should authorities promote shared mobility

Unlocking the power of shared mobility – how authorities can drive change and improve transportation.

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Shared mobility is gaining momentum – offering prospects for reducing traffic, cleaning up city air, and providing users with more flexible transportation options. However, despite its potential, shared mobility often seems to take a backseat to traditional public transportation and private vehicles in the eyes of local authorities and infrastructure planners.

Experts see shared mobility as a game-changing revolution in transportation. It surpasses the earlier revolution of the 20th century when personal cars became widely affordable and accessible. Now, with the rise of shared mobility and environmental concerns, the old notion of "one car per person" is becoming outdated.

In light of this, authorities worldwide should proactively prepare for a future where shared mobility plays an increasingly significant role. In this blog post, we'll explore different ways authorities and legislators can encourage shared mobility – and why it's totally worth it.

The positive impact of shared mobility

Shared mobility has the potential to fix some of the problems we face with transportation today, benefiting users, cities, and the environment. Here are the key benefits of shared mobility:

  • Reduced congestion: Shared mobility can alleviate traffic congestion, leading to smoother traffic flow and shorter commute times.
  • Environmental sustainability: Shared mobility can reduce the number of vehicles on the road, resulting in lower greenhouse gas emissions and a smaller carbon footprint. This helps combat air pollution and mitigate the environmental impact of transportation.
  • Improved transport accessibility and flexibility: Shared mobility services make transportation more accessible, especially for those without private vehicles or limited mobility options. They also offer convenient alternatives to traditional transportation methods.

Considering the urgent need to combat climate change, shared mobility holds a significant promise as a greener transportation option. The European Union's Green Deal aims to achieve a 90% reduction in transportation-related greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. Shared mobility – coupled with increased adoption of electric vehicles and a broader shift in transportation behaviors – will likely play an important role in achieving this goal.

However, for shared mobility to truly flourish and revolutionize transportation, it needs a supportive environment backed by legislative frameworks and infrastructure planning. So, let's take a closer look at how authorities can foster wider adoption of shared mobility.

1. Favorable regulations with an eye on the future

In the past, shared mobility solutions and business models have faced challenges in gaining acceptance from regulators. A prime example is the initial response of local authorities to Uber’s novel services at the time – ordering them to cease their operations immediately.

Shared mobility services can disrupt traditional transportation models – which may not be welcomed by everyone. However, the undeniable popularity of these services, exemplified by the rapid success of Uber, demonstrates the high customer demand.

Instead of battling against it, authorities might want to shift their focus to creating a supportive legislative framework, recognizing the significant benefits shared mobility can bring. It means regulations that prioritize safety, fair competition, consumer protection, and quality standards – creating an environment where shared mobility can thrive and provide reliable services to customers.

Shared mobility is constantly evolving, which means that regulations need to be flexible and adaptable to keep up with emerging technologies and new challenges. For example, as autonomous vehicles become a possibility, authorities will need to establish guidelines for their safe integration into existing transportation networks.

2. A collaborative approach

Collaboration between local authorities and businesses can be a decisive factor in creating a favorable environment for shared mobility. By working together, they can tackle common challenges, share data, and develop integrated transportation solutions.

Public-private partnerships can also involve incentives like tax breaks or subsidies to encourage the adoption of shared mobility. For example, offering tax breaks to companies that implement ride-sharing programs for their employees can encourage the use of shared transportation options instead of individual cars. Similarly, providing subsidies for shared mobility providers can help offset the initial costs of implementing and expanding their services.

Sharing data between shared mobility platforms and transport authorities is another way to benefit from this cooperation. The platforms have valuable information on accidents, trip patterns, and driver availability. Sharing this data with local authorities can help improve the transportation network, enhance travel apps, and identify underserved areas.

3. Building infrastructure to support the future of transportation

To meet evolving transportation needs, authorities should invest in infrastructure that supports innovative modes of transportation like electric vehicles and shared mobility services. By considering the needs of shared mobility users, infrastructure planners can make it a much more attractive transportation option.

Here are the key infrastructure needs for shared mobility:

Integration with existing infrastructure: To offer users smooth and effective transportation choices, shared mobility must seamlessly integrate with current transport systems like public transit. It should enable users to plan multi-modal journeys and switch between different modes of transport without hassle. For example, users should be able to seamlessly transition from a shared bike or scooter to a bus or train.

Charging stations: Keeping shared electric vehicles performing at their best relies on maintaining their charge. This requires establishing a network of strategically positioned charging stations throughout urban areas. If we're aiming for more people to use electric vehicles, we need to make charging them easy and accessible.

Dedicated parking: Shared mobility services need designated parking areas for their vehicles, such as bike racks and car-sharing parking spots. Well-organized parking infrastructure can reduce street clutter and make it easier for others to grab a shared mobility vehicle.

Information infrastructure support: Running shared mobility services smoothly, including handling bookings, payments, and logistics, depends greatly on a reliable information infrastructure foundation. With the advent of advanced networks like 6G, users will increasingly rely on this infrastructure to stay connected and make the most of these services.

The shared mobility landscape in France

Paris's recent ban on free-floating e-scooters has put France in the spotlight. To take a closer look at the shared mobility environment in France, we turned to Manon Lavergne, CEO of Viluso, a shared micromobility operator. We asked for her insights on the state of micromobility in the country.

Since the Mobility Orientation Law in 2019, the French government has been working to make shared transport easier to access everywhere. At COP 26 in 2021, France undertook to cut its CO2 emissions by 55%.

According to Manon, personal vehicle ownership in urban settings is losing favor among many French citizens, and Paris stands out as a shared micromobility epicenter. The city pioneered self-service shared mobility networks like Vélib' (2007), Autolib' (2011), and Cityscoot's shared electric scooters (2016).

However, in April 2023, Paris residents voted to ban free-floating e-scooters in the city. The reasons behind this decision included riders competing for space with pedestrians on sidewalks and complaints about e-scooters cluttering the pavements when parked. 

Captur's case study on e-scooter parking habits in Paris revealed that the majority of users encountered no problems when parking scooters in designated bays. However, outside of the designated areas, users had to compete with other vehicles, resulting in poorer parking choices.

This example again emphasizes the need for proper infrastructure to support shared mobility. Lots of cities around the world were mainly designed with private cars in mind – which can create challenges for accommodating shared mobility solutions.

Anne Hidalgo, Paris' Mayor, campaigned with a strong green agenda and has introduced various changes to tackle pollution and traffic jams. Her vision includes a "15-minute city" where people can access work, shopping, healthcare, education, and leisure within a 15-minute walk or bike ride from their homes.

Yet, the chaotic state of free-floating e-scooters in Paris resulted in their ban. This scenario raises a question for other global cities: How can shared mobility be encouraged without disrupting other transportation choices and pedestrian movement?

According to Manon, the upcoming 2024 Olympic Games in Paris, which will draw many visitors, will provide valuable insight into the city's transportation system – including the viability of shared mobility.

Shared mobility is here to stay – so start planning today

By adopting a supportive approach, authorities worldwide can play a crucial role in enabling the full potential of shared mobility. While it may require a shift in mindset, the potential gains of reduced congestion, environmental sustainability, and improved transportation options make it a worthwhile consideration. 

We know that shared mobility is here to stay and will only expand in the coming years. By taking a more proactive stance, authorities will be in a better position to integrate and maximize the full benefits of shared mobility.

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