Renting an Electric Scooter: Everything you need to know

In March 2018, hundreds of e-scooters appeared on the sidewalks of San Francisco, seemingly overnight. Residents panicked and demanded the scooter rental companies be banished from the city streets.

In August 2018, the city granted just two scooter rental companies permits to test e-scooters in the city - Scoot and Skip.

Fast forward four years and the global electric scooter market is estimated to reach $37 billion by 2024. Bird and Lime are leading the way, with rideshare rentals available in dozens of U.S. cities, meaning you can rent and ride an e-scooter in almost every state of the U.S. for a fraction of the cost of regular commuting.

E-scooters are an affordable alternative to taking the train, bus or driving a car. They negate the need to stand in line waiting for a ride share. There's no worry about close contact with a stranger's sweaty armpit.

You simply rent an electric scooter through an app and zoom into the sunset at a speedy 15mph.

What else do you need to know about joining the micromobility revolution?

So much more.

But let's take a quick jump back in time to see how the story began and learn why electric scooter rentals are having a moment.

Why are electric scooter rentals taking over cities

The cost of living crisis may only have just begun, but for years commuters have been struggling with the rising cost of commuting, pulling their hair out in frustration at the lack of alternative transportation options.

But now there's a two wheeled solution, at a fraction of the cost, with no commitment, allowing commuters a quick and affordable alternative to the regular commute.

E-scooters aren't the first innovation to try to spare commuters from commuter hell. Take Segway hoverboard, for example.

This fantastic piece of engineering burst onto the scene in 2002 with much fanfare, lauded as the commuting answer we'd all been looking for. Alas, the gyroscopic controlled balance board failed to grab market share due to its hefty price tag. Still, the company was on to something.

So many major cities, then and now, are badly in need of a public transportation overhaul, however Segway wasn't the company to see the transformation through to fruition. They over-promised and under-delivered:

  • Segways weren't affordable
  • They were too heavy to carry
  • They ran too fast for sidewalks but too slow for roads.
  • Not to mention riders just looked dumb standing awkwardly on a hoverboard that whirred along.

While Segway had potential it never made the big leagues, it just wasn't cool. But they did start the revolution...

One that electric scooters, a micro-mobility device that is functional, affordable and achingly cool, is reaping the reward.

Why e-scooter rentals have succeeded where Segway couldn't

Electric scooter companies took heed of Segway's failure, and in their quest to solve the commuting conundrum, hit the jackpot.

While the starting price of owning a decent electric scooter is $1000, electric scooter rentals can be hired for as little as $1 an hour, and 15+ cents per minute thereafter.

Meaning a two mile commute will take you roughly 10 minutes, but will only cost you $3. Less than the price of a bus ticket.

Even better, when you're done, you simply park up the scooter in a public place - you don't need to take it inside with you or plug it in. You just leave it on the street, preferably somewhere that doesn't block traffic and get on with your day.

The rental electric scooter business model has made the entry to electric scooters affordable to almost everyone who wishes to ride one.

And because there is huge demand for this alternative to public transport, US cities are seeing an enormous surge in micro-mobility prevalence.

Advanced telecommunications

Saying all this, we can't be too hard on the Segway, it was advanced for its time, it just wasn't quite there yet.

However, e-scooters hit the market at the right time in tandem with recent advances in telecommunications, making it easy for rental companies to build a business model without the need for installing physical infrastructure to maintain and support their rental scooters.

That's because rental electric scooters are designed with inbuilt GPS trackers and 4g data connections that allow the rental companies to track riders' every move.

Rental scooter companies don't need to instal docking stations across cities, they don't need to supply costly infrastructure to meet the growing demand to ride rental scooters.

All riders have to do is download the electric scooter company app onto their smartphone, pay the fare via their mobile device, unlock an e-scooter of their choice, and scoot off into the blue.

E-scooter battery technology

The other reason for the proliferation of electric scooters has been the advancement of the electric scooter battery.

Since the early 2000s, research into energy storage systems has seen batteries becoming more powerful - electric scooters can travel between 20-30 miles on a single charge - and less expensive - with battery prices dropping 86% between 2010 and 2016.

Demand for transportation solutions

But most of all, what's fueling the rise of electric scooter rentals in cities is hungry investors looking to solve transportation problems.

When billions of dollars are on offer to provide a solution to find a better way to move people around, particularly for short trips, i.e last mile of the commute, to the shops, to the metro station, to the park, it's not hard to see why there's been an influx of electric scooter rental companies across US cities. Everyone is desperate for a slice of the $billion dollar market share.

And rideshare apps, as popular as they are, simply aren't set up to fulfil a short journey.

Budding entrepreneurs with their startup electric scooter rental companies on the other hand saw the opportunity and seized it.

Lime, for instance, clocked up 1,000,000,000 rides in its first two years. Bird achieved unicorn status faster than AirBnb, Uber or even Facebook.

How are rental electric scooters distributed around cities?

While there isn't a visible infrastructure to support and maintain the influx of e-scooters, there is an invisible network working feverishly behind the scenes to keep the available scooters operational and on the street for more scooter riders to rent them.

Because each e-scooter has an inbuilt tracker, engineers can keep tabs on their specific location. If there's a problem, there's a customer support service just a phone call away, and a technician to swoop in and remove damaged scooters, taking them to a repair shop to be fixed.

Who charges the rental electric scooters?

For rental companies such as Lime and Bird, at the end of each day, as the battery power fades, a team of freelance chargers scour the streets for abandoned depleted scooters (with the help of an app which highlights fading scooters). These freelancers take them home, plug them in and charge them up overnight ready to be placed back on the sidewalk, fully charged the next day, ready for another busy day's e-scooting.

The freelance charger earns between $9 and $12 per scooter, depending on how empty the battery is.

How much does it cost to rent an electric scooter?

To put it into perspective, renting an e scooter is cheaper than taking public transport.

Most rental scooter companies will charge you $1 to unlock the e-scooter and then charge you anywhere between 15-60 cents per minute to ride it.

For example:

  • It'll cost you $1 plus 25 cents per minute to rent Lime scooters - it used to be 15 cents per minute, but this has increased recently by 68%.
  • It'll cost you $1 plus 15 cents per minute to rent Bird scooters.

What is the speed limit on a rental scooter?

Because e scooters are still a relatively new phenomenon, there aren't uniform laws stipulating the maximum speed scooter riders have to adhere to.

That being said, most cities have implemented a maximum speed limit of 15 miles per hour, and in order to ensure customers adhere to this, rental companies have limited their scooters to this speed, or slightly below:

  • Bird: 15 mph (24kph)
  • Lime: 14.8 mph (23.8kph)

If you ride on heavily populated city streets, expect speed limits to be even lower.

Some rental companies have even programmed their scooters to automatically slow down if they enter these areas.

What is the range of a rental scooter?

Most electric scooters will travel between 20 to 30 miles on a single charge. Each scooter will of course differ based on how much charge the battery has, the condition of the rental scooter, and how heavy you are, to name but a few factors.

Where can you ride a rental scooter?

The vast majority of rental companies will have up to date information for the city you're in, for where you can and can't ride your rental.

But, bear in mind, because rules and regulations are constantly being updated, it's best to do your own homework in order to understand your local laws in your area before you rent a scooter.

As a general rule, you usually won't be allowed to ride on sidewalks and walkways. You'll be encouraged to scoot in bike lanes or on the actual street.

How hygienic is it to share an e-scooter?

Worried about catching something from the previous rider of your shared electric scooter? Don't be.

Thanks to the pandemic, scooter rental companies had to clean up their act (literally) and step up their cleaning and sanitizing processes. Cleaning crews are on the street to disinfect scooters after rides.

One scooter rental company has even been trialling remote-controlled autonomous scooter technology in a bid to improve their sanitization program. Go X e-scooters, equipped with Tortoise technology, sends scooters, on their own, to a cleaning hub after each ride.

A cleaning crew disinfects the scooter and then sends it back out onto the street, ready to be rented again.

Electric scooter rental companies

There are lots of electric scooter rental companies to choose from, for instance, Bird and Lime are two of the biggest names, but there are others, such as Voi, Wind, Circ, TIER, Beam, Bunny and Swiftmile, each of which has slightly different processes to rent their scooters.

How do I rent an electric scooter

To give you an idea of how easy it is to rent an e scooter and start riding:

How to rent a Bird Scooter

  • Download the Bird app.
  • Login using your email address - if you don't have an account, you can easily create one.
  • The app's map will show you all available scooters nearby (called Birds).
  • Zoom in for further information about each scooter, such as the battery charge etc.
  • Add your credit card to the app if you haven't already done so (Settings > Payments).
  • Find an e-scooter near you, tap the button on the app to unlock it.
  • Photograph the scooter's QR code via the app to unlock the scooter.
  • If it's your first ride, you'll need to scan your driver's license to prove your age.
  • To begin scooting, kick off three times, then press the throttle button.
  • You accelerate with your right hand and brake with your left.
  • When you've finished scooting, simply park the scooter sensibly and avoid blocking public pathways. You need to ensure you park your scooter in a Bird designated area, otherwise you will be fined.
  • To end rental, again, open the app, and tap the button to lock the scooter again.
  • You'll be given a receipt of your ride time, cost and range travelled.

How to rent Lime Scooters

  • Download the Lime app for iOS or Android.
  • Login using your email address - if you don't have an account, you can easily create one.
  • The app's map will show you all available scooters nearby (called Lime-S).
  • Zoom in for further information about each scooter, such as the battery charge etc.
  • Add your credit card to the app if you haven't already done so (Profile > Wallet).
  • Find an available scooter near you, tap the button on the app to unlock it.
  • Photograph the scooter's QR code via the app to unlock it.
  • If it's your first ride, you'll need to scan your driver's license to prove your age.
  • To begin scooting, hop on the scooter, kick off and press the throttle button.
  • You accelerate with your right hand and brake with your left.
  • When you've finished scooting, simply park the scooter sensibly and avoid blocking public pathways. You'll need to park up in a Lime designated area, otherwise you will be fined for dropping the scooter in the red zone.
  • To end rental, again, open the app, and tap the button to lock the scooter again.
  • You'll be given a receipt of your ride time, cost and range travelled.

Pros and Cons of renting vs owning electric scooters

If you've fallen in love with electric scooters, or you're in desperate need of a commuting alternative to sitting in traffic for an hour. Should you invest in your own electric scooter, or keep renting?

Pros of renting an electric scooter

  • You don't have to worry about where to park the scooter when you get to your destination. Simply park in a safe, convenient location - don't block the sidewalk, and leave the scooter to be picked up.
  • If you live in a big city, there will usually be an electric scooter nearby to rent.
  • Renting an electric scooter in the short term is infinitely more cost effective than owning one.
  • Registering is quick and easy and only required once.
  • The cost to rent an electric scooter is minimal in comparison to owning one. For example, if you only need to nip across town, a 10 minute journey, it's going to cost you a couple of dollars to rent a scooter vs $1000 minimum outlay to buy a decent one.
  • You aren't responsible for maintenance costs. You simply pay to ride.
  • You don't need to worry about charging the e-scooter, it's the rental electric scooter company's responsibility to keep their rental scooters charged up.
  • Once you've stopped riding, you don't have any further responsibilities for the scooter. If it's stolen or damaged the second you log off, it's not your problem.

Cons of renting an electric scooter

  • If you regularly commute on an electric scooter, the costs soon add up. Meaning it works out cheaper to buy your own e scooter in the long run as it'll be cheaper to run per mile over the lifetime of the scooter if you own it.
  • Rental scooters are not the top of the line range, nor are they representative of a decent scooting experience. They're standard scooters with the sole purpose to transport you from A to B as cheaply and efficiently as possible. What they're not designed to do is give you the ride of your life. Nor will they allow you to experience the authentic ride of a modern electric scooter.

Pros of owning an electric scooter

  • When you own your own electric scooter, it's all yours baby. No one else gets to ride it. You don't have to share it with anyone.
  • Convenience of having a ride whenever and wherever you want it.
  • Customize yours as you see fit.
  • You know exactly what condition your electric scooter is in. When people rent property, they don't always take good care of it. When it's yours, you'll take care of it.
  • It's always available, unlike rental electric scooters.
  • You'll likely have the requisite safety gear to ride your e-scooter safely. When you rent an electric scooter you have to rent the helmet too, and who knows what state that's in.
  • It's better for the environment. Think about it. You look after your own stuff much more diligently than you would something you rent. Meaning most rental scooters only have a life span of between 28 days to 9 month. At the end of their rental life, they typically end up in landfill because it costs too much to repair them and recycling isn't easy. Privately owned e-scooters on the other hand can last for years.

Cons of owning an electric scooter

  • It's an expensive outlay upfront. And there's no point going for the cheapest option you can find, as the saying goes - buy cheap, buy twice. You don't need to fork out for the top of the range electric scooter, for example, you can buy a high quality model such as the Unagi Model One starting at $790. If that's still out of reach, you can always lease one starting at an affordable $39 per month.

What about leasing an electric scooter?

You want to commute to work on an e-scooter, but you don't want to spend a fortune on monthly rentals? Yet you also can't afford to buy a Unagi Model One outright?

We've got you covered.

Why not lease your scooter instead?

What now? There's a third option to riding an electric scooter?

Yes, yes there is.

Here's where Unagi differ from the scooter rental companies - Unagi are a scooter leasing platform, not a rental company - they lease scooters to commuters from as little as $39 per month.

Unagi - the scooter leasing platform

Here's how it works:

  • You select and customize your Unagi Model One. You marvel at the unrivalled combination of power, agility and style.
  • We ship your e-scooter directly to your door.
  • You begin scooting within 72 hours of ordering your electric scooter.
  • We provide you a replacement scooter to keep you scooting if you should experience any issues with your leased scooter.
  • You get full insurance coverage protecting your scooter against any damage, with optional add-on insurance coverage for theft.

Did we mention you can cancel anytime? There's literally no commitment, no quibble, PLUS you get a FREE Unagi scooter satchel, spare charger and cinch lock all included in the cost of your lease.

It's a no brainer.