Microtransportation is the Future of Getting Around Cities

For my birthday last year, my wife got me a Xootr – one of those kick scooters just like the kind you see kids riding everywhere, but for adults. I almost returned it. I just couldn’t see myself using it. Then I thought, “…well, let me just take it out for a ride around the block.” Five minutes later, I was hooked on what I now think is the future of transportation in dense cities.

I haven’t stopped using it since. I even took it out today, with 5″ of fresh snow on the ground (not advised).

Here’s why scooters like the Xootr are the future of transportation: they save you an insane amount of time in your daily routine. Everything in my local world here in Brooklyn is about a ten minute walk from me. Forget about cars – I only use mine on the weekend. And forget for the moment about the subway – I use it to get to the city on days I have meetings. But 80% of what I do during my day consists of going to places that are a ten minute walk from me. And scooting turns a ten minute walk into a 3-minute ride.

Then, when you get where you’re going, you take it inside with you. No bothering to lock it up, or find a place to put it (let alone park it). Just get where you’re going, pick it up, sling it over your shoulder and go.

If I make, on average, four trips out of the house and back each day, that’s 80 minutes of getting around cut down to 24 minutes. How could I stop using that, once I’ve started?

Scooters are to transportation like Twitter is to publishing – the most basic unit possible. And they have all of the same advantages: easy, light, fast, flexible. They make bikes seem cumbersome by comparison. Locks and bike racks and such – who has the time or the space?

Scooters + subways & buses = all of the transportation you need in a city like New York. 95% of your transportation needs are met. (In places like SF maybe you throw an occasional cab ride into the mix to get that same 95% number).

Super efficient, super cheap, super scalable, super easy to use, and of course eco-friendly.

They triple the distance you can live from a subway stop and still have a reasonably short commute.

They reinforce local, neighborhood community and economies by encouraging users to shop locally rather than hop in the car and go to the mall 5 miles away.

They have the potential to disrupt the way getting around happens in cities.

So if they’re so great, why haven’t more people adopted them? You barely ever see someone on a scooter, even here in Brooklyn. There’s clearly something stopping them from taking off right now. Xootr and others are driving with their handbrake on, one way or another.

Whoever figures that piece out solves the billion-dollar question and transforms the way people get around in cities.

Naturally, I think I know the answer to that…

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11 Responses to Microtransportation is the Future of Getting Around Cities

  1. Thank you for this excellent post, John, which was recommended by John V. on the Yahoo! Group I moderate: http://www.nyckickscooters.com. Your Twitter analogy is right on! My husband and I have been using a kick scooters to get around Manhattan for more than 10 years and agree with all you say. I’ve written in support of kick scooters for urban transport to Mayor Bloomberg, DOT Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan, and various officials at Transportation Alternatives — to no avail. Do adults feel silly on a kick scooter? Are the bicycle lobbyists opposed to them? What do you think the answer is? If you have any suggestions for spreading the word please let me know!

    • johngeraci says:

      Hi Dorene – thanks, glad you enjoyed the post.

      I do think that feeling silly is a bit of a problem for scooters right now. And that is something that could easily be cleared up with a bit of proper marketplace positioning from any of the companies that make scooters. I expect that one of them will get smart and do that before long.

      More broadly speaking, I see two things that are holding scooters back right now:

      1) They haven’t clearly made their case to people as to the everyday value they add to people’s lives. Nobody told me beforehand that a scooter would save me time and make my life easier. I had to discover that myself. (This is again a marketing problem.)

      2) Scooters aren’t very viral right now. You riding your scooter down the street probably doesn’t cause other people to go out and buy scooters. They just look at you go by and either don’t register you at all, or else think “adult on scooter.” If scooters are going to really catch on, something about the product, and about the use of the product, has to initiate more use, by more people. Somehow.

      There are lots of ways to accomplish that second part. When I said in my post “naturally, I think I know the answer to that”, I was talking about an idea I have that would make scooters more viral. Maybe one of these days I’ll get an opportunity to put that into action, as a little entrepreneurial effort.

  2. …..Whoever figures that piece out solves the billion-dollar question and transforms the way people get around in cities….

    I agree and working on it for the past 10 years. I have tried and build everything from powered roller skates to fully enclosed recumbents. Kick scooters are a great tool for that 5 to 30 block trip and to mic with other transport.

    I think the biggest obstacles are safety and the fear of looking dorky. Once you go scooting, you don’t go back..

    Bert, NYCeWheels
    alternative transportation

    • johngeraci says:

      Hi Bert – sounds like you have lots of ideas on how to make microtransportation catch on. We should talk!

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  4. Pam says:

    Excellent discussion of what is great about scooters. Just curious: what took you so long? Xootrs have been available for a decade now. By the way, I suspect that adults on scooters are more common in Manhattan than Brooklyn.

    When we got our Xootrs ten years ago, they changed our lives and we talked about it endlessly. At that time, there were few grocery stores in our Financial District neighborhood. I needed wheels to get food. I thought surely all of our friends would immediately get scooters. Turns out just a few did, and of those, half use the Xootr only for recreation.

    We did get a lot of attention in those early days. I’d love to know how many times I spelled out X-O-O-T-R for people. Now that adults on scooters are more common, I don’t get stopped as often. Still, it’s obvious that people notice them and are curious.

    I’m sure fear of looking silly is part of it, but there’s also the fact that people will not accept that my scooter is real, practical transportation. Even my long-time neighbors, who have seen us many times coming in with groceries or briefcases, think we are going out for a recreational ride when we leave home with Xootrs.

    I’ll be interested to see what the future holds for kick scooters.

    • johngeraci says:

      You’re right – Xootr has been around for a long time. So long that the original founders seem to have moved on to other things. But as I mentioned in an earlier post, timing is always a huge factor in making a new product work. Xootr had a great product and a great team, but I’m not sure the timing was 100% right when it launched. In fact I think it was several years early. You can see it in the way they were marketing it: they weren’t positioning it as the answer to transportation in crowded cities, they positioned it as a fun new toy for adults. That may get you a lot of sales, but it isn’t going to start a revolution.

      But ten years later, I feel like the timing is right for microtransportation to catch on in cities. The idea is in the air, people are ready for it, attuned to it. It just needs a reframing and a little push. And the idea needs to be much more viral.

      These are all things that someone will get right soon. I would love to be a part of making that happen, in some capacity, but I think it will happen regardless.

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  7. Anya says:

    When is it going to be ready? Why cant people just leave forward and dorky looking people alone. The fear of embarrassing yourself is so high that nothing ever comes in to our lives in time. First I asked my dad, then I asked my friends, then my life partner: All have had the same thing to say, “Its a bad idea.” And when I do go against everyone and take it out, that day, it’ll rain, i wont be able to fold it and will have to walk a mile back with my kick scooter kicking me in my shin and ankles. No sympathy, no support. And I know that when I am old enough to be a mom to a 6 year old, this trend will catch up. And by rolling her eyes, my daughter will make it plenty clear to me that i should not compete with her for scooters. Baaaah!

  8. Waterboy2013 says:

    Hi John, nice article. Let me start by saying that I am from the Los Angeles area where people drive lil ‘ smart cars and such…. Those were mocked but they soon caught on eventually.

    I am a big advocate of going green and using every resource available that helps. I had heard about Xootr from Sharper Image and instantly fell in love when I saw the basic Ultra Cruz model. Flash forward 11 yrs later and I’m now riding one. I get around from bus to metrorail and it really does save you time and money with gas being over $4/gal currently. I
    too have been working on an idea for the promotion of
    scooter usage. I get stares and glares and questions about the scooter but it’s in general. No one knows that they have been around since the early 1900 ‘s.