Thoughts on own/rent on e-scooters
Anyone who has roamed the streets of any larger city in Finland (or even across the world in many, many countries) cannot have failed to notice the ubiquity of rental scooters. No doubt, there’s money in it, but it’s not pleasure for absolutely everyone either.
Whilst owned scooters are still a minority (at least in Finland), there’s a nontrivial amount of them - and by extension, nontrivial amount of people considering buying one. As I’m an avid user and owner of an e-scooter, I have an opinion or two about this topic. Read on to hear them.
Owned scooters and rental scooters are designed for different purposes, so it will be worthwhile to summarily characterize both.
Rental scooters are, as in their name, rented; usually by the minute with an initial start/launch/unlock fee. Bulk packages do however exist, commonly providing a large amount of minutes, limitless free unlocks or some other perks for an upfront fee. Additional fees may be assessed in some less desirable scenarios, e.g. if you throw the scooter to a lake.
Typical rental scooters are robustly built - common TIER scooters, the Okai ES400B are 34kg, and IP67 rated (so effectively waterproof for most purposes). They also have substantial tracking and security capabilities - exact GPS tracking and ability to lock/unlock/slow down by remote command.
Most common use-case is a short hop across the city - find a free scooter, unlock it, ride wherever you want to go, and at the end of the journey park it in a suitable location - that’s it.
On the other hand, owned scooters are the personal property of whoever bought them. The upfront expense is significant, but running costs accordingly are quite a bit lower. Typical running costs include charging, and possible spare parts (e.g. writer of this article had to buy a new inner tube due to a puncture, ow!)
There is wider variance on the types and build quality of owned scooters - from cheaper, relatively flimsy models to scary powerful, heavy duty scooters putting rentals to shame in speed. Effectively, only your wallet and local regulations are the limit. Note that you also have to pay extra for GPS tracking - mobile connectivity ain’t free!
Owners usually use their scooters as their general purpose vehicles - for short journeys, but also for longer ones. I use mine whenever I want to go somewhere farther than walking distance, but within the local region.
Pros and cons
- You control it. You can go wherever you like with it, whenever you like it. Rental scooters typically have restrictive service areas, stopping sometimes surprisingly short from the city center or any other local hotspot there is. An owned, properly maintained scooter won’t randomly go out of service (sometimes even mid-ride!) - as long as you don’t forget to charge it!
- Significantly cheaper running costs. Rental fees can add up quite quickly - a ten-minute hop to the city and back easily costs you several euros each way. Over time, that’s a quite nice sum of money you could have spent on something else
- Ability to select and customize to your preferences. Rental scooters are designed to be relatively “boring” - easy to ride, not scary to layfolk who haven’t rode one before in their life. Not particularly powerful, may struggle to get up steeper hills (particularly for more hefty riders like I am) and may be missing QoL conveniences like blinkers or zero-start
- Upfront expense. A cheap scooter can be had for 200-300 euros, but they really aren’t comparable at all to rental scooters. You have to fork over closer to 1k€ for a robust, powerful one
- You have to charge and maintain it. This often means lugging it indoors, near a power socket. Even if scooters are relatively maintenance free, there’s still some grunt work you have to do, like filling tires and occasionally tightening brakes and other adjustable parts - nevermind when larger surprises happen, like a pneumatic inner tube failing and having to dismantle the entire front wheel
- You have to keep it safe. As unfortunate as it is, scooter theft is becoming an increasing issue, and not nearly all owned scooters come with any kind of a decent security system. If it disappears from where you left it, it’s up to you to deal with it
- Cheap for random, infrequent riding. No upfront expense, you pay as you go. If you have occasions where you need to ride them a bit more, a bulk package will help limit the costs. And as long as you read the instructions carefully, no extra fees should be assessed
- No maintenance, hassle-free. Scooters are just “magically” repaired (by a fleet of service workers), and you just find the nearest one to you. Once done, park it and your responsibility for the scooter ends - if it ends up stolen after you ended your trip, not your problem
- The ideal of quickly finding a working, maintained scooter ain’t always true. First one you find may be out of service. And the second one just fails to unlock despite many attempts (which you demand a refund for). Third one has a broken brake cable (which you find out only after you almost crash to a steep curb). Finally, after half a kilometre’s worth of trekking, the fourth one works. It goes forward, but with lots of worrying creaking and the phone holder has been torn out. People aren’t always too kind to what they perceive as public property, and it is particularly visible on e-scooters
- Availability is beholden to local trends (e.g. a music festival “sucking up” most of the scooters in the city). There’s no guarantee a scooter is near you when you need it
- Rental scooters are designed for the needs of rental companies, not yours. They might not be the most comfortable ride, which is important if you plan riding often or for long distances
In addition to the pros and cons above, one might also assess suitability by break-even pricing. In other words, how much you have to ride your owned scooter before it becomes cumulatively cheaper than a rental with the approximately same amount of riding?
One can measure the average journey and time it takes (as rentals charge by minutes, not kilometres; optionally include some opportunity cost for time spent in finding a rental), and use that to calculate an approximate price per kilometre. Compare that to the initial price of an owned scooter plus some sum of money per kilometre (mostly electricity fees, and maybe a small allowance for repairs if you so wish), and you get an idea at what point an owned scooter would be worthwhile for you solely by a fiscal basis.
Before I end, I wish to bring attention to one particular topic I find important. Helmets.
I wear a helmet, and judging by other scooter riders I see across the city, I’m very much in the minority. Statistics have already shown careless e-scooter riding is a big cause of accidents, some of them serious and permanently life-changing. Even the best rider cannot avoid accidents - I’ve had a few falls as well. A helmet can make a big difference then, and you might regret not wearing one later…
I hope this text was helpful to you. Regardless of what you choose to ride, ride safe and have fun!