At the same time the dockless e-scooters launched in Salt Lake City this summer, the city’s nonprofit bike share was on track to have its most successful ridership season.
Just seven weeks later, GREENbike ridership had decreased by at least 5.3 percent compared with the year before, according to data provided to The Salt Lake Tribune. And it’s possible the hit was as big as 10 percent to 11 percent when taking the company’s upward trajectory into consideration, according to founder and executive director Ben Bolte.
“Our annual users have stayed the exact same,” he said. “What’s happening is that a portion of the people that used to ride GREENbike for recreation are now riding Lime and Bird for recreation.”
The number of four-day users took the biggest hit, with a 47 percent decline compared with the same seven-week period in 2017, the data show.
That downswing is likely due to “a combination of scooters and there not being as many convention attendees because we lost the Outdoor Retailer convention as well,” Bolte said, referring to a trade show that used to bring about 40,000 visitors and $45 million to Salt Lake City each year.
But it may be too soon to say what impact, if any, the scooters will have on GREENbike, which has been available on Salt Lake City streets since 2013. Ridership numbers updated through Monday show a less-dramatic downturn, with a 1.2 percent decrease from July to Oct. 1.
But as GREENbike waits to see what its future will hold, data for the two dockless e-scooter providers in Salt Lake City show their businesses are booming.
“Salt Lake City has adopted scooters with aplomb, and people are using them to go nearly everywhere!” Lime concluded in its August report.
‘We want to see a change in behavior’
The goal behind the dockless e-scooters is similar to Salt Lake City’s bike-share program: getting people out of their cars and reducing emissions.
But the models have some key differences. Since the scooter companies have no docking stations, like GREENbike does, users must find the vehicles through an app on their phones and can park them wherever their journey ends.
There are more scooters. Each company can drop up to 500 scooters on city streets, and there are about 300 bikes now.
The transportation services also have different pricing models. It costs $1 to rent a Bird or Lime, plus 15 cents per minute, while GREENbike offers its passes for larger time frames. A 24-hour pass is $7, a four-day pass is $15 and an annual membership is $75.
For recreational or one-time users, it may make more sense economically to take a scooter. But serving that population isn’t GREENbike’s “primary focus,” Bolte said.
“Our goal is to get people as frequently as possible out of their cars,” he said. “If we lose some of our recreational riders to some other alternative, you know, that’s just the way the cookie crumbles.”
Scooter data released so far show that the companies mostly serve infrequent riders. In August, Bird saw nearly 15,000 one-time users and 13,000 two- to five-time users in Salt Lake City. The data Lime provided to the city were less specific but show that the vast majority of its users have taken between one and five trips.
Gabriel Scheer, Lime’s director of strategic development, said that’s typical when a company first arrives but added that he’s seeing repeat ridership grow as the scooters become more established.
“There’s certainly the novelty piece, which is ‘This is a new toy and we want to play,’ ” he said. “But then there’s sort of the utilitarian piece, which is what we really want to see is not that new-toy feeling. We want to see a change in behavior.”
Moving forward, Bolte said, GREENbike will continue to consider changes and improvements that would better serve its users, such as launching dockless e-bikes or rolling out its own scooters. The company is also looking at partnerships with scooter companies, possibly to provide charging and maintenance services.
Bolte said he isn’t worried that scooter success spells the end of GREENbike.
“There’s a place for everyone, and we all serve a different purpose,” he said. “Tech companies believe in the motto of ‘move fast and break stuff.’ We believe you should be deliberate and thoughtful. Who knows how the future will unfold, but the story of the tortoise and hare comes to mind. We’re green. We’re smart. We don’t have a shell, but those GREENbikes are pretty heavy.”
A spokesman from Bird said the company supports any method of transportation “that helps get people out of their cars for trips that are too far to walk, but too short to drive.”
And Scheer said that while Lime does want to replace a method of transportation, it’s not bikes.
“From my perspective, GREENbike and Bird and Lime, we are all filling a very tiny niche," he said. “The real competition is 100 years of habit around utilizing cars as the main way of getting around.”