For anyone who hoped the Era of Disruption was almost over, I have one piece of advice: don’t hold your breath.
We’ve made some progress, but far from backing off on the importance of disruption in defining business models, today’s corporate warriors are doubling down.
That’s right, we’ve left the first period of the era and entered the second: the Period of Meta-disruption. We’re now seeing the disruptors disrupted. Nowhere is this clearer than in San Francisco.
Uber, Lyft, and their various brethren set out to disrupt the taxi industry, and in large part they’ve succeeded, especially here in the Bay Area. But now we’re getting a wave of companies out to disrupt the ride-hailing business model.
Three companies–Bird, LimeBike, and Spin–are pushing motorized scooters as superior to ride-hailing over short distances or when traffic is congested–and when is it not?
San Francisco was late in regulating ride-hailing (just as they were late in regulating short-term rentals) and the Board of Supervisors is determined to get ahead of the curve on scooter rentals.
Frankly, they don’t have a choice.
The model all three companies are pursuing is “convenience”. They want to be sure there’s always a scooter nearby. That means depositing caches of them in high-traffic areas and encouraging users to spread them around by leaving them at the end of their rides.
Which is great for the companies, of course, but not so great for the general public who wind up dodging scooters left on the sidewalk, in bus zones, truck loading zones, doorways, and basically anywhere there’s enough room for them.
And that’s without even considering the impracticality of forcing riders to abide by state and city laws requiring helmets and forbidding riding on the sidewalk. After all, if the app won’t unlock the scooter if the customer isn’t wearing a helmet, nobody would bother with the service.
I do agree that it’s not the rental companies’ job to enforce the law, but they could certainly do a better job of reminding riders that they shouldn’t ride on the sidewalk. Give ’em a great big warning–a sticker on the footboard, or a click-through screen in the app–and let the police take it from there.
On the other hand, it shouldn’t be necessary to get law enforcement involved on the parking end. It should be technologically possible to use the phone’s camera to take a picture of the parked scooter and then use a bit of AI to determine whether it’s been left in a safe spot. If not, just keep billing the user until they move it*. At fifteen cents a minute, people will figure out fairly quickly that it behooves them to not leave the thing where someone will trip over it.
* Or until someone else rents it, of course. Double-charging would be unethical.
All that said, despite the back-and-forth in the press between City and companies, I haven’t seen anyone address the question of privacy.
By design, the apps have to track users: where did they pick up the scooter, where did they leave it, where did they go, and how long did it take? All tied solidly to an identity (or at least to a credit card).
Who gets access to that information? Do the companies sell information to advertisers? Do the apps continue to track customers between scooter rentals?
Don’t forget, these companies think the way to launch their businesses is to dump a bunch of scooters on the street and let the market sort things out. Do you really want them knowing you used your lunch hour to visit a doctor? A bar–or maybe a strip club? How about a political demonstration?
Uber has certainly been tagged for over-zealous information collection. What safeguards do LimeBike, Spin, and Bird have in place to protect your identity?