But recently he was shocked to learn the quick scooter trip that had cost him $2.80 in April had jumped to $7 in late September.
“Now I don’t see this as a commuting option at all anymore because it is outrageously expensive,” said Snow, a 24-year-old government contractor. “It’s more expensive to rent a little electronic scooter than hire an Uber car. It makes no sense.”
Scooter companies operating in the Washington region have raised their rental prices, dropping the introductory 15-cents-per-minute rides that were widely appealing in exchange for per-minute charges that range from 24 cents to 39 cents, depending on the company. That’s in addition to the $1 unlocking fee some charge. Experts predict prices may go even higher as companies face more fees from cities and increasing pressure to turn a profit.
The price hikes have unsettled riders who have come to depend on the services to commute and are finding the cost of their rides more than doubling in some cases. Bird, one of the first providers in the District, raised its per-minute price to 39 cents from 15 cents.
The companies would not discuss their decision to raise prices, but some have hinted that higher rates are necessary to keep operations fluid.
All eight companies operating in the District said they offer special packages to make their services more affordable for low-income residents, such as unlimited rides for as low as $5 a month. Bird, the most expensive service, said frequent riders can purchase a monthly membership for $59.99; however, the program is at capacity.
“Increasing prices will allow us to improve operations and make sure scooters are available throughout the city,” a Lyft spokesman said. Lyft operates 720 scooters in the District.
A Lime spokesman concurred, saying the company increased its price in July “to ensure our scooters are always available when and where riders need them so D.C. residents can continue relying on Lime.”
But some riders say the new prices can be comparable to taking Uber Pool and much higher than taking the bus, which costs $2. A 20-minute ride on Bird runs nearly $8.80, plus tax; the same ride is $5, plus tax, on a Jump scooter, the cheapest option.
D.C. residents have access to more than 5,200 scooters for rent. New proposed regulations would allow up to 10,000 scooters on city streets starting in January. Scooters also are available in the city of Alexandria and in Arlington and Montgomery counties.
Experts say it is not surprising companies are raising prices. As cities have begun to regulate the services, the companies have been required to pay permit and ridership fees, they said. Additionally, there are fines associated with impounded scooters and capital costs to replace vandalized equipment or scooters that reach the end of their life span. Some cities have also begun to require companies to use geofencing technology to ensure greater control over their fleets.
All of that costs money, said Sarah Catz, a research associate at the University of California at Irvine’s Institute of Transportation Studies. In addition to growing expenses, she said, companies are feeling more pressure to make a profit. Some, she said, may be using price hikes to steer their customers into monthly passes.
“There are all types of costs,” said Catz, who studies the micromobility industry. “I think they are raising prices to maintain financial stability.”
Snow said he first noticed an increase in June or July when his $2.80 ride went up to $4.40. Then by late September, he was paying $7 and could no longer justify using Bird. “It’s upsetting,” said Snow, who has gone back to riding the bus. He used Bird almost exclusively because of the company’s wide availability in both the District and Arlington.
“I was at the point where I was bringing my helmet to work every day and it was my favorite part of my commute,” he said. “I was very loyal and very excited and happy to use them.”
On top of the price increase, the companies were forced to lower the top speed of their devices. For example, Snow used to be able to ride up to 20 mph in Arlington. Now he’s limited to about 12 mph. The slower speeds mean trips take longer and therefore cost more, he said.
“There should be a middle ground where it is more expensive than a bus but cheaper than actually taking an Uber or a taxi,” he said. “Maybe I will be completely wrong and people will keep using them, but I know not everyone will be using it at this price.”
The companies and some experts say many users will stay for the convenience.
“You walk outside and there is a scooter and you can automatically take it. There is no waiting,” Catz said. In the meantime, she said, there are more complaints about the length of time people are waiting for Ubers and stuck in traffic. “There is a convenience factor in taking the scooter, and these companies must be aware of that. A lot of time, they can charge for convenience.”
Here’s how scooter companies have changed their prices since they arrived in D.C.
Bird. The Santa Monica, Calif.-based company rolled out in the District in March 2018, offering scooter rentals for $1 to start and 15 cents per minute. It recently raised its per-minute fee to 39 cents. It is the most expensive service in the District.
Bolt. One of the newest scooter companies to enter the D.C. market, Bolt launched in July with rentals at 30 cents a minute, with no unlocking fee.
Jump. Uber’s e-scooter company launched in Washington in April. The company already had e-bikes in service in the nation’s capital. With the addition of scooters, it introduced a new pricing structure of 15 cents per minute with no unlocking fee. By June, the price had increased to 25 cents a minute.
Lime. One of the original dockless bike companies to operate in the region, Lime began to deploy scooters in the District in March 2018. It launched with a price of 15 cents per minute and $1 unlocking fee but in July raised its price to 24 cents a minute.
Lyft. The ride-hailing company added scooters in the D.C. market in October 2018, charging 15 cents per minute, plus a $1 unlocking fee. In August, it raised its per-minute rate to 24 cents.
Razor. The company rolled out in region in late August with a price of $1 to start and 24 cents per minute.
Skip. Formerly Waybots, Skip was among the first to deploy rental scooters in the Washington area with the original price of $1 to start plus 15 cents per minute. In January, it raised its per-minute price to a quarter.
Spin. In late August, the company, owned by Ford, eliminated its $1 unlocking fee but raised the per-minute rate from 15 cents to 29 cents. In Northern Virginia, however, rentals are $1 to start and 25 cents per minute.