Charging Electric Scooters – Hype vs. Reality

We’ve read a lot lately about the scooter craze that’s sweeping the nation.  Or, at least sweeping a few select cities!  Overall, the news stories convey a very positive picture of working for these companies and of being a customer.  So, we wanted to take a look at the on-the-ground reality to see if it matches the hype.

Of course hype is usually overdone – which is why they call it “hype”!  Therefore, we’re not really looking to see if it completely lives up to the hype – nothing does.  But rather to see if it even comes close.

So, let’s take a look at scooters from two different perspectives.

First, is from the perspective of the gig workers who will be employed to perform the nightly charging function on the scooters.  (These people are called “chargers”.  So, when I refer to “chargers” from here on out, I’m talking about the people who are performing the nightly battery charging function – not about the actual battery chargers themselves).

The Scooter Gig

Scootering is the newest hot gig in the gig economy and it involves an army of workers in each scooterized city who will collect the scooters and charge their batteries on a nightly (or daily) basis.

The scooters offered by the largest entrants in the field, Bird, Lime and Spin are electric and dockless.  This means the companies have to figure out a way to recharge them daily.  But since they’re dockless and can be left literally anywhere, the charging challenge starts with a little hide and seek.

In order to master the charging challenge, the companies must first master the art of finding the scooters and getting them to a source of electricity.

As of now, they accomplish that task with an Uber-style location app that shows the chargers where the scooters are located.  The charger (remember, that’s the person who performs the charging function), must then find each scooter, load them into his vehicle and take them, usually to his home, where he will plug them in for a multi-hour charging session.  Charging usually takes from four to seven hours.

How Much Does Scooter Charging Pay?

Bird and Lime normally pay $5 per scooter charged.  They advertise more – up to $25 per scooter.  But of course there’s fine print for that.  The fine print says, yep, they may pay you $25 for a single scooter, but that’s because that scooter is going to be very hard to find!

Many chargers have reported that when they accept a higher-than-normal paying scooter, that more often than not they can’t find the thing.  So, they end up making nothing after spending more time than usual looking for it.

Sometimes these high-paying scooters are way outside of the central zone.  That means a long drive to pick it up, which cuts deeply into your hourly earnings.  And if you end up not being able to find it after the long drive, then you’ve really messed up your hour.

The price goes up on scooters that chargers on previous days haven’t been able to find.  So there’s a good chance you won’t be able to find it either.

Some people are taking the scooters and hiding them in their house or garage.  So, the app will show you where they are, within a few yards, but you have to pinpoint it down to the exact location.

If it’s in someone’s locked garage, it could be impossible to get to.  And you’re certainly not going to risk criminal chargers by trespassing onto someone’s property to find a $5 or even a $25 scooter.  It’s just not worth it in these cases.

So, while they can technically say they pay up to $25 per scooter, the chargers are rarely ever going to see that much.

Shady Practices Among Chargers

Some people who have been doing charging for a while have said that they suspect some of the other chargers go around during the day picking up scooters and then hide them in locations that make it very difficult for other chargers (and customers) to find them.

Then at the end of the day when they logon to accept charging jobs, these scooters that they’ve hidden will have a premium on them, because they’re far from the central city and they’re hard to find.  But they’ll know exactly where they are because they’re the ones who put them there.  They’ll collect a nice premium at the end of the day.

Tips to Make Charging Profitable

Charging electric scooters is fairly new, but already we’ve seen quite a few wins, and failures, among the charging community.

Before you rush out and jump right into collecting scooters, take a look at the most valuable lessons we’ve learned from other chargers.

Get in while the going is hot

Remember, these companies always pay the most when they’re first starting out, so we say, get in now! Get in during the early days, before they start flooding the cities with far more “chargers” than they need.

The more chargers out there the more competition you’ll have and the fewer scooters you’ll be able to find and charge.  And don’t think they won’t bring in more people than they need.

Travis VanderZanden, the CEO of Bird was formerly VP of Driver Growth for Uber.  So he was at the heart of the machine that brought down driver pay by bringing on too many drivers.

Also, get in now before they cut their rates. You know they will!  We can just hear them now, telling us that they’ve just discovered if they cut their rates everyone will make more.  Remember, Travis VanderZanden came from Uber!

High volume = more profit

The only way to make money from this is by doing high volume. So, you really need a large vehicle with a wide-open cargo area so you can pile a lot of scooters in.

While the companies advertise that they pay between $5 and $25 per scooter, real scooter chargers tell us that the rarely see even $10. Usually it’s $5 and they see a few $6 and $7 charges, but not too often. So the solution is to charge more scooters.

However, be smart when you’re charging and don’t get blinded by the money you can make. Like this guy…

Scooters are heavier than you think

The scooters weigh about 30 pounds and they don’t fold. So you do need that large cargo area and you must be in pretty decent physical shape.

If you do 10 scooters a night, that is the equivalent of lifting 1,200 pounds over several hours.  That’s 30 pounds x 10 scooters x 4 separate lifts.  You have to lift each scooter 4 times.  Once to put them in your car, then once more to get them out and into your house and then twice more for the return trip.

THINGS TO THINK ABOUT:

If you live in a house or apartment that’s on the ground floor and very close to where you park your car, this job will be a lot easier. If you live in a place that’s a fairly long walk away from where you can park, that will make things more difficult. And if you live in a place where you have to walk up even a single flight of stairs, that could make this job nearly impossible.

Because like we say, if you’re going to make anything at it, you really have to do it in high volume.  And we’re talking at least 40 scooters a (for earnings of around $200).

So, imagine walking 40 scooters a day up those stairs (twice) – at 30 pounds each! If you do 40 scooters, that’s the equivalent of lifting 4,800 pounds over a few short hours.

It’s something to think about.

Factor in energy costs

It is estimated that it costs about $0.15 to fully charge the average scooter one time. While this is a tiny fraction of the $5 you’re getting paid, it can add up by the end of the month to a substantially higher electric bill.

If you do 40 scooters a day, you could be looking at an electric bill some $150 – $200 higher than normal.

Stay safe

I can’t repeat this one enough…

STAY SAFE: Do not pick up a scooter if it’s in an unsafe location.  And be aware that fights have started out around the country between scooter chargers who arrive at the same location at the same time to pick up the same scooter.  The app told both of them it was for them, and after putting in time and effort to get to a scooter you can imagine that no one wants to let it go.  So beware of potential conflicts with other chargers.

My Take

All in all, charging seems like a pretty good gig right now.  With emphasis on the “right now”.  We don’t think it will stay that way, but it may stay like this for another year or so.  So, get in and see what you can make of it.

Within two years there will probably be no money in it at all.  These companies may not even exist anymore.  So, get in while you can!  And don’t worry about what may happen two years from now.  Something else will surely come up between now and then.

Whatever happens, it seems likely that they will follow in Uber’s footsteps and eventually put too many people on the streets, making it very difficult for any one person to find enough scooters to make it worth it.  And we believe that $5 minimum payment they have now, will become $3 soon.  Some of the people who started these companies were raised and bred at Uber and Lyft.  And we don’t expect the fruit will fall far from the tree.

Are you an electric scooter charger? What’s the most lucrative company and why? Let us know by dropping a comment below!