Can E-Scooters Contribute to Economic Recovery Post-Covid-19?

Spin scooter riders stop for tacos at a food truck

New research from Emory University’s Goizueta Business School says “yes.” Read the study here.

The pandemic has changed many aspects of our daily lives. With people forced to stay in, it’s no surprise that much of our shopping these days is done online. As a result, the food and beverage service industry has been severely impacted.

However, as vaccines rollout and we are increasingly able to reopen parts of the economy shuttered for the last year, there is some additional good news.

According to researchers from Emory University’s Goizueta Business School, in 2019 e-scooter usage generated significant positive economic spillovers for the food and beverage industry purchasing in a similar way that consumers make impulse purchases at grocery stores.

It will be a long road to recovery, but this study suggests that micromobility can help some of the most adversely affected sectors of the economy as we reopen.

“The post-COVID economic recovery remains slow, but this research shows we shouldn’t ignore the positive impact of micromobility on small businesses,” said Dan McCarthy, senior author of the study and assistant professor of marketing at Emory University’s Goizueta Business School. “This is especially relevant for the food and beverage sector, a significant source of jobs, which is suffering sales declines larger than most other sectors of the economy.”

Micromobility contributes to economic growth

The study shows that local economies experienced a significant boost from shared e-scooter systems due to an estimated $13.8 million in additional sales across 370 food and beverage companies in Atlanta, Austin, San Francisco, and Washington, D.C over six months in 2019.

These four cities were compared to another set of four cities of similar size and density that did not have e-scooter share programs — Boston, Houston, Phoenix, and Seattle.

Kyeongbin Kim, first author of the study and Marketing PhD student at the Goizueta Business School adds, “Markets with more favorable policies towards shared e-scooter systems could be giving themselves a potential boost towards economic recovery as e-scooter programs generate additional sales tax revenues and jobs that aren’t otherwise realized in markets that don’t allow shared e-scooters.”

The number of scooters on the ground appears to matter, too. Across the cities studied with e-scooter programs, total sales in the food and beverage category increased by an estimated 0.6 percent on average, or approximately $921 in incremental spending, per available e-scooter for the food and beverage companies over the six-month period studied in the analysis.

When researchers looked at San Francisco, they estimated an additional $2.6 million in sales was generated in the food and beverage category due to the availability of e-scooters.

The availability of e-scooters has dovetailed well with San Francisco’s other strategies to make certain streets safer and more welcoming to people by restricting car traffic. The City’s Shared Spaces program, which lets businesses use adjacent sidewalk and street space to maintain safe and socially distant business operations has also clearly helped small businesses continue to operate, though sometimes with limited capacity. On streets such as 18th & Castro and Valencia between 16th-19th, car traffic is restricted on weekends to allow additional space for outdoor dining or retail displays, for example.

People ride to where there is activity

We have seen a corresponding increase in e-scooter trips ending on these blocks during times when these Shared Spaces are active.

On Valencia, trips ending on the blocks included in the Shared Space increased by 60 percent before and after the City started the Shared Spaces initiative, comparing weekends (Thu-Sun) in July and August.

For the Shared Space at 18th & Castro, trips ending in this area during the street closure increased by 46 percent when comparing Sundays in July and August with September and October, before and after implementation.

It’s clear that recovery will take time and a concerted, all-hands-on-deck effort. The past year has been challenging in an unprecedented way. As we begin to move forward, with cautious optimism about the future, we believe micromobility can play an important part in reviving parts of the local economies that really suffered.

The findings of this study from Emory University, along with the activity we’ve seen associated with San Francisco’s Shared Spaces program through COVID-19, demonstrates one important role micromobility can play in increasing access to businesses as they slowly begin to reopen while ensuring cities and their transportation systems are resilient in times of crisis.

Read the full Emory University study here.

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