By Kari McMahon
In the summer of 2019, Chicago ran an electric scooter pilot program that examined whether scooters could be a viable alternative mode of transport for city residents. Out of the 10 companies that participated, only one was from Chicago.
The three-year-old electric scooter company, Veo, serves over 50 cities with electric scooters and bikes, which don’t require charging stations. This enables communities to implement Veo’s solutions for free. The company instead makes money through charging rental and membership fees.
This summer, Chicago plans to run a second e-scooter pilot program to implement lessons learned from the first pilot and test new features from e-scooter companies. Veo’s chief executive, Candice Xie, shared her thoughts on the pilot programs, scooter safety and the future of transportation.
Why did you choose to build out an e-scooter company in Chicago over somewhere like New York or San Francisco?
I studied at Purdue University, which is in Indiana, and since the Midwest has been my base for the past several years, we felt pretty confident and comfortable starting within Chicago. The talent pool in Chicago is pretty good and since we implement solutions around the country, it doesn’t matter too much where our headquarters is.
How did you come up with the idea for an electric scooter company?
We came up with Veo several years ago because we were looking at alternative transportation options in different cities and found that a lot of programs like Chicago’s Divvy bike-sharing program, which is owned by Lyft, were heavily subsidized by taxpayers. For example, in the past, one bike cost the city around $2,000 per year to maintain. You can imagine how much the city pays for larger scale programs. A lot of medium sized cities and university campuses can’t afford alternative transportation. We felt like we were able to come up with a way that’s more affordable for both the riders and the city and also provides a better quality of service and product.
Veo participated in the first e-scooter pilot program, which is a program that tests whether residents see scooters as a viable transport option. How did Chicagoans respond to e-scooters?
The first pilot’s feedback was very good. We saw awesome ridership. A lot of riders actually depend on the e-scooter for their last and first mile of transportation. For example, when you’re getting off of the train or bus, you’re relying on a scooter to take you home.
Will you be participating in the second pilot program?
The city is having conversations to establish the second pilot in the summer, and we are part of that conversation.
What makes Veo unique in comparison to some of the bigger companies participating in the pilot such as Bird and Lime?
At VeoRide we actually design, manufacture and deploy our own scooters. We’re pretty big on the innovation piece of the scooter and the scope of the scooter program. That’s why we’re constantly rolling out new technology.
For example, two months ago we unveiled the Veo Cosmo, a new type of scooter, designed from scratch that is specifically for shared use. We built the Veo Cosmo because we received a lot of feedback in the pilot program from riders of different ages and body types that they might not feel very comfortable riding the stand-up scooters. The Veo Cosmo increases accessibility and we wish to have it be a part of the second scooter pilot in Chicago.
One of the criticisms from the pilot was the number of e-scooter accidents that occurred. How does Veo take safety into account?
At Veo, we didn’t have any accidents happen last year in Chicago, so that’s a good testimony that the way we operate is very safe. From our standpoint, we focus a lot on the hardware itself. We aim to build the best quality hardware in the industry. Our scooter is built to tolerate different kinds of weather and road conditions to provide our riders with a safe experience.
From the software perspective, we are rolling out different methods to encourage riders to use scooters safely. Last year, we introduced helmet detection technology. It is pretty similar to the iPhone facial ID. All you need to do is to scan your face when you’re riding the scooter. When we recognize you’re riding a scooter with a helmet, we grant you a 10% to 20% discount for your current trip.
Do you see further regulation being introduced for e-scooters? Or do you think pilot programs are a way for cities to incorporate regulation from the outset?
As e-scooter programs become more mature, we will have more and more regulation coming in. But I think the city right now is pretty open minded, and they’re willing to work with different community stakeholders and vendors to build a reasonable regulation that also benefits the community.
What is the company’s strategy for this year and into 2021?
Our growth strategy hasn’t changed at all since we started. We want to work to build one perfect community before we go to the next one. In each community, we choose to cautiously enter a contract with them. Then we establish a long-term partnership to grow together and to better understand the community.
What do you view as the future of transportation?
In the near future, electric vehicles will have a role in transportation in order to reduce emissions and promote sustainability. Longer term, I believe micro-mobility, a category of transportation provided by light vehicles such as bikes, scooters and skateboards, will be a part of the transportation landscape. I think micro-mobility combined with public transportation services, such as buses or CTA trains, will be part of the future, especially in the next five to 10 years.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.