Rented Electric Scooters Taking Tel Aviv by Storm

Since the U.S. startup Bird launched the service in August, it’s become the way many city resident get to work

Bird scooters outside Tel Aviv University, Tel Aviv, January 14, 2019/
Yanai Menachem

When Tel Aviv residents say that someone is a birdwatcher (tzapar), they’re not referring to a person wearing a wide-brimmed hat and binoculars who chases after winged creatures. In modern Tel Aviv, a tzapar is someone who distributes the electric scooters belonging to the electric scooter-sharing company Bird around the city, usually early in the morning.

Based in Santa Monica, California and less than 18 months old, in short order Bird has become one of the fastest growing startups in the world, with fleets of electric scooters in 100 cities around the world and raising $2 billion in capital.

It has been operating in Tel Aviv since August and in Ramat Gan since November. A mix of statistics provided by independent researchers, the company and industry sources show that Tel Avivians have taken to Bird like no other city in the world.

Figures obtained by TheMarker show that Bird had 25,000 unique users as of mid-October, which means that one out of every 20 city residents has already tried the service. Sources say the figure has since doubled. Internal company surveys show that a significant share of user is giving up getting places by car in favor of scooter-sharing.

Officials at Bird won’t comment further on that or any other data.

How does the service work? You find an electric scooter on the map in the Bird app, open it with a QR code that appears on the scooter’s handlebar, get on and go wherever you want. The scooters themselves are taken home at night by tzapars, who recharge them and get them back out on the street by a company-imposed deadline of 7:00 the next morning.

The cost for a Bird scooter of 5 shekels plus 50 agorot for each minute of travel.

It’s a profitable business: According to Ido Cohen, CEO of the startup Loadmill and a self-proclaimed lover of data there are 330 Bird scooters in the Tel Aviv area. It costs about 30 shekels ($8.20) per scooter to recharge, or a combined 300,000 shekels per month for the fleet.

In the absence of any detailed figures from Bird, Cohen has done some detailed analysis himself using GPS data over a 24-hour periods in September.

“I’m a big fan of the service,” Cohen wrote in a long tweet where he detailed his findings. “I’ve been interested in their numbers since the launch in Tel Aviv, but unfortunately Bird has no open data export interface. However, you can harvest information on the diffusion of the scooters over a period of time.”

What he found is that peak usage for Bird’s scooters on weekdays is in the morning around when central Tel Aviv residents use them to get to work. On weekends, the scooters get them to the beaches. The main destinations are Tel Aviv University, Azrieli Center, the Ramat Gan diamond exchange area and the area around HaArbaim and Hashmonaim streets.

“The data show that these scooters aren’t used just for occasional trips but that many people in Tel Aviv – even people who live outside the city – use them as a way of getting to work,” said Ayala Tzoref, an expert of the sharing economy.

She said the spike in usage during 8:00-9:00 A.M. together with data on where the scooters are most in demand – for instance the courthouse, the army’s Tel Aviv headquarters and the office towers east of the Ayalon Highway “testify to the scooter revolution.”

Oddly enough, the reverse commute home doesn’t garner the same surge of traffic. Usage falls after 2:00 P.M., apparently because people felt less pressure in the evening hours and take a bus or walk.

Still, the fleet of scooters logs 1,715 trips a day on average. The average duration of 15.5 minutes per trip, meaning the cost is 12.75 shekels.

Just why is Bird so popular in Tel Aviv? Cohen and others give a host of answers.

One is that the weather in Israel, with its mild winters and long stretches with guaranteed no rain, makes scooters a viable transportation alternative. Another is Tel Aviv’s small size, a mere 52 square kilometers of relatively flat land. The city also boasts 70 kilometers of bike paths, and Israelis like to try out new technology.

There’s also Tel Aviv’s infamous traffic and the fact that public transportation doesn’t operate on the Sabbath. Cohen says his data show a rise in scooter demand on the Sabbath and holidays as well as a 10% increase in the duration of trips.

The Bird phenomenon has barely taken off. TheMarker has learned the company has arranged have officials meet with Ran Kunik, the mayor of the Tel Aviv suburb of Givatayim, about launching the service there. Other coastal towns’, like Herzliya, Netanya and Ashdod, will probably be next.

In addition, the German scooter-sharing company Wind began its service in Tel Aviv last Thursday and another American company, Lime, is planning to come to Israel, too.