Digital Power Drives Taiwan’s Scooter-sharing Businesses

WeMo, Taiwan's first scooter-sharing company, hopes to decrease the idle rate of the island's scooters. Photo: WeMo

As Taiwan aims to decrease air pollution with greener transportation options, scooter-sharing companies are leveraging the power of the circular economy to maximize utilization rates while seeking to turn rider data into business insights.

Scooters afford city dwellers a number of benefits – small, agile, and fast, they provide riders with a convenient means of getting around. But the air pollutant emissions of traditional gas-powered scooters and the high idle rates of Taiwan’s privately owned scooters create unhealthy city environments and crowded urban spaces.

The quest for cleaner, greener, more space-efficient, and flexible means of transportation has prompted the introduction of low-pollution alternatives, including scooter-sharing solutions. Such rental schemes optimize user rates while reducing carbon emissions.

Taipei’s residents use scooter-sharing services more than any other jurisdiction globally. According to data from the Taipei City government, the portion of the population that had accessed scooter-sharing services reached 22% in 2021, a 5.4% increase from the same period the year previous. Meanwhile, some countries have yet to reach a 1% usage rate.

“Taiwan is situated on the commanding heights of the scooter-sharing economy,” says Jefferey Wu, founder and CEO of urban mobility technology and services startup WeMo Scooter. Taiwan’s success in this area could serve as a model for other countries, and Taiwanese companies now have an opportunity to act as exporters of scooter-sharing expertise and know-how.

Leading scooter-sharing proprietors in Taiwan are leveraging digital power to turbocharge the transition from fuel-based to electric scooters. While some are building charging networks that cover almost every corner of the island, others focus on compiling big data to create a smart city ecosystem, expanding the business beyond just providing shared vehicles.

Founded in 2016, WeMo Scooter was the first company in Asia to provide scooter-sharing services. It now operates over 10,000 rental units in bustling metropolitan areas around Taiwan. WeMo’s network utilizes the Kymco Candy electric scooter, which the company says is more reliable than alternative models.

Taiwan has the highest ratio of scooters per capita in the world – approximately six out of 10 people in Taiwan own a scooter. But each unit is used for less than 50 minutes a day on average. WeMo aims to increase this usage rate through its smart rental service.

In addition, the startup is looking to exert positive social change through the collection of big data using internet of vehicles (IoV) technology. For example, it has installed PM 2.5 detectors on scooters to collect air pollution data, which governments can use to enhance clean air policies.

“WeMo is a digital-native company,” says Wu. “From the very beginning, we have been transforming the traditional rental service and are seeking to spin off new businesses by means of data collection.”

WeMo’s technology collects data on rider behavior, traffic status, and road safety conditions. “By collecting rider data, we can get an idea of our users’ profiles, such as their age and the places where they borrowed and returned our shared scooters,” says Wu. This location-based data offers WeMo insights on potential partnerships that can help the company tailor its customer experience. 

The company also partners with government institutions to improve the quality of riding in Taiwan’s cities. One project aims to optimize rider experience by detecting bumpy roads with built-in sensors on the company’s scooters. “Roads in Taiwan are designed for four-wheel vehicles,” says Wu. “In terms of road safety for scooters, it still has a long way to go.”

Major Taiwanese scooter manufacturers Kymco and Gogoro have also been moving into the sharing market. Both companies have taken advantage of their extensive battery-swapping networks and implemented digital upgrades to streamline the scooter-sharing experience, quickly adapt to meet demand for batteries, and provide riders with reliable and safe transportation options. 

Kymco, Taiwan’s oldest and best-selling scooter brand, has traditionally specialized in fuel-based motorcycles. In 2018, however, the company launched its first line of electric scooters under the brand name Ionex and set out to build 2,000 charging stations around Taiwan by 2022.

The following year, Kymco partnered with the Kaohsiung City government on a scooter-sharing project called the Ionex ATR (Automated Transport Rental). The project aims to solve the “last mile problem” in public transport – the challenge of moving commuters between transportation hubs and their final destination – by offering automated on-site rental services near MRT stations. This collaboration illustrates the significance of scooter sharing in Kaohsiung’s sustainable mobility initiative.

Newer market entrant Gogoro rolled out its first electric scooter model in 2015; its sleek design and sustainable appeal helped the company quickly achieve market success, which it leveraged to launch its scooter-sharing business, GoShare, in 2019. The move is strategically in line with Gogoro’s ambition to establish an end-to-end ecosystem that tightly integrates hardware and software solutions.

One of the key benefits of using GoShare is having access to Gogoro’s battery-swapping network. The company has thus far built over 2,215 charging stations, called GoStations, across Taiwan and manages a total of over 930,000 batteries. The comprehensive network enables GoShare riders to easily exchange batteries at GoStations when their rental scooter runs out of power.

Kaohsiung Mayor Chen Chi-mai (left) poses with GoShare head Henry Chiang (right) to promote the company’s launch in the southern city. Photo: CNA

Gogoro also employs AI and machine learning technology to optimize battery use in its scooters. By analyzing data collected from the hundreds of thousands of batteries across its network, the company’s platform can predict how many batteries will be available during peak hours and even suggest the optimal time to swap batteries.

After building the biggest battery-sharing network in Taiwan, Gogoro took its model overseas, tapping into the lucrative Indonesian, Indian, and Chinese markets. In 2021, Goshare partnered with Gojek, Indonesia’s largest mobility platform, and began operating electric scooter ridehailing and food delivery services in Jakarta.

A long way to go

Observers note that providing shared scooters and batteries and collecting data can create synergy for mobility companies while positively influencing society. Lower vehicle idle rates mean greater efficiency and reduced carbon emissions. Moreover, as shared scooters are uniformly electric vehicles, they can play an important role in Taiwan’s goal of reaching net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.

However, some argue that the government is not making an effective enough push for a net-zero transformation of Taiwan’s mobility sector, saying that too much emphasis has been placed on offering subsidies for new vehicle purchases.

As part of its efforts to achieve carbon neutrality, the Taiwan government has been offering subsidies on consumer purchases of new electric scooters in a bid to replace all older gas-powered models. Local governments also subsidize the purchase of electric vehicles, with Nantou County providing the highest subsidy amount of up to NT$23,000 (US$800).

WeMo’s Wu stresses the importance of expanding beyond new-purchase subsidies for electric vehicles. “The government should delve into consumer behavior” as well, he says. He also underscores the benefits of cultivating transportation ecosystem players, including scooter-sharing and ridesharing businesses.

The “renting instead of buying” scheme offered by companies like WeMo, GoShare, and Kymco might be a more effective means to achieve carbon neutrality and reduce traffic. Another possible solution is the implementation of mobility as a service (MaaS), which integrates both public transportation and private actors such as scooter-sharing businesses, ferries, and taxis into a single platform.

iRent, initially a car rental service introduced by Hotai Motor in 1999, is now the only company in Taiwan that simultaneously provides carsharing and scooter-sharing services. Hotai Motor is the largest automobile company in Taiwan with a 32.5% market share, selling well-known brands such as Toyota and Lexus.

Of the three major scooter-sharing companies, iRent has the most comprehensive coverage in Taiwan, operating in all of the island’s six special municipalities. Like WeMo, the company also uses Kymco electric scooters. iRent riders can swap batteries at Kymco Ionex charging stations, which currently amount to 1,068 spots and are still growing in numbers.

In 2020, Hotai merged its iRent Carshare unit with Hotai Connected, the company’s newly established MaaS arm. The division now offers taxi, carshare, car rental, shuttle, and delivery services. With a wide range of integrated services and a membership base of over 1 million, iRent plans to become a one-stop mobility platform.

Some local governments have already begun implementing MaaS partnerships. Kaohsiung City adopted the MaaS approach for MeNGo, a mobile app it launched in December 2019. MeNGo provides users with a transportation pass that can be used for everything from city buses to electric scooter-sharing services, car rentals, and parking spaces. The app also includes real-time traffic information, a route-planning interface, and payment mechanisms. In Taipei, the EasyCard Company also rolled out a plan that provides discounts on iRent, WeMo, and GoShare’s scooter-sharing services with its monthly public transit pass. The solution could set an example for other cities of how the shared economy can be incorporated into Taiwan’s green initiative and how public-private partnerships can be utilized to transform mobility.