Bird Canada is poised for another record year of earnings growth in 2024 as it consolidates its position as the largest e-scooter operator in Canada.
Billing itself as a "micromobility" provider, the Toronto-based company says it holds a 60 per cent share of the market and is paving the way for rising public adoption of eco-friendly transportation in urban centres across the country.
During 2023 Bird Canada expanded to 22 cities while achieving 38 per cent growth in ridership. In 2024, the company forecasts a 20 to 30 per cent increase in earnings.
"As we enter 2024, with more communities embracing micromobility, we are ready to lead the charge in sustainable urban mobility across Canada through the introduction of a new, even lower footprint vehicle and continued industry-leading practices," Stewart Lyons, Bird Canada CEO, said in remarks accompanying a Jan. 31 press release.
The growing popularity of e-scooters will contribute to the greening of the transportation sector, which has seen bicycle usage remain at levels well below the ridership in European countries. Further, Bird says e-scooters offer a more user-friendly alternative to cycling and avoid the hazards of competing with cars and other vehicles on urban roads.
Bird Canada reports users have taken over five million rides on its e-scooter fleet since the company launched in 2019. This is equivalent to reducing carbon dioxide emissions by 2,850 tonnes, or lowering gas consumption by 358,000 litres over a five-year period.
E-scooter usage soars in some regions
Bird Canada achieved its highest overall e-scooter usage in Calgary, where customers averaged six rides per person per season, surpassing user frequency in all other Canadian cities.
The company also carried out a significant expansion program in the Greater Golden Horseshoe with the addition of Hamilton, Ajax, Oshawa, Tecumseh, and Brampton to its growing list of e-scooter operating markets.
In addition to existing operations in Ottawa and Windsor, Bird Canada operates in seven cities across Ontario where e-scooter enthusiasts covered more than one million kilometres in 2023.
"We are very excited to see the rollout of our operations in all these cities in Ontario and the growth of micromobility across Canada. We're seeing more growth in Canada than in other parts of the world, and it's great to see Canada leading the way," Lyons said in an interview with Sustainable Biz Canada.
Unlike Bird U.S., which filed for bankruptcy and was later acquired by Bird Canada, the Canadian outfit has deployed its micromobility fleets in a slow and steady manner, rather than flooding urban markets with e-scooters and hoping that demand will match supply.
"Our strategy has been to work very closely with our city partners to start . . . with a smaller program and grow it as demand grows. That has led to very successful rollouts and profitable operations all across the country from Calgary to Edmonton, from Windsor to Ottawa and everywhere in between, and including Laval and Montreal in Quebec."
Micromobility offers low-cost alternative to autos
Lyons believes the increasing adoption of e-scooters is being driven by three underlying factors.
"First you're looking at traffic congestion, which is a problem in almost in every city in Canada these days. Second is the level of cost of living increases, which leaves micromobility as cheap way to get around relative to other forms of transportation, certainly relative to car ownership," Lyons explained.
"The third driver behind the growth in our sector is that people are simply embracing sustainability in terms of their choices. More people are turning to e-scooters as a safe and reliable means of sustainable transportation. We're also seeing more people using electric vehicles where possible, opting for smaller vehicles where a bigger one isn't necessary, and reducing reliance on rideshare, Uber and Lyft . . . These are all trends favouring our sector."
Evidence of this has been seen in Quebec where Bird Canada successfully returned to Laval and is hopeful of launching in Montreal this year.
The company cites a recent survey by Léger Marketing revealing that 62 per cent of young Montrealers aged 18 to 34 are in favour of seeing a self-service e-scooter program return to the city in 2024.
Bird Canada set to launch new model featuring swappable batteries
Lyons is particularly bullish on his company's impending launch of the new Bird 4 e-scooter model that represents an innovation in scooter tech and a corresponding advance in operational sustainability.
"There's a whole bunch of great safety and sustainability features in this new model that we're pretty excited about. The most important advance and added feature is that it comes equipped with a swappable battery," he said. "That means that allows our operations to be even more sustainable than they are already.
"Instead of moving the entire scooter to recharge it, we just pull out the battery, charge it and put it back in. This allows us to lower our gasoline consumption when it comes to actually servicing the scooters by means of vans which transport a whole bunch of the scooters.
"Most of our vans are not EVs, although we're moving to electric this year. But in the meantime the introduction of the Bird 4 model will result in fewer trips required to service the scooters."
In addition, Bird Canada's service vans will transport 50 batteries per load instead of 20 scooters on average. This reduces the time needed to collect or otherwise recharge large numbers of scooters across a city.
"As opposed to a van holding say, 20 scooters, you can now hold 50 batteries. So instead of charging 20 scooters at once, you can charge 50 at a time. That also results in a cost saving because we need fewer personnel because the scooters are quite heavy with the batteries installed. You just need to handle the battery and therefore you benefit from having less people handle more scooters."
The Bird 4 e-scooter also comes equipped with a smartphone holder - a particular benefit to tourists who often need to follow a map to a given destination. This is an important safety factor making it easier for riders to look at their phones also watching where they're going. The holder also recharges the phone.
As with the previous model, the new Bird 4 e-scooter has a speed limiter restricting it to 20 to 22 km/h.
The Toronto question
One major urban market Bird Canada has yet to conquer is Toronto, Canada's largest and most populous city.
"Toronto is the one big question, the one outlier in North America, where most cities are pretty far along with respect to the rollout of e-scooters," Lyons mused. "Hopefully the city gets its act together and comes up with a plan for shared micromobility in the near future.
"Unfortunately Toronto has been saddled with different challenges coming out of COVID just as a lot of cities had trouble kind of re-establishing their priorities. Toronto is one of those and the city really hasn't had the chance to drive the ball forward on it."