We spent a day with ScootScoop repossessing renegade scooters to find out why the services are drawing so much backlash
Category : entrepreneur
- ScootScoop has found big business in repossessing scooters that have been parked illegally.
- The duo will harvest dozens of Bird or Lime scooters on any given night at the request of property owners, and charge the companies big bucks to get them back.
- Business Insider producer Sarah Wyman spent a day with the founders, scooping up scooters around San Diego, California, to learn more.
- Sign up for Business Insider’s transportation newsletter, Shifting Gears, to get more stories like this in your inbox.
- Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.
How do an international repo-man and a bike shop owner end up in business together?
Necessity is the mother of invention, as they say, and for Dan Borelli and John Heinkel, it was a match made in frustration heaven.
“If you had been here a year ago, you wouldn’t have been able to walk through these pathways because it was filled with scooters,” Borelli told producer Sarah Wyman on a recent episode of Business Insider’s “Brought To You By” podcast, as they walked toward his San Diego boardwalk shop.
The rentable e-scooters, made popular in recent years by Bird, Lime, Uber, Lyft and others, were his shop’s natural enemy. Why walk into a shop and speak with a human, when you can rent the vehicles on an app in two-taps of a button?
But that convenience came didn’t come without aggravation. In many cases, the companies set up shop overnight, angering residents and business owners who suddenly found the scooters cluttered on sidewalks and streets.
“This was, you know, getting under my skin big time,” Borelli said.
That’s when Heinkel, who happened to run an international repossession business, walked in.
“John came walking into my business one day and had a flat tire with his daughter’s bike and he came on in the shop to get the tire fixed,” Borelli said. “We started chatting about all the scooters that we’re laying all over the property here and what we were doing about the and … looked at him like, I hadn’t had a clue what to do about ’em.”
“I egged him on a little bit,” Borelli continued, “and said, ‘what would you do about it? You got a towing shirt on and you can tow a car, can’t you tow a scooter?”
It turns out, yes, he could tow a scooter, and ScootScoop was born.
At 5 a.m., while it’s still dark and the scooters are just faint, blurry outlines and there are few people on the streets, the duo sat in a back alley behind a shopping center. They’re here to pick up scooters that have been left on private property.
After a few minutes, Borelli spots a delinquent scooter on the property of a hotel that’s contracted with ScootScoop. It’s also in a fire lane. He pulls out his phone and starts the process of “ticketing” — yes, they write their own “tickets” — and then towing his first scooter of the morning.
“What we do is we fill out a tracking form for each scooter,” Borelli said. “It’s a very simple form that we’ve created. We fill out the type of scooter it is, where we found it, the device ID number, and take a photo of the location so we can show the scooter company where we found it. I’ll even include the sign that says tow away here and they’ll see that it’s in a fire lane.”
But as he begins to push the scooter, it begins loudly beeping. It’s an anti-theft mechanism. Borelli has to hustle, because eventually the wheels will lock. Before long, about fifty scooters are in the back of the truck.
ScootScoop has a growing list of nearly 350 properties whose owners have contracted with them to rid their grounds of parked scooters. Borelli and Heinkel’s daily route takes them past many of those locations. But they also rely on part-time employees back at the office to check on the very apps people use to rent the scooters. They can see if riders are dropping scooters off at properties that ScootScoop serves.
If the companies want to get them back out onto the streets, according to ScootScoop, they’ll have to pay a $50 impound fee and a daily storage fee of $2 per day for each scooter.
Those can add up quickly.
“So if we’re holding 10,000 scooters right now,” Borelli said, “There’s a $20,000 per day storage fee every day.”
At one point, Bird wrote a check for more than $40,000 to retrieve about 1,800 scooters.
“Yeah we can buy a lot of coffee and donuts with that,” Heinkel said.
Understandably, the companies aren’t always happy. At one point, they even filed a lawsuit.
In a statement, a spokesman for Lime said, “ScootScoop has repeatedly been observed taking scooters that are responsibly parked” and that “their attempts to deputize themselves as an extension of the city is not only unlawful, but it is nothing more than a property theft scheme to generate income.”
Borelli and Heinkel deny these claims, including comments that they tow scooters that are “properly parked.” In fact, just hearing that description gets a rise out of Heinkel.
“At what point is a scooter properly parked on private property when you do not have permission from the property owner to park it there … that’s a mouthful,” he said.
While that litigation is ongoing, the scooter tensions are likely here to stay. Both Uber and Lyft have said they have plans to continue investing in micromobility. But in some cases, cities are pushing back.
Los Angeles this month suspended Uber’s permit for its Jump scooters in the city after the company refused to provide data on where the scooters are. Uber, in response, requested a hearing with city officials about the issue, The Wall Street Journal reported.
What’s next? No one’s quite sure.
“There is a good chance scooters are fads,” Sarah Kaufman, Associate Director at the Rudin Center for Transportation at New York University, told the podcast. “But there will be something next and something after that and something after that. And it won’t be a car. It’ll be something that helps people get around in a more healthy and fun way.”