Econduce: Building sustainable mobility for a Latin American megacity
In smog-ridden Mexico City, car ownership has been rising at an unprecedented rate. Econduce, a scooter sharing platform, is socialising transportation in an eco-friendly, efficient, and sustainable way in a move to counteract this trend.
Smog, traffic, and unparalleled population growth
During the second half of the twentieth century, Mexico City’s metropolitan population more than quadrupled in size. As one of the first urban regions to reach the 20 million inhabitant mark, mobility has been a top concern for chilangos (as the city’s residents are known) for decades.
In the 1990s, the city was also one of the most polluted in the world. Smog days, during which schools were closed and cars with certain licence plate numbers were banned from circulation, were a normal part of everyday life.
The causes of bad air quality are multiple, but among the most significant emitters of pollutants are cars. Thanks to a shift in the type of gasoline used – and despite some setbacks – the city’s air quality has improved over the past two decades. But private car ownership is gaining ground, with the number of private vehicles more than doubling during the same period (from 2.5 million in 2000 to over 5 million in 2017).
The push to socialise transportation
Despite these trends – or precisely because of them – a number of initiatives that seek to socialise transportation have been launched, especially for short-distance commuting. One highly successful programme has been Ecobici, a public bike sharing programme in Mexico City consisting of docks from which one can borrow bicycles for a very low cost. However, when distances become greater and a motorised vehicle is required, moving beyond a 5 km range is still a hassle – unlike in many European and American cities, motorised vehicle sharing platforms have made little headway in Mexico City, in part because of high car-theft rates.
One exception is Econduce, a fleet of electric scooters that have become ubiquitous in the central city neighbourhoods. The project was conceived in 2010 when Eduardo Porta and Alejandro Morales – two childhood friends – ran into each other in England, where they were both studying Environmental Systems Engineering (Morales at University College London and Porta at Cambridge).
After this first unexpected encounter in the UK, they went on to meet frequently, and often found themselves talking about city life back home and how traffic and air pollution decreased the quality of life. It was during these discussions that they came up with the idea that led to the Econduce model: a socially shared fleet of electrically chargeable, ion-battery scooters that can reach up to 55 kmh and go as far as 35 km on a single charge.
Establishing the first scooter sharing system in Latin America
At the time when the idea for Econduce was conceived, only one similar service existed – in San Francisco. So when they introduced the idea back in Mexico in 2013, people were understandably sceptical. But not to be stopped, Alejandro and Eduardo did a ‘friends and family’ investment round and were able to secure government funding.
In 2015, Econduce, the first electric scooter sharing programme in Latin America, was inaugurated. At the time, it consisted of 50 scooters docked in 10 stations, mostly around the city’s central neighbourhoods. All the platform technology was produced in-house, with radio frequency identification cards used as keys to unlock the vehicles and identify members. The scooters were specially designed to be ecologically sound: their motor efficiency is 80 per cent (gasoline motors: 20 per cent) and they produce zero carbon emissions.
“We want to elevate the quality of life in cities around the country, but especially in Mexico City.” says Ariadna Saavedra, Brand Manager of Econduce. “We do this by reducing sound and air pollution. In the end, the goal is to transform the city’s streets and create an engaged community of citizens.”
Following the market in its transition towards “digital”
To use Econduce, people must register both their age and driving licence, and download the Econduce app. In a next step, they go through an introduction period – consisting of personal and online tutorials. Just like for other ride sharing initiatives, people have expressed concerns over the safety of both passengers and pedestrians. The scooters are insured in case of any mishap; but, according to Saavedra, since its launch, the accident rate has been below 1 per cent.
Two years after its inauguration in 2017, as cheap smartphones and affordable internet plans flooded the Mexican market, the Econduce staff decided to migrate their services to a purely digital platform. That same year, the project won the prestigious FIA (Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile) Smart Cities Global Start-Up Contest and was awarded USD 100,000 in funding to support the project implementation. During the award ceremony, jury member and founding partner of Digital Leaders Ventures, Monty C.M. Metzger, stated: “What we are talking about here is the future of new mobility.”
The future: expansion in Mexico City and beyond
2017 was also the year that Mexico City opened its parking regulations to the company and allowed it to park its e-mopeds in designated neighbourhoods – so not only at docking stations – just like privately owned scooters. Econduce thus became one of the first platforms to use this kind of free-floating model – which now can be found throughout the city for vehicles like bicycles and scooters of the non-motorised type.
Today, Econduce boasts a fleet of 700 e-mopeds (a new two-person model was recently introduced) and 40 dock-charging stations, with much more in store for the future. Yet, in a city as big and dynamic as Mexico, this still isn’t enough: “We plan to keep growing”, says Saavedra. “We are almost going to double our fleet this year and expand so that we can further position ourselves in Mexico City. And we want to operate in other cities in Mexico and Latin America in the middle and long term.”
Over the next 20 years, more than 2 billion people will migrate to cities. With the growing number of urban dwellers come many challenges: congestion, pollution and a shortage of housing and recreation options, to name a few. So how will our transportation infrastructures keep up? Where will everybody live? Will there be enough jobs for everyone? In our ‘Future Cities’ series, we explore what type of innovations are helping cities to become more sustainable – and liveable.