Battery charging and swapping represents a significant proportion of operational expenditure. There are 3 main ways to reduce these costs.
Swappable batteries were an incredible breakthrough for micromobility operators.
To avoid sounding like a broken record, we won’t list the reasons why battery swapping is more efficient than vehicle swapping. It's worth noting, however, that Bird have stayed away from swappable batteries with the Bird Three, and will continue to back vehicle swapping for the foreseeable future.
Since battery swapping still accounts for a significant part of operational expenses (maintenance vehicles, field agents’ salaries), it’s important that operators make every effort to optimize the process.
Operators should focus on making battery swaps as fast and effective as possible, maximizing vehicle uptime and reducing the number of miles that maintenance vehicles travel (especially if fossil-fuelled).
Operators can reduce battery charging costs through:
- Intelligent swapping
- Smart stations
- User-based swapping
1. Intelligent swapping
Time of day
Swapping batteries at night means less traffic, so it’s easier for fleet agents to get around. Less time on the road translates to fewer hours worked. The added bonus is that the batteries you’re trying to swap aren’t moving - it’s far easier to hit a target that’s not moving!
To maximize uptime, consider scheduling swaps at key parts of the day. If your core ridership is between 8-9am and 5-7pm, you should carry out swaps the night before and then between 3-5pm during the day. If it’s not financially viable to make two full swaps twice a day, perhaps it’s worth a 50/50 split in shifts, or 70/30 - whatever best correlates to your ridership.
This is pretty standard stuff, so let’s go a step further.
Maintenance teams carry out 3 main activities: battery swaps, relocations and repairs. Does it make sense to have teams doing all 3 at once?
Firstly, teams carrying out relocations need large vehicles to carry electric bikes, scooters and even larger ones to relocate mopeds. Aside from the fact that they are sometimes powered by fossil fuels and have a negative impact on the environment, these vehicles are also unable to weave through traffic. If teams are doing battery swaps and relocations at the same time, the whole operation will be slower.
Imagine a team that is dedicated to swapping batteries. Such a team (that could also possibly do quick repairs, if they know what the vehicle faults are in advance) can maximize fleet availability. For example, this team could comprise 4 fleet agents, each with their own cargo bike and 50 batteries to swap in their corners of the city. These operations would be:
- Green: No fossil-fuelled vehicles reduces CO2 emissions
- Fast: Not slowed down by traffic
- Efficient: Focused tasks, quick stops
All of this contributes to maximizing vehicle uptime.
Companies like Zoba specialize in breaking these tasks down so that tasks can be done at maximum efficiency.
For your operations team, what constitutes the need for a battery swap? Is it when a battery is completely dead, or has 10 or 20% remaining? There are several factors that will influence your decision:
- Quantity: How many batteries do you have the capacity to change in a shift?
- Range: Can 10% battery still carry out a trip of average length?
- Location: Is the vehicle likely to manage one more trip in its current position with its current battery percentage, or will it have to be relocated too?
All of these variables will help a) prioritize the swaps that are mostly likely to contribute to new rides, and b) conserve efforts on batteries that either will be used once more (and, sometimes deposited to a more convenient location to then be swapped).
For the vehicles that go back to the warehouse for repairs: are the batteries dead, or is there scope to make some final battery swaps to maximize the charge % of your fleet?
E.g. A vehicle needs to be repaired at the warehouse and, whilst taking it off the street, you notice that it has 70% battery. There’s another vehicle with 50% battery 5 meters away. Make the swap!
To the cynics, these swaps might mean a lot but, 2 of these a day, contributing 2 extra rides per vehicle over the course of a year is... 1460 extra rides. And this is just for one city! Small actions can make a big difference.
2. Smart stations
The second way to reduce battery swapping costs is by doing a lot less of it. Smart stations charge your fleet and maximize vehicle uptime without involving field agents.
When users park at stations, especially in the evening, you can be assured that all of the vehicles will be at full capacity when rush hour comes the next day.
Getting users to actually park at these charging stations is the biggest challenge with this method. One of the benefits of using a free-floating ride-sharing service is that users can park in any authorised space.
Unlike for cities launching a bike-sharing scheme, it’s not financially viable for an operator to put charging stations on every street corner, but there are ways to encourage users to park at charging stations.
Firstly, decide where your charging stations should be. Prioritise transport hubs and other areas of high demand. This will encourage users to park at these stations.
Incentivise users to park at stations
Encourage your users to charge your fleet for you by giving them a discount on their ride if they dock their bike at a charging station.
It’s very important that we incentivise the act of parking at a charging station and not punish users that do not. There are two reasons for this:
- A free-floating service should always give users the freedom to travel and park wherever they want (within reason). If the need to park at a station is enforced, it detracts from the user experience.
- Unless you are using ‘infinite’ stations that function without individual docks for each vehicle, space is limited. It would be unfair to penalise a user for not using a station if they can’t physically park there.
An incentive may look like:
- A discount at the end of their current trip (€0.50)
- A discount for the next trip (€0.50)
- A reduced fare on the next trip (€0.15/min instead of €0.20)
- Loyalty/good behaviour points that lead towards free rides or preferential fares in the future
3. User-based swapping
The third way of reducing battery charging costs is, of course, getting users to do the swapping.
This strategy should be approached with caution. Whilst it is not a new idea, it is untested on a large scale. There are two ways user-based swapping can be done.
This is when battery cabinets are found next to micromobility hubs in cities, so that users can go to the kiosk and swap the battery of their vehicle before they set off (or after they end their trip, if there is an incentive in place).
Swapping stations have two key benefits:
- Reducing costs: Much like smart stations, they minimise the need for maintenance teams journeying around the city to swap batteries.
- Charged batteries: Batteries in the charging kiosks are constantly being charged until they are removed by users. For vehicles close to charging kiosks, users can rely on well-charged batteries.
User-swapping has a few downsides:
- The prerequisite to any user-swapping is safety. Users need to be trained, guided and enabled to safely access the empty and charged batteries.
- Users have to park near a swapping station for the strategy to be effective. Therefore, cities must be densely covered with charging kiosks. No user wants to walk more than 30m (maximum) to change a battery (but a user may ride 30m out of their way to park at a station).
- Making users do the swapping can detract from the user experience. You’re already asking them to park in a specific location (like with stations), but this time you’re also asking them to swap their batteries before they get going!
- Prioritising battery swaps and separating them from other maintenance tasks maximises vehicle uptime. It also decreases reliance on fossil-fuelled vehicles!
- Smart stations will drastically reduce battery swapping so that your team can focus on crucial repairs and relocation. Using incentives to encourage users to park at these stations ensures your success.
- User-swapping could also be a great option to reduce battery swapping costs, however, is it worth complicating and potentially detracting from the user experience?