A gig economy has emerged around e-scooter companies, which rely on “juicers,” private contractors who sign on to take them home to charge them overnight and return them to designated locations the next day.
David Pretlow, a music teacher and grad student, lives along the Atlanta BeltLine and saw the scooters beside it as soon as they arrived. The Bird app prompted him to become a charger, promising extra cash.
“Back then, I think they started at $5 or $6. It was easy money,” Pretlow said. “I was picking them up without a vehicle, so it was of no expense to me.”
Pretlow explained that each company’s app has a backend visible only to chargers, which shows the price offered if a given scooter is successfully picked up and charged. He said it’s rare to find one that reaches $20 of income, and if it does, it’s likely to be a “digital phantom” — it either isn’t actually there, or the device is broken.
But at that point, Pretlow said, it was a fun way to make extra money. He became a juicer for multiple operators, bought an electric bike and used the earnings to pay his rent for a few months. But then the fun wore off, and the market got crowded. More chargers signed on, competition increased, and the money tanked.
Pretlow still grabs a scooter to charge now and then when he sees them outside his window. But these days he’s mostly out of the charging game.
“It was fun while it lasted,” he said. “It’s either worth it to you or it’s not, and it’s work you take at your own pleasure.”
The City of Atlanta has issued permits for 10,500 dockless devices, including 9,500 scooters and 1,000 bikes.