You see them everywhere in U.S. cities — young and old riding rented electric-powered scooters. When they are done, they can leave the scooters anywhere.
Someone has to find and charge the scooters, then return them to designated hot spots where customers can use them the next day. And that has given rise to a new line of work — scooter juicers.
Shivali Sharma is a stay-at-home mom in San Jose, California, and a Marine staff sergeant on medical leave. She works as a juicer to earn money while her boys sleep.
“The hunt is fun,” she said.
It’s a new kind of piece work, made possible by GPS and phone apps.
Sharma and her family noticed the scooters being left on their streets. It intrigued them.
“We were like, ‘What is this scooter doing? Who does it belong to?’” she said.
Then they heard about juicing and signed up. The company sent them charging stations.
For the past several months, Sharma’s routine is set. Each night, this single mom leaves her twins with her parents and checks her phone app for Lime scooters scattered around the city, sending out GPS locator signals, all needing to be charged. She earns $6 per scooter, more if the scooter is harder to reach.
Charging scooters at home
For the scooter companies, juicers solve two problems — finding the scooters and then using their own electricity to charge them before putting them back on the streets.
The competition among the juicers is part of the appeal, something Lime, one of the scooter companies, didn’t expect.
“The fact that juicers compare it to Pokemon Go is a happy accident,” said Will Lee, product manager at Lime, a San Francisco-based electric bike and scooter company. “Now that we've hit on this motivation, this gamification motivation among the juicers, we have done things to maybe amplify it or try to feed into folks' natural desire to play the game.”
Gamification of work
To increase juicers’ engagement as the night progresses, Lime raises the dollar amount a juicer can get per scooter. A scooter in the middle of a homeless encampment or one on the outer reaches of a town may go for $10, Sharma said. The company plans to create levels of juicers, like a video game.
Sharma, who has harvested more than 1,000 scooters, may be considered a super juicer. She can get 29 scooters in her truck. The work can be tiring. Each scooter weighs 15 kilos. Dealing with the competition is part of the gig.
“There's been many instances where I've been standing right next to a scooter just waiting for my app to kick in so I can collect the scooter,” she said. “Somebody’s come up from behind me just taking it, like, don't you see me standing here?”
Sharma’s nightly hunt takes a lot of stamina. She works six nights a week, and wakes up at 3:30 a.m. to put all the scooters around the city before 7 a.m. She gets paid by 7:30 a.m. each day.
As the gig economy grows, and more jobs like juicers are created, people like Sharma, who are willing to hustle, are finding new kinds of work.
An earlier version of this story misidentified Will Lee's title. VOA regrets the error.