SAN FRANCISCO (Circa) - Scooter, scooters, scooters.
Rentable, dockless electric scooters, to be exact. Hundred of them began popping up on San Francisco streets this Spring as lighter, zippier transportation-share options to bike-share bikes.
"We’re trying to make sure we solve that first and last mile problem for urban environments. In the case of scooters, sometimes it’s on something that’s 10 blocks, and it’s really quick," Caen Conte, VP of marketing for LimeBike, told Circa. The Lime-S scooter the company now offers in San Francisco joins its fleet of manual-pedal electric pedal-assist bikes it operates in cities around the Bay Area.
San Francisco is not alone in seeing its streets flooded with these gadgets. LimeBike, Bird and Waybots scooters earlier this year launched in places like Washington DC, Los Angeles and Austin, Texas.
In all of the cities, these electric scooter-shares works the same way with each company: You pull up the app, track down where the nearest scooter is parked, scan its code with your phone's camera to unlock it and then hop on.
They all operate the same way, too, with the brake on the left and throttle on the right (which is capped at just under 15 miles per hour to make them bike-lane compliant). Batteries on the Bird and Spin scooters get just under 20 miles per charge, while LimeBike's claims 37 miles. All the companies pick up their scooters nightly for charging and maintenance.
The cost for riders – you guessed it, also the same across the three services – is $1 to unlock with an additional $.15 cents a minute for the duration of the trip. It’s more expensive than most bike-shares, but of course there’s no pedalling required, which evidently appeals to commuters.
"We’ve already done 90,000 miles on Birds in the city of San Francisco in a few short weeks," Stephen Schnell, CMO of Bird, offered as proof of the hype. His company deals only in scooter-share and recently launched fleets in D.C., Los Angeles and San Diego.
The third of the companies to get in on the scooter-share mania in San Francisco, Spin, began as a bike-share company, like LimeBike. But unlike LimeBike, Spin is getting into the scooter game first in its home base of San Francisco, quickly making the city’s urban streets immediately some of the most competitive in the country for scooter-share.
“It was just a slight tweak on the business idea and the product offering in very much the same way that Uber itself evolved,” Spin Co-Founder & President Euwyn Poon explained.
“What we found really resonated with the consumers with the electric scooters was the ease of use – you know, the fact that you don’t even have to break a sweat.”
Though people have been renting and rolling in surprisingly large numbers, the launch of these devices across the country hasn’t been all smooth scooting.
Complaints have poured in about riders (across all these cities) leaving the dockless scooters in the middle of sidewalks after trips are over, creating eyesores and hazards in high trafficked areas of the city.
To make matters worse, this is all happening while San Francisco and Austin city officials are saying the scooter companies launched onto their streets without permission.
"These companies, as per usual, want to ask for forgiveness rather than permission," San Francisco Board of Supervisor member Aaron Perskin complained during a recent Land Use & Transportation committee meeting.
The good news for these companies and their fans is that those two cities are scrambling to put regulation and permitting processes into place that would hope to curb some of the bad parking practices without outlawing the scooters.
Meanwhile in DC, where scooter-shares are operating under the same months-long “demonstration” the district has sanctioned for bike-shares, it’s still to be determined whether permanent permitting will be issued for the vehicles after the try-out phase finishes.
Spin prioritizes safety, and we urge our riders to always wear a helmet, obey all traffic regulations, never ride on sidewalks and always use designated bike lanes when available. Also, make sure to park on the furniture zone of the sidewalk, closer to the curb. ⛑ #SpinSafe pic.twitter.com/fchPFB92YK— Spin (@ridespin) April 15, 2018
Of course, all these companies say they want to work with cities to come up with best practices and regulations that make sense for the mini-vehicles, including, maybe one day, marking out some specific sidewalk parking spaces or even turning over some streetside car parking for the smaller footprinted scooter-share vehicles.
Bird says it’s actually setting aside $1 per vehicle rented per day to give back to cities for the development of such things.
So, municipal nightmare or the cutting edge of short-leg transportation? The scooter companies that have landed in San Francisco and elsewhere in recent months are definitely eying more cities across the country for launches to come. So you’ll want to keep an eye on the trend so you’ll be ready for when it cruises into a city near you.