Dust off those electric scooter rental apps. Three new companies are offering battery-powered rides on San Francisco streets.
Tuesday was the first day Lime and Spin e-scooters were allowed back in SF — ironically the headquarters for both companies — along with an inaugural debut for e-scooters from Uber-owned Jump and a renewed permit for Bird-owned scooter company Scoot.
Another San Francisco-based scooter company, Skip, had been operating in SF for the past year with Scoot, but did not pass muster for a second year of scooting.
Text I just got from @SkipScooters for rangers (aka chargers):
Starting tomorrow, October 15, Skip scooters will no longer be available for rent as part of SFMTA’s Powered Scooter Share Program for 2019-2020.19:49 AM – Oct 15, 2019Twitter Ads info and privacySee Sasha Lekach’s other Tweets
Lime and Spin (along with Bird, Scoot, and others) both put out e-scooters in early 2018 before the city transportation agency stepped in and removed all scooters from city streets. In October 2018, the first permit program kicked off with only Skip and Scoot allowed to operate within city limits. Now, a year later, it’s four companies with permits: Scoot, Spin, Jump, and Lime.
In an email from Lime on Tuesday morning, the company wrote, “In March 2018 we released our scooters onto the streets of San Francisco, full of hope and excitement. The reaction was immediate – but complicated. We believed we were taking a bold step into a bright future and many of you agreed. But others did not.”
First @limebike scooter in sf that I’ve seen in over a year. Welcome back I’m having flashbacks to juicing literal truckloads of these
It’s tough out there for e-scooter companies. Aside from dubious economics, cities have the ability to practically wipe out business. Just days before launching the second year of scooter-sharing in San Francisco, companies were told only 500 e-scooters could be distributed to start. Initially it was 1,000 per company, so this was a massive halving. Incumbent e-scooter company Scoot was operating 1,250 scooters until Tuesday, so it will be scaled back only to 1,000. In another two months the other companies (if all goes well) can expand fleet size to 750 and then again in February to 1,000. (Scoot will eventually be allowed 2,500 scooters.)
It’s not just San Francisco that’s keeping scooter rental companies in check. New York City hasn’t even allowed regulated scooter-sharing. Los Angeles also set up a permit process granting only certain operators rentals. Portland, Oregon; Austin, Texas; Tampa, Florida; and countless other American (and international) cities aren’t letting scooter companies walk all over them. Instead stringent rules and regulations are in place, intended to bring order and safety to city streets. But these rules can also simultaneously stifle these new transportation methods.
Andrew Fox, founder and CEO of micromobility infrastructure company Charge, wants more cities to allow and even expand e-scooter fleets. “We can do it substantially better than we’re currently doing it,” he said in a phone call. “That still doesn’t mean that an industry that’s barely 3 years old is going to be a perfect science.” He thinks cities and rental companies need to establish better riding lanes, parking infrastructure, charging hubs and systems, as well as other infrastructure improvements.
Even so, looking at the first generation of scooters compared to the devices on streets now, there’s a lot of improvement: Most scooters from the big companies like Lime and Bird have better brakes, bigger wheels, sturdier baseboards, hidden wiring that’s harder to vandalize, and come with built-in locks so they’re not as likely to clutter and block sidewalks as much.
On the same day that San Francisco finally gave more companies a chance to offer electric rides on two wheels, a new scooter management company launched. With former Uber and Lyft employees at the helm, Tortoise wants to make it easier to find e-scooters that are already out on the street.
Launched Tuesday, Tortoise plans to partner with cities to move around existing scooters, e-bikes, and other electric vehicles to more convenient locations so more people can ride them. That means autonomous and remote-controlled scooters mixed with humans helping relocate vehicles, as seen in the demo video in Georgia above. It’s not just cities, but also scooter-share operators and the scooter manufacturers that’ll incorporate the technology into the vehicles as part of their charging, distributing, safety, and de-cluttering plans.
E-scooters and cities just want to get along.