Micromobility — A City Option
I just tried my first electric scooter! It’s easy, fun, and a little scary, too.
It began with seeing little blue Skip scooters tied to posts and trees around downtown San Francisco. I’ve just started a new job working in the city again after a few decades, and things have changed. My company builds and sells software for carsharing and ridesharing (and in the future, hopefully scooters, too), so I was eager to sample one of the new “micromobility” options.
Skip scooters are available where you find them, but to ride one, you first need to download the app. That takes about a minute, from searching for it on your Apple or Android phone and waiting for it to download. When you open the app, it explains how to use the app and also how to ride the scooter safely. You can sign up for an account by adding in your personal information, such as driver’s license and credit card.
I decided that this particular Friday afternoon was a great time to try a scooter. Using the app, I located a couple of them near my office and set out to find them.
I followed the map and looked–but no scooter! Then I looked across the street. I must have missed something, because there it was. The app made it look like it was on my side of the street.
I went up and tried to scan the QR code. The app then asked me for my driver’s license (front and back). Leaving the scooter tethered, I went to find a slightly more private spot to photograph my license on the street. The app warned me of “glare,” but I got two decent images. Then, I had to enter my credit card information.
After this, when I put my phone up by the QR code, it gave me a four-digit combination to enter to unlock the scooter’s combination cable lock. Then, all I did was recoil the cable onto the scooter frame and pulled the bike over onto a piece of open sidewalk.
And I’m Off
One push, and I was off. The accelerator is a thumb paddle on the right side of the handlebars. On the left is a matching one that slows the scooter down. There’s a manual foot brake that rubs against the wheel, but I think it’s more like an “emergency brake” since the thumb brake worked fine during my .07-mile ride.
After zipping along the sidewalk (proscribed by Skip and the City of S.F.), I got onto the actual street, after looking both ways carefully. I then spent the rest of my ride in back alleys, where I had lots of space and few cars to deal with.
The little Skip takes off strongly with its electric motor–just like an electric car, but without the mass. Of course, the motor and battery are tiny, so it all balances out. When you rent a scooter, the app tells you the percentage of charge left and approximate range you can expect. I assume going up hills would use up charge more quickly. I don’t think there’s a regen feature to add charge when you brake or go downhill, as in a car.
Protection Optional—But Available
I wasn’t wearing a helmet–a bad idea–but I was just testing it, right? Most of the riders I’ve seen so far don’t wear them, possibly because they just hopped on it for a quick trip. However, if you take at least one ride, Skip will send you a helmet for free (you pay $10 shipping). When I got back to my office, I ordered mine using the app. I’ll wait for my helmet to arrive before taking another spin, just to be safe. However, even with a helmet, cruising up to 18 miles an hour down a street full of cars, potholes, pedestrians, and who knows what else seems like a risky proposition with no protection whatsoever.
When I was done with my test ride, I parked the scooter and attached it to a handy street sign pole. As a first timer, I neglected to wrap the lock cable around the pole a bunch of times like I should have, and I somehow missed the step in the app of taking and sending a “parking photo,” but the loan completed fine and my bank account was lighter by $2.75. I had a brisk sense of adventure and a little chill from moving at that speed with just a sweatshirt on.
Micromobility, as represented by scooters and electrically assisted bikes, is with us now. It makes a lot of sense in dense urban areas, where driving a car is a pain and environmentally irresponsible. It’s perfect “last mile” transportation from public transit to an office front door. I look forward to the day when downtowns are designed for scooters, with wide, car-free bike lanes separated from the cars and buses.