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Rise of the electric scooter in the United States
Organization: Department of International Cooperation        Publish Date: 2018-07-05 12:07
Rise of the electric scooter in the United States

Since last year, three California companies, including Bird, LimeBike and Spin, have launched similar versions of dockless electric scooters in major cities across the United States, from San Francisco to Washington, D.C., promising to ease traffic and smog. However, for some people, the scooters have become a public nuisance.

Internet-connected scooters are managed through smartphone apps. With Bird, for example, you open the app to see a map of nearby available scooters, from which you can select one, scan a QR code on the scooter, tap "unlock" in the app, and start your ride. Once you've scooted to your destination-Bird says most rides are less than 2 miles-you lock the scooter up again. Some companies track their scooters' entire rides using built-in GPS trackers, while others use your phone's GPS to keep tabs on scooter pickup and drop-off locations.

Bird Rides, one of the largest companies, has sold more than one million rides on its electric scooters since it launched in September, according to spokesperson Kenneth Baer.

Users download an app and pay US$1 to unlock the scooter, plus US$0.15 a minute to ride.

Bird was founded in 2017 by Travis VanderZanden, a former chief operating officer at Lyft and Uber. Bird has raised US$115 million from investors that include New York-based Tusk Ventures. The service launched in Santa Monica, just outside Los Angeles, and promptly ran afoul of local regulations. VanderZanden has compared Bird to revolutionary technologies such as electric cars, autonomous vehicles, and the jet engine.

It's not uncommon to see the scooters weaving between pedestrians or parked in the middle of busy sidewalks, as if their operators had suddenly been transported by the Rapture mid-ride.

According to Santa Monica's deputy city manager Anuj Gupta, Bird launched in the city by dumping hundreds of scooters on Santa Monica streets with little warning and no approval.

"The launch was not what we would have wanted and got us off on the wrong foot," Gupta said. "There was minimal - from my point of view insufficient - outreach or no real plan."

"It created a real and urgent public safety risk: there were a number of serious accidents involving riders who were riding them frankly in dangerous and unlawful ways," he added.

San Francisco's scooter law was unanimously passed by the Board of Supervisors on April 24. It will be a 12-month pilot program for the city to see whether the scooters serve the public interest. Under the program, up to five companies can apply for permits. A total of 1,250 scooters may be permitted in the first six months. If that number of scooters works, the cap could increase to 2,500

To get the permits, each company has to demonstrate that it will provide user education on sidewalk riding and parking, be insured and have a privacy policy to safeguard users' information. The companies also need to share trip data with the city and offer a plan for low-income riders.

(Sources: CBC, TVBS, QUARTZ, CNET, Commercial Times, Economic Daily News)
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