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Lyft is Looking to Launch Electric Scooter Rental Service in San Francisco

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【Summary】San Francisco-based Lyft, the second largest ride-hailing service behind Uber, is planning to offer electric scooter rentals in San Francisco as part of its ride-hailing platform. Lyft is gearing up to compete against its biggest rival Uber and other startups in the fast-growing market of electric scooter and bike rentals.

Eric Walz    May 22, 2018 10:52 AM PT
Lyft is Looking to Launch Electric Scooter Rental Service in San Francisco

San Francisco-based Lyft, the second largest ride-hailing service behind Uber, is planning to offer electric scooter rentals in San Francisco as part of its ride-hailing platform, The Information has learned. Lyft is gearing up to compete against its biggest rival Uber and other startups in the fast-growing market of electric scooter and bike rentals.

The Information reports that a local consulting firm representing Lyft approached San Francisco transportation officials in recent weeks about applying for permits, according to emails obtained under public records requests. Lyft has been developing prototypes of potential scooter designs, a person familiar with the matter said, although the effort is in its early stages. A Lyft spokesman declined to comment.

Lyft's policy team last month hired a manager to oversee "scooter, bike and alternative mobility initiatives," according to an email between Lyft consultant Ground Floor Public Affairs and the transit agency. The manager, Caroline Samponaro, previously worked at a New York–based transportation nonprofit and Ofo, the Chinese bike-share firm that also plans to launch a scooter service.

"Lyft is thrilled to have hired her as they work on expanding their services," according to an email from a Ground Floor representative to the transit agency.

New Trend in Urban Mobility

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For those who live in the Bay Area, electric scooters are a common sight in cities such as San Francisco and San Jose. Santa Monica, California-based startup Bird, for example, has distributed hundreds of its electric scooters on the streets of San Francisco. Bird was founded by Lyft's former COO Travis VanderZanden.

The scooters are quickly becoming a hot new craze in urban mobility. Bird, along with Lime and Spin, offer riders a new and speedy way to get around town. The electric scooters can travel up to 15 mph.

After signing up for the service, the battery-powered scooters can be unlocked and rented by the minute using a smartphone app. The scooters are ‘dockless', once the trip in completed, the scooters can be left anywhere—an onboard GPS tracks their location for the next rider. Riders are permitted to hop on any scooter they comes across. Bird places these scooters in convenient locations where they are readily accessible, such as near public transit stops.

The explosion in scooter use is part of a changing mobility landscape, which includes electric bike-sharing services operated by a variety of firms such as Ofo, Lime and Jump Bikes, which Uber said in February it acquired for about $200 million.

Uber has not yet introduced a scooter rental service, but Jump CEO Ryan Rzepecki said last week the firm was exploring launching scooters in addition to the Jump bikes.

Both the bikes and scooters are ideal for short trips that could replace short rides currently handled by ride-hailing apps like Lyft, public transit or walking. However, the services have created headaches for city officials concerned about riders zipping around town without helmets—which are required— or clashing with pedestrians on sidewalks. The scooters are not permitted to be operated on sidewalks, although many scooter renters choose to ride there.

San Francisco Pilot Begins this Summer

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Bird scooters parked on a San Francisco sidewalk

The city of San Francisco has said it will issue scooter permits to five companies in a pilot program beginning this summer. The permit is issued partially to address complaints from city officials of scooters being operated without city permission. But without laws regulating them, the startups continue to operate. Bird and Lime have placed hundreds of scooters around the city seemingly overnight over the past several months.

The initial five firms that receive permits for the pilot will initially be allowed to operate a total of 1,250 scooters in the city, rising to 2,500 for the second six months of the pilot program, the transit agency has said.

In San Francisco, the companies will have to show the transit agency that they can educate users on how to properly park scooters without blocking sidewalks, and may potentially have to show how their scooters will lock to bike racks. To receive a permit,  the companies must agree to share data on how often scooters are being rented, as well as how they will serve low-income residents.

New Job Opportunities

The electric scooters have also created new job opportunities. For example, each of Bird's battery-powered scooters must be frequently recharged. Each day, using Bird's smartphone app, the company's team of contractors collect scooters from city streets and charges them in their garages, homes or apartments.

The contractors are called ‘Bird hunters' and they are paid between $5 and $20 dollars to pick a scooter up, charge it overnight, and return it to a nearby designated drop off zone the company calls "nests" in the early morning. Bird even provides the power adapters for charging.

Outside of California, the scooters can also be found in cities including Washington, D.C., San Diego, Atlanta and Nashville.

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