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Scooter Share the Next Big Thing? (Corrected)

Car-sharing, either through a big company like ZipCar or through informal networks, is becoming all the rage, and why not? Urban folk don’t need the hassle and massive expense of a vehicle they use only occasionally for trips to Ikea, Costco or driving mothers-in-law to the airport (what Henny Youngman called “a pleasure cruise”). So having a network of cars you can rent by the hour makes a lot of sense, and is catching on.

So why not do it with scooters? That’s the idea of Scoot Networks CEO Michael Keating, who has launched both a pilot program renting a small fleet of electric scooters (supported by a huge amount of Internet buzz that has reached about every corner of the Web). The service will station a fleet of scooters around San Francisco, available to customers with a smart phone running the company’s app. The phone is plugged into the dashboard of the scooters (which are made especially for Scoot Networks) and works as the ignition key, as well as charge meter and navigation system. The electric scoots have a top speed of about 30 mph and a range of 20-30 miles. After the customer is done, he or she plugs the scoot back in at its original location, although the plan is to allow one-way trips as the network gains popularity—and more scooters. The venture capitalists are deployed, the funding is in place, and Keating and his team are cheerily operating their little fleet up and down the city’s hills, with private business being the first clients. The general public is expected to start renting the scooters by the end of 2012.

So what’s wrong with that? Potentially,  licensing, although company owner Michael Keating indicates in his comment below that the short nature of the rentals (under 48 hours) without a subscription plan makes the use of the scooters by renters without an M2 licence endorsement “totally legal”. Although California state law (as well as many other states) requires a special license endorsement to operate a scooter, even if it is small, green and cute,California Vehicle Code sec. 12804.9(h) allows licensed California drivers to ride a rental motorized bicycle without an M2 for 48 hours or less. Apparently, it is a longer term subscription plan that steps into a grey area at this point (DMV spokesperson Jessica Gonzalez told the SF Appeal, “The subscription service is the hiccup. The time frame noted in CVC§ 12804.9 (h) is 48 hours, but the subscription is what overrides 12804.9 (h).”)

My opinion is conflicted—on the one hand I love to see moto-based business succeed, but on the other I know we don’t need hordes of poorly-trained (Scoot Network says customers will be given training on their inaugural rental) riders, potentially wearing minimal safety gear, swarming the streets—Keating told the San Francisco Examiner that when fully introduced, the service could account for 10 percent of all trips made in the City. San Francisco, regardless of what you’re riding, is among the most challenging and dangerous environments for two wheels, and 30 mph is plenty fast to kill you, especially if your idea of protection is a half-helmet and a cheeky smirk. Still, I hope Keating and crew can figure out how to make this a safe and profitable institution.

4 Comments

  1. Bud says:

    25cc? Will that much hp even take a 200 lb. rider up the hills in SF?

  2. T. Rollie says:

    too many unqualified drivers getting injured. Even if there is a very strict licensing permit to access the Scooter, the first serious injury or fatality will cancel the entire program. But it’s nice to think about in an ideal, non-litigous society.

  3. Thanks for wishing us well, Gabe! Our plan definitely centers on safety and profitability. In fact, without both, we won’t last long.

    A couple of clarifications: Though we hope someday to offer pricing that makes Scoot very affordable to regular riders (say, a subscription plan) we are not doing that yet, and will not do it unless we believe it is both safe and legal. The DMV has been very receptive to helping us find a way to do this. Until then, all of our rentals will be short (under 48 hours), and totally legal and run no risk of killing our company. Please revise your article to reflect that.

    Second, motorcycles take real skill to ride. I spent most of my MSF course in a parking lot shifting and braking with both hands and feet, like I was learning to play a drum kit. A twist & go, all electric, effectively 25cc scooter is as much like a bicycle as it is like a motorcycle. Safety with one of these vehicles is much less about skill than it is about having the right safety-focused mindset when you are on the road (like remembering to cover your brake and See, Evaluate, Execute). We teach that by riding with people on the street and pointing out the hazards and good riding behavior that will keep them safe.

    Finally, we did not run a massive PR campaign. We got picked up in GigaOm and FastCompany and tons of other publications (like yours) just picked up the story. Please redact that.

    • Dirck Edge says:

      Michael, we do wish you the best of luck. After speaking with Gabe, we made a few changes to the text of the article that should clarify things. Let me know if you have any other issues/clarifications. Dirck