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.