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Uber's chief of scooters, bikes to depart (axios.com)
46 points by hhs 5 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 77 comments

E-scootering around Berlin as a tourist this past fall was incredibly fun. Fast, cheap, and the lack of responsibility to lock up a bike or find a specific bike rental return spot is very freeing. It's such an effective way to explore cities that suit it, that I'll now factor their availability into vacation travel planning.

So I'll be sad if these die off. I just learned how amazing they are!

I've only really experienced them in Helsinki so maybe it's a different situation than Berlin, but from a pedestrian's POV I see them pretty negatively. Firstly, people are often just dumping them wherever they like with no real regard, especially in the center you'll get loads of them just scattered close together on the pavement. The city is pretty windy so I'm not sure if that is also contributing though. Second point, and much more serious, is that people ride them like arseholes even in pedestrian areas.

Bicyclist complain about how cars drive. Car driver's complain about bicyclist. Same for pedestrians, etc. There should be reasonable rules to reduce frictions and accidents, but "my life would be easier if people taking other forms of transport disappeared" is not novel or constructive.

I don't think in general pedestrians care whether or not escooters disappear. They just don't want them on sidewalks by and large. By and large bicycles aren't allowed on sidewalks either and cars certainly aren't so I'm not sure why escooters would be.

I’d argue it’s just that because scooters are more accessible that more people who wouldn’t otherwise bike use them. Some of these people are also likely not biking for reasons like safety. Bike lanes are considered very unsafe to most people, so until we have more protected bike lanes and better culture around non-car traffic, the problem of people using sidewalks will continue.

I pretty much agree with that. More casual users in a lot of places who have never ridden bikes in traffic and aren't about to start. (And scooters are arguably even worse because of small wheels and rough roads.) So you get people with an attitude that the scooters are there to use but riding them on the road is a death wish. And they may even be right about the road part.

Add to that some sidewalks are wide and low pedestrian traffic and aren't really a problem given courteous users. But allow that and you get people bombing on narrow sidewalks with more pedestrians.

Scooters are banned from sidewalks in almost all places that bikes are, which is reasonable. (And, for both vehicles, people sometimes break the law.) I think many pedestrians absolutely would like to see scooters banned; I've heard them say this in person. Just think of all the complaining about, horror of horrors, a scooter being poorly parked on the sidewalk. ("I nearly tripped!")

There are legit reasons to complain about scooters scattered on sidewalks especially for people who are mobility-impaired in various ways. But I actually mostly agree that lots of stuff blocks sidewalks in cities and I'm not at all sure scooters are an outsized offender.

Agreed. But as you say, scooters do not seem to be outsized offenders. And I hear a lot more complaints from able-bodied people (who also seem to complain about new construction changing the neighborhood, etc.) than I do from my grandmother.

> I'll be sad if these die off

I wouldn't worry about that yet. This is merely the "trough of disillusionment" if you're familiar at all with the Gartner Hype cycle.

What I think can happen is cities taking over and designate good amount of space for parking these things everywhere. And commission the scooters as a form of public transportation. I don’t see private enterprise ever making a profit here

Exactly. They take up so much less space than the bike share bicycles.Plus, with designated areas, they can be recharged on the spot with no need for people to drive around collecting them.

In Paris scooters need to be parked in small designated areas. The apps won’t allow you to park unless you stop in one of them.

Totally agree! It will be interesting to see how this fares as a business model...

This always felt like a dead-end market to me. Many cities offer bike shares (which often run at a loss) and many of those are starting to offer battery-powered bikes for an additional fee. Anywhere scooters are useful, they quickly become a nuisance and regulations are imposed. It's kind of a no-win situation for commercial operators.

It feels like the market opportunity here isn't on the branding side, but the operations side as a white-label operator for city bike shares. As Uber is largely a brand play, I can see why they might want to go in a different direction.

Being dockless sounds like a really simple difference but makes a huge difference for me. There's a low level anxiety to using docked bikes because you have to do the work to figure out if you can even dock somewhere close to where you're going. And if there isn't one then you have to worry about the ticking clock costing you more money every second you don't dock it.

Dockless is the problem in dense urban areas; they clog walkways and lead to a lot of discarded scooters around the places that have the least space for them. The docks are basically the city setting aside a piece of land (usually just 1 parking spot worth) dedicated to bikes. A single square foot of urban sidewalk space is incredibly valuable, so IMO it's better to be intentional about how it gets used.

If we're concerned about using up municipal land for vehicle storage, shouldn't we first address the enormous amount of street space permanently reserved for car storage?

Not disagreeing with you at all, but it's a politically sticky issue to change the status quo on. Many cities are starting to do away with it in dense areas though.

Yes, we should address that before we flood the sidewalks with unused scooters.

It's possible to address both in parallel... But the car storage problem should get priority over the scooter storage problem, because it's a much larger problem.

In most european countries, you pay for parking in cities though

>the enormous amount of street space permanently reserved for car storage?

This comparison always gets made, but at least car parking is done is officially sanctioned places, as opposed to dockerless bikes where they're dumped wherever.

Cars are parked almost everywhere because sanctioned car parking areas are ubiquitous. There are still issues with people parking cars wherever they want, especially by the more well off who can afford the parking tickets. I see cars on sidewalks, double parked, parked in non-parking areas etc. It's just that they are a smaller percent of total cars. I expect the issue would get worse before it improved if the number of official parking spots was reduced

One parking space for a car could easily be repurposed to fit a dozen scooters. Some cities have been doing exactly that (https://la.streetsblog.org/2018/11/08/santa-monica-installs-...)

Doesn't this have exactly the downsides of docks?

Some of them. The downsides of docks it doesn't have:

* You can mix scooters and bikes in the same place

* You can put vehicles from different companies in the same place

* Lower maintenance costs so (hopefully) would be possible to make them more ubiquitous than docks

* If there's an overflowing number of scooters in a spot, you still have the option of jutting a bit into the sidewalk. Even if you never actually need to do that, knowing that it's an option will probably encourage more use. In the past I've avoided docked bike rentals because my destination only had 2 or 3 spaces left in the docks. Even though I probably would've been able to park, that low level of anxiety someone else in this thread mentioned was enough to convince me to change my plans.

Here's a tweet I saw recently documenting how this actually works out in practice: https://twitter.com/Momifornia1/status/1216478009470767105

And if you'd rather have a scientific study than anecdotal evidence, there is one: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=22047846

If we allocated as much space for scooter storage than we do for car storage, wouldn't scooter parking also be done in officially sanctioned places?

dockless bikes/scooters aren't dumped "wherever"; they are clustered around popular endpoints for rides, which are often also places people will want to start a ride. this can certainly be a nuisance, but it's not random. sometimes it can lead to a better distribution of vehicles than centrally planned docks.

There definitely needs to be infrastructure changes to catch up with the new technology, but as you've highlighted we've allocated valuable space to car parking spots instead of bike/scooters. For dense urban areas it probably makes more sense to allocate multiple parking spots per block as "dockless" parking than it does to have it taken up by a couple of cars

At that point though, I think it makes more sense for the city to operate them as part of a larger urban planning initiative rather than offer it as a subsidy to scooter companies. There's also no guarantee that people riding the scooters will be aware of or use dedicated dockless scooter/bike parking, hence the docks make the most sense for cities looking to optimize space usage.

We have an uber-based docked bike system in my city (Hamilton) and they charge a small fee for undocked parking. The vast majority of SoBi bikes are kept docked, only a handful are left undocked.

That hybrid system seems to work well here.

Honestly, docked "dumb" bikes were a dead-end, but smart gps-enabled bikes and e-scooters are fantastic. The problem is just that they threw out the baby with the bathwater in completely abandoning docks now that they were no longer technologically necessary. They might not be technologically necessary, but having a designated "parking spot" for these vehicles is still useful from a city-planning perspective.

Municipal options would be interesting, but I guess I feel like given how long we've subsidized private car ownership in North America it's fine if we subsidize scooter companies (or scooter owning individuals) instead. In the end they seem like a step in the right direction vs. cars.

Maybe a hybrid system with zones? "We have docks set up every 3 blocks downtown, so you have to dock them there or we charge you an undocked fee - outside of the downtown zone you can just leave them wherever".

The nuisance -> regulation flow is precisely why I became an early adopter and dropped ~$2500 on a fast one .

I wanted to have my fun before the hordes ruin it. If everyone had a scooter that could go over 35mph, it would be chaos.

To those that enjoy hooligan style fun, the time to get an electric scooter is now, before the laws catch up to the reality and make e-kick scooters just another point a to b experience. That said, have the hooligan fun in a way that doesn't accelerate the adoption of laws.

In my city at least, all motorized vehicles are prohibited from riding on the sidewalk and they do write tickets for it (and confiscate the scooter). It seems way less fun when you're sucking exhaust in traffic.

The laws are coming faster in some places than others and the presence of rentals is actually bad in terms of keeping attention on scooters down.

I figured I'd have 1-2 good summers in my current city before the laws caught up. So far they've only kicked us out of the main walking street, which sucks since it's actually perfect for scooters, but whatever. This is one of those moments where I wish I felt like a partner to government rather than a subject.

I haven't been hassled or seen someone hassled for sidewalk riding. I make sure to treat pedestrians like Gods though and opt to get off and walk my scooter before causing chaos, confusion, or even the optics of impatience.

No bike lanes? Something that goes 20-30 seems natural for bike lanes.

Can you recommend a scooter? I'm 6'6" and 260lbs, so I'd want a quality one.

You 100% want something with dual motors.

Look at the full lineup offered by Dualtron, if you'd like top of the line.

I chose the Dualtron Spider, as it was made to be only 44lb while able to go 38mph, do wheelies, has full suspension for the skate park and so on.

If you are willing to deal with more weight, there are other Dualtron options that are probably built a bit better (44lb was a hard limit for legality in Singapore), but the spider is still an amazing machine.

Browsing the electric scooters subreddit is also useful. They link out to this sheet:


Edit: you are actually too heavy for a Dualtron spider, which is specced for 220lb.

Check out ewheels.com. There are lots of interesting options available.

I bought from ehweels and Jason is awesome. They honored the 1 year warranty on my Dualtron Spider.

I think there will still be some niches where scooters make sense. I live in an area adjacent to downtown but not extremely dense (mostly 3-4 story rowhouses). traffic moves slowly because the streets are very narrow and there's never quite enough people on scooters to clog anything. I find scooters are great for going out to pickup takeout. there's also a nice walk I like to take along the waterfront. I usually take a scooter to the beginning of the path (about ten minutes), then walk back in the direction of my apartment. I also live in a rather large building, so there's always a couple scooters sitting by the entrance.

once you actually get into downtown there are just too many people for scooters to work well.

> I find scooters are great for going out to pickup takeout.

Bikes (electric if you insist) would still win though, because in a pinch they can easily be operated with one hand holding stuff. Hand + ass gives noticeably less control than hand + hand + ass, but still much better than hand + hand sans ass. Simple physics actually, the contact points are farther apart and positioned better relative to the center of mass. And with all the luggability advantage of nonelectric scooters relative to bikes lost to weight, the only remaining advantage of electric scooters is packing density. Admittedly am extremely valuable advantage when it comes to the logistics of electric dockless.

(Re-reading what I wrote I wonder if I'm involuntarily advocating for a skateboard as your vehicle for the takeout run)

idk why but I pick the scooter every time for short takeout runs, despite bikes being available also.

it might come down to my riding style. I never "take the lane" riding in traffic. if I hear a car behind me, I just pull off to the side between some parked cars and let them pass. this move feels a lot more awkward on a bike. or maybe it's just an irrational choice, but in the end I prefer the scooters!

ps: I always take a backpack with me to pick up my order, so the whole hand/ass calculus doesn't really come into play :)

I'll opt to ride in the street more often in a downtown area, since traffic is typically slow anyways. At minimum, I'll try to hit up the bike lane.

It does help that my scooter can accelerate up to 20-30mph easily though.

that makes sense. I prefer renting for various reasons. unfortunately this means I ride scooters with an (optimistic) top speed of 15 mph. no way I'm going to try and ride on a four-lane, 30 mph road on one of those things.

Also weather. How can you be a viable business if you have no cashflow for 4-5 months in a year?

There are many, many seasonal businesses. Ski resorts, for instance.

Those basically get run by a skeleton crew during the off season. My dad lived in a town in Alaska that had skiing and hiking tourism as its primary money maker, and he said that during the off season, it becomes a ghost town with only things like grocery/convenience stores and gast stations being the only places that stay running.

A lot of the ski resorts I've been to have mountain biking, golf, and other sports in the off-season, as well as basically doing no maintenance and costing very little money to run outside of the winter months.

"Hello China, can you make me a e-scooter-ski-sled hybrid?"

4-5 months is a bit of an exaggeration in most coastal areas of the US. where I live it still isn't super cold and there are still people out using scooters. the range does suffer a bit at these temperatures, but not enough to make them totally unviable.

Gee, I don't know, ask any other seasonal business how they do it.

I noticed a lot of people using scooters and bikes when I visited Venice Beach in December. There appear to be markets where they're used year round.

If you're Uber, you have other transportation products to offset that in the winter months.

I'm in Canada. I biked to work today. I didn't see a single crumb of snow anywhere.

Food for thought: Just because e-scooters are turning out not to be a unicorn play doesn't mean they are suddenly non-viable as a transportation or venture option. In fact, having the gold rush leave this space could very well open it up to practical -and sustainable- innovation and implementation.

It doesn't sound like she's being forced out, but they also didn't mention a replacement. Is that the reason for all the dismal comments?

Taken in the context of Uber, Lyft and Lime scaling back their markets due to low demand, it's becoming pretty obvious that the market for this is a lot harder and smaller than originally thought.

She was there for 8.5 years, probably just wanted to do something else.

I remember when Segways came out, and I thought "This is stupid." Outside of airport and mall security, they are nary to be found.

When e-scooter-shares came out, I thought "This is stupid."

In the last several years, I've been to dozens of cities. Never saw anyone taking an e-scooter.

Haven't heard anything about Uber's 'self-driving' cars recently. Another total was of money.

I think they make a ton of sense in certain areas. I was at a convention in San Diego a little while back and e-scooters seemed like the official mode of transit. It was a bit annoying since they were hobbled by the convention center to a dangerously slow speed (something like 8mph when you're riding in an unprotected bike lane) but to be able to walk out of your hotel, hop on a scooter and take it 10 or 15 blocks to get to the convention center, then grab another one and take it 5 blocks to lunch, then a different one to go the 20 blocks to the USS Midway all for a few dollars was awesome.

I was just at SD for Kubecon. Didn't see anyone riding a scooter to or from the convention center or anywhere else down town.

Interesting.. My trip was in July/August so I wonder if it's fallen off that much in the winter or just due to waning popularity.

Part of that November week was pretty nice weather. (There was also a lot of rain at least one day.) I agree that, if I saw any escooters, they certainly weren't out in any noteworthy numbers.

I do know one other city where there were lots of them when they were first introduced and six months later they seemed to be much less common.

There was one rainy like the 3rd or 4th day I was there. Otherwise it was in the upper 70's lower 80's. San Diego is known for it's year-round great weather.

San Diego actually passed an ordinance requiring scooters to geofence speed limits of 8MPH in many areas. See https://www.kpbs.org/news/2019/jul/01/dockless-scooter-regul...

It's a great idea and they should absolutely expand this regulation to cars.

Not sure why you were downvoted, the geofencing was necessary because of the beach boardwalks which lead to at least one death: https://www.kpbs.org/news/2019/jun/24/man-dies-san-diego-boa...

Also - last week Lime announced they were pulling out of SD: https://www.kpbs.org/news/2020/jan/09/no-more-lime-scooters-...

I think 15mph makes a lot more sense having ridden at 8mph.. the Scooter is barely stable at that speed, but yeah limiting cars to a speed that's more like 2-3x that rather than 5x would make the slow speed much more safe.

Many of the areas that were governed to 8mph were very popular boardwalks, after many people were injured and an older guy was hit and died. The convention center is more nuanced, because lots of it is heavy traffic street. But there is no reason a scooter needs to go even 8mph on the boardwalk, imo. Often times people are on them in groups bombing by you, and if you're trying to just go on a walk and enjoy the beach with kids or dogs its kind of lame.

If it's being used to commute, you can go literally 60 feet inland and go as fast as you want.

Maybe I was just in an unfortunate spot, but much of my journey from my hotel to the convention center was limited to the low speed. Would require multi-block detours to get to full speed. I agree the boardwalk makes sense at 8mph (or anywhere that there's mixed pedestrian traffic), but whatever that main road is had the restricted speeds too which felt too onerous with the much higher speed traffic along side.

I was in Paris last summer: e-scotters rentals are everywhere (we used them). In Boston they're all over neighboring city brookline (In the morning I see them parked on the bridge to Boston where they're not allowed). People use bike shares all over the Boston area (I see them often on my bike rides). I think these going to be popular.

Segways continue to be silly..

It seems to be very uneven depending on the city. Combination of infrastructure, regulations, geography, weather, maybe even culture, etc. I was in Lyon a few months back and they were everywhere. On the other hand, another city I visit fairly regularly rolled them out last year. There were a fair number at first (and the escooters scattered all over the sidewalks). Last couple times I was there saw a lot fewer and very few riders.

E-scooters instantly dominated the market share of shared micromobility when they debuted in the USA in 2018. https://usa.streetsblog.org/wp-content/uploads/sites/5/2019/...

Really disappointed to click on the article and see that her official job title was "VP & Head of New Mobility". "Chief of Scooters" sounds way more fun.

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