Yesterday, I was in downtown San Jose in a crowd of 10s of thousands of people going home after a day of TwitchCon. I had gotten a ride to the event, and figured I'd probably uber home, but traffic was at gridlock and rideshares were scarce. Enter these two new scooter rental services, they are clever: surrounding the convention center, they had hundreds of their scooters available and fully charged, making their service the easiest way to get out of the area.

my noble steed

If you have not heard, the latest craze in App-based rental are scooters. Two start-ups, Bird and Lime, have entered San Jose's consciousness by leaving dozens of their scooters parked all over street corners and shopping centers, ready for anyone to walk up and ride them off. Your, my, and everyone's first thought is "why don't people just steal them?", which they do, and I'm sure Bird and Lime account for fleet shrinkage over time. But each scooter is tracked by GPS and constantly reporting in home, so the scooter won't work without the App, and the company will know I've got it. So short of some organized crime ring targeting rental scooters, I don't see theft being a major issue long term.

how it works

I had no idea how the scooter worked until I got on it yesterday. I had done no research.

First, you install the App, which of course wants you to make an account. It does let you see scooter locations before entering payment info, which is nice, but of course to go further you'll need to proffer up money. The rate is $1 to start and then $0.15/minute. (I'm guessing rates will increase as services go into their next phase, but as for now this price is extremely cheap – my ride home was only $5.35.) On my phone, the App requests location services (to know where you are), access to the camera (to start and end rides), and the ability to send notifications (not sure why). In addition to device access, the service also wanted a copy of my Driver's License, a guarantee that I'm actually the person riding, and me to acknowledge their terms and services (which I studied in detail while standing on the sidewalk next to a crowded convention center /s). They also recommend wearing a helmet, since, you know, I always carry one of those around with me.

You start the ride by finding a scooter, hitting the "unlock" button in App, and scanning the QR code on the scooter. Now the scooter is yours! You are free like the wind to take to the streets! Or, at least, the bike lanes. You're supposed to stay off of sidewalks and obey all traffic laws, which is difficult in downtown San Jose, but actually becomes possible as you head into Santa Clara.

To get the scooter moving, you kick a few times to get moving, and then push the "GO" button on the handlebars. The electric assist kicks in, and whoosh! You're traveling along at a zipping 15mph! Downhill you go faster, and uphill I had to kick a little to assist, but then I'm gigantic, so maybe that won't be everyone's experiences. I tried riding with my front knee slightly bent, but that did not feel good on my leg, so I switched to riding knee locked and keeping myself straight up and tall, and that was by far the most comfortable way to ride.

I dodged in and out of traffic, stayed off of major boulevards, ducked underneath low-hanging trees, and jogged around obstructions. To match the "GO" button, there's a "STOP" button on the other handle bar, which slows you down, but isn't a brake. For braking, there's a kick brake on the back wheel. The dual ways to slow down is the least intuitive part of riding, but being a scooter, I just dropped my foot onto the ground to stop, so whatever.

screenshot of my ride summary

All in all, the scooter took me four miles in thirty minutes for five and a half bucks. Plus it was fun to ride. To end the ride, you hit the "lock" button in App, park the scooter somewhere visible and accessible to the street, and take a photo of the scooter to prove... something. That completes the transaction, and then you just leave the scooter there for someone else to deal with.

As far as range goes, again this probably varies with rider size, but for me, a four mile ride drained the battery 40%, so I wouldn't expect more than 8 or 10 miles on a fully-charged scooter. But if your battery runs down you can just end your ride and leave the scooter wherever.

final thoughts

I picked Bird over Lime just at chance, the two services seem very similar. I was impressed. I'm looking forward to riding one of these again, and disappointed that I'm not in their vicinity very often. I wasn't expecting to like riding these scooters, but I was wrong. Even if these services don't last, and the scooters go away, I could always go out and buy my own electric scooter.