San Francisco has been host to a ‘scooter saga’ for the last few weeks as several companies (that originally started in other cities) have started ‘dropping’ a big number of scooter rentals that come without a docking station on San Francisco‘s streets. So far, the process is entirely unregulated and some startups (like Bird) found themselves hit with criminal complaints in Santa Barbara before. However, everyone is taking the Uber approach and tries to build a user base who love the product and then ask for forgiveness with city lawmakers and throw money at fines instead of waiting it out.
I have grouped the 3 companies together in one review because the services are almost indistinguishable, with a very similar-looking app, the same electric scooter model, and identical pricing.
Table of Contents
Bird Scooter Review
Bird has been most successful in starting dockless scooter rental services in three cities (Santa Barbara, Austin, and San Francisco) and has raised more than $120 million despite its young age of under one year.
I found the download and sign-up to be very easy with Bird. No credit card is required to get started. Available scooters are easily spotted in the app – however, unlike JUMP, you can’t reserve a scooter – you have to actually walk by to start a rental.
Once you have located a scooter, you just scan the QR code on the handlebar and add your credit card details and driver’s license to the app (yes, all scooters require a valid driver’s license to ride). It’s an easy process but you need to have your ID handy (I could not find a way to add my ID without starting a rental).
You will see a number more scooters parked on the sidewalks that don’t show on the map – that’s usually because of a low battery or an operational issue. However, Bird scooters that were on the map always seemed ready for a rental.
Even if you haven’t been on a scooter since your childhood (like me!) you will be able to ride within minutes. The balance is easy to keep and the scooter accelerates using a small button near your thumb. Acceleration is quick (not as quick as JUMP bikes though). You can reach up to 20 mph and this should already be enough indication that you should not ride on sidewalks when using the electric motor. Even for many bicycle lanes, you are too fast – indeed, I felt right at home on the small urban streets of San Francisco. At speeds of 20 mph and with fast acceleration, it’s more car-like than a child’s toy. You have to be 18 and have a driver’s license to operate the scooters.
Bird prices their scooters at $1 per unlock and 15 cents per minute. A 30-minute ride will come out as $5.50 – that’s what you would likely pay in an Uber/Uber Pool ride but boy, riding these scooters is so much more fun!
Scooters are available until late at night. All scooters that are in need of repair or charging are collected by the company and then redeployed the next day.
Spin Scooter Review
Spin runs an almost indistinguishable service from Bird in San Francisco. In fact, the company was launched last year to start a bike rental service similar to JUMP but soon got into the ‘scooter game’.
Download and sign-up are very simple and fast. I found it easy to use and the app responsive.
To start your first rental, you just need a credit card – no driver’s license is required, though the app mentions this as a requirement to ride.
There are a lot of Spin scooters on the streets of San Francisco and you’ll spot one quickly. However, many scooters that you see in real life and on the map can’t be unlocked. You drop by/scan the code in the app and wait and wait and wait.
In several instances, a scooter was visible on the map but was nowhere to be found.
I suspected that someone just took it into their private residence to ‘secure’ an available scooter for the next rental or maybe they were charging it?
If you find a Spin scooter that actually works, the experience is very much like Bird scooters. The electric motor seems a bit slower on the hills but fast in a straight line but this could also be due to the individual scooter’s parameters.
The pricing model is exactly the same, at $1 to unlock and 15 cents per minute. Expect about 40-50 miles of range for a fully-charged scooter in the best available cases.
All Spin scooters are de-activated and collected by the company after sunset.
LimeBike Scooter Review
LimeBike, as the name suggests, started as a bike rental service and quickly adopted the scooter rentals. The equipment is (seemingly) identical to their competitors.
Download and sign-up are quick and simple. No driver’s license needs to be scanned (though the app indicates it is required to ride a scooter).
I had the most trouble with Lime scooters not being able to unlock. They show on the map and they are usually easy to spot but the unlock process gives you errors. It can be frustrating to walk a few blocks, having to scan half a dozen barcodes and waiting 20 minutes and still have no scooter to rent. I found this very frustrating but demand can be intense on weekends and LimeBike scooters are the only ones that even have (phantom) availability.
Again, there’s no difference in pricing, at $1 to unlock and 15 cents per minute. I have yet to find a working Lime scooter (though I see plenty of people riding on the green scooters throughout town).
Scooter Rentals – Is it a fad?
These little scooters used by the companies cost between $300 and $500 and the companies need to organize pick-up and drop-off. Scooters can easily earn $15-$20 per day on one charge, making it a potentially huge and quick return for the companies. Users are generally happy with performance and excited to ride an electric vehicle and not be stuck in an Uber Pool with strangers.
Nevertheless, it remains to be seen if it is more than a popular fad. City administrations hate scooters, as they ‘litter’ sidewalks. Theft and vandalism are a huge risk and there is no insurance policy defined for damaging a scooter or injuring a third party.
Scooters are especially dangerous in the dark, when it rains or when there is snow on the ground (the latter is not likely in SF but still).
If it persists, it can be the driverless car Uber was dreaming about, for many distances under 2-3 miles in urban environments. Plus it is clean and largely noise-free.