If you’ve always wanted to be part of a scooter gang (Heck’s Angels, anyone?) but don’t want to invest in a scooter, we’ve got great news: The Zipcar of electric scooters is about to be unleashed.
Scoot Networks, a startup that emerged from the Greenstart cleantech accelerator, launched this week with the aim of bringing the joys of zipping around on a scooter to the masses. "We were looking at collaborative consumption and electric vehicles, and hit on the opportunity of using these affordable and efficient electric scooters in a European-style bike sharing system, and adding to that all the smarts and technology you find in Silicon Valley," explains CEO Michael Keating.
The system, which is being rolled out to San Francisco-based companies for private fleets, lets users locate nearby scooters with their smartphone and claim the one they want (as with Zipcar, each scooter lives at a certain location). After it’s docked into the scooter, the phone unlocks the vehicle and acts like a virtual dashboard, providing a map as well as information on speed and range. The scooters have a top speed of 30 MPH and a range of 20 to 30 miles—enough to go roundtrip from any one point in San Francisco to any other point. They charge up once they’re returned to their parking spots. For now, users have to return the scooters to their original location. Once the service scales up, Scoot expects that users will be able to make one-way trips and drop the vehicles off at more convenient spots.
Once the corporate clients test out Scoot Networks, it will start to deploy scooters for public use at public transit stops. And after that, it will be rolled out widely across the city. The service will have 20 networked scooters by April and if all goes well, hundreds by the end of the year.
Heavy users will pay a monthly fee that costs about as much as a Muni pass ($62) plus a few cab rides. Occasional users will get a single-use rate that competes aggressively on price with cabs.
While California residents have to get a moped endorsement on their driver’s license to operate a scooter that they own, riding a rented scooter doesn’t require any special certification. Still, Scoot plans to offer training for new riders.
Keating isn’t too worried about having to maintain a large fleet of scooters. Scoot imports its scooters from China, which manufactures about 10 million of the electric vehicles each year, almost all of which are snapped up by its scooter-crazed emerging middle class. That volume of production allows the service to pay less than $1,000 for each vehicle.
"We’re able to take advantage of the huge investment China has made in electric vehicles," says Keating. As a result, Scoot expects that it will simply turn over its fleet every year—perhaps not the most sustainable option, but one that will ensure customers don’t have to worry about faltering vehicles.
Scoot chose San Francisco as its launch city for a variety of reasons: There’s a lot of transportation innovation happening in the city, taxis are expensive and hard to find, the hilliness of the city can make it difficult to bike, traffic makes it hard to drive, and public transport is lacking. If the service succeeds in the Bay Area, it will expand to other cities across the U.S. "[Scooters] are the cheapest form of motorized transportation in the world," says Keating. "We would like to see this go everywhere."