Depending on who you ask, the electric, internet-connected scooters appearing all over California are either the future of transportation or a public nuisance on par with a biblical plague.
Over the past few weeks, scooters primarily from three startups—Bird, LimeBike, and Spin—have flooded the streets of greater Los Angeles and San Francisco. The companies, which have collectively raised $255 million from venture capitalists, believe scooters are the next step toward a multimodal future, in which the typical person doesn’t own a car, but cobbles together shared rides, bikes, public transit, and, yes, scooters, to get around.
There are three main companies dumping scooters in California.
Bird, based in Santa Monica, was founded in 2017 by Travis VanderZanden, a former chief operating officer at Lyft who left for Uber and was sued for allegedly stealing confidential information. Bird has raised $115 million from investors that include New York-based Tusk Ventures. The service launched in September in Santa Monica, just outside Los Angeles, and promptly ran afoul of local regulations. (VanderZanden reportedly alerted Santa Monica’s mayor to the scooter deployment via LinkedIn message.) VanderZanden has compared Bird to revolutionary technologies such as electric cars, autonomous vehicles, and the jet engine.
LimeBike is a San Francisco-based dockless bike and scooter company. It started in July 2017 with 500 bicycles in Seattle and has since expanded to many other US cities. LimeBike has scooters in cities including San Francisco; San Diego; Washington DC; and Austin, Texas. Its three co-founders have backgrounds at Pepsi, Square, Facebook, and Tencent, and it signed on NFL star Marshawn Lynch as a sponsor. LimeBike has raised $132 million from investors that include Andreessen Horowitz. It has deployed more than 35,000 bikes and scooters across the US since June.
Spin, like LimeBike, is a San Francisco-based dockless bike and scooter company. It was founded in 2016 and operates in dozens of cities and college campuses. Its three co-founders, who worked at Lyft and Y Combinator, have raised about $8 million.
How do the scooters work?
Internet-connected scooters are managed through smartphone apps. With Bird, for example, you open the app to see a map of nearby available scooters, from which you can select one, scan a QR code on the scooter, tap “unlock” in the app, and start your ride. Once you’ve scooted to your destination—Bird says most rides are less than 2 miles—you lock the scooter up again. Some companies track their scooters’ entire rides using built-in GPS trackers, while others use your phone’s GPS to keep tabs on scooter pickup and drop-off locations.
Where are scooters available?
San Francisco seems to be bearing the brunt of the scooter craze, but they’re actually all over.
LimeBike launched in Seattle, but now has bikes or scooters in dozens of locations across the US, as well as in Germany and Switzerland. It also operates on about 20 college campuses, including the universities of Notre Dame, Georgetown, and Duke.
Spin’s website says that it’s in 18 US cities, and provides a map showing bikes and scooters in California, Colorado, Arizona, Texas, Florida, and a few others. It too is on college campuses, including Duke, La Salle, the University of Washington, and Wesleyan.
Bird is predominantly in the San Francisco Bay Area, and doesn’t list out where its scooters are located. But according to the company’s Instagram, it has bikes in Los Angeles, San Diego, Austin, Texas, and Washington DC.