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cityscape

Public Works: Scooter-Share Promotes Clean, Affordable City Driving

In San Francisco, electric scooters are the latest vehicles to get the rideshare treatment.

Public Works looks at public space, urban design, and city-building innovations from around the world, and considers what Toronto might learn from them.

It’s in all those classic European scenes: the dashing couple exits a café and zips into the night on their motorized scooters. These little vehicles are continental, easy to manoeuvre through city streets, and, it turns out, a cheap and environmentally friendly way to get around. And thanks to Scoot Networks, a San Francisco rideshare program for electric scooters, they are more convenient and accessible than ever for beginner and expert riders alike.

Since launching in September 2012, Scoot Networks has built a fleet of nearly 50 scooters spread across 17 garages around San Francisco. After paying a $10 signup fee, users can choose between three membership plans, which range in price from $29 per month for frequent riders, to a pay-as-you-go option for one-time or infrequent use. All plans come with a helmet, liability insurance, and mandatory training on how exactly to ride a Scoot scooter.

A special app for Android or iPhone activates your Scoot, tracks scooter locations, and gives you access to maps, user instructions, and your scooter’s battery levels. Any San Franciscan over 21 with a regular driver’s licence and a smartphone can adopt a Scoot for up to 48 hours.

It’s a bit like the autoshare programs we already have here in Toronto—but these scooters have some definite advantages over cars. Scoots can reach speeds of up to 48 km/h on city roads while using less power than a household toaster. Even taking into account the emissions of the power plants that generate the electricity used to charge them, Scoots produce just 2 per cent of the CO2 per mile that a car does.

Not that there aren’t drawbacks: Scoots aren’t designed for freeways or large bridges, which means users can’t go beyond the San Francisco city limits. And maybe that’s all right—anyone trying to get to an Oakland Raiders game probably wants something a bit more… aggressive. The greater inconvenience is that the Scoots travel only 16 to 24 km on a fully charged battery, and charging can take nearly five hours. Those riders looking for more freedom to travel greater distances will have to wait for Scoot Networks to roll out its anticipated Super Scoots—electric motorcycles with a top speed of nearly 97 km/h and a battery that, with seven hours of charging, can travel nearly 130 city miles.

Also on the horizon for Scoot Networks is expansion into several more American cities later this year. Could a scooter-sharing program work in Toronto? Well, on a basic practical level, you gotta figure that if these little buggers can take the hills of San Francisco, they can take anything.

But, from a business standpoint, it might be dicey. Canadians haven’t exactly embraced rideshare in the past. The Montreal-based Bixi bike-sharing company filed for bankruptcy protection in January. Toronto’s Bixi program will be taken over by the Toronto Parking Authority on April 1, but for the rest of the Bixi empire, the future is uncertain.

Then again, scooters aren’t bikes; you don’t have to be in shape, or even particularly mobile, to ride one. Why, even the terrifying streets of Rome are teeming with 80-year-old nonnas carrying shopping home in the baskets of their Vespas.

So hang in there, all you aspiring scooter-ers. Affordable, eco-friendly Scoots may one day be right at your door. Until then, be sure to work on your nonchalant riding style.

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