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    A One-Day Quest to Try All Shared Scooters and Bikes Available in SF

    By Louise “Lou” Fischer–

    If you live or work in San Francisco, you’ve probably encountered the latest so-called scourge on our sidewalks. Not just open drug use, discarded syringes, or piles of garbage; according to our City leaders, the latest plague upon our City comes equipped with 2 wheels—dreaded electric scooters and dockless bicycles.

    In San Francisco, the cycle of technological innovation is as follows: well-funded startup company moves fast and doesn’t wait for permission, which leads to unintended consequences that result in shock and outrage and the inevitable over-reaction by lawmakers. At least this time, we got the cycle down to 2 weeks; it took over a year with Uber and Lyft and a good 2–3 years with Airbnb.

    So, what is #Scootergate? In mid-March, three electric scooter companies—Bird, Spin and LimeBike—legally exploited a giant loophole and placed approximately 4000 battery-powered scooters around San Francisco to provide a convenient way for people to move efficiently through the City. Controversy ensued between scooter-riders and scooter-haters. In response, the Board of Supervisors enacted legislation to create a permit system with a cap on the number of scooters (500 per company, maximum of 2500). Anti-scooter activists applauded the regulations; pro-scooter folks shrugged.

    I am an electric scooter aficionado. I still have my clunky Zappy Classic from 20 years ago and I ride a Citybug2 to work on days that I don’t ride my bike. Scooters and shared bicycles are good for San Francisco. They don’t create more traffic or spew emissions, they are easy to use, pretty cheap and are more convenient and reliable than Muni. Recent studies showed that Uber and Lyft account for an extra 45,000 cars per day in San Francisco. Last week, when I drove to work to return a company car, it felt like all 45,000 of those cars were clogging my route. It is not supposed to take 46 minutes to drive 3 miles.

    I decided to do a one-day quest and try all shared scooters and bicycles available in San Francisco: Lime, Spin, Bird, JumpBike and Ford GoBike. Armed with a notebook, bike helmet, cell phone and 2 portable cell phone chargers (the apps use GPS, which is a battery killer), I set out to “tag team” from one scooter or bicycle to another. The goal was to measure the convenience factor: are there enough available and are they easy to find?

    I started with Lime. Their scooter was designed in-house and is considered more reliable, however, the one I found had a loose throttle that wouldn’t engage. I figured I’d roll it to my garage and fix it. I didn’t want to “unlock” it and pay the $0.15 per minute, but when I moved it, a disembodied voice from the onboard speaker boomed, “Please don’t walk me or I’ll call the Police.” Yeah, like the SFPD is going to rush out to arrest me, but I guess it discourages theft.

    I ended up paying Lime an extra buck while I repaired their scooter (you’re welcome, Lime). In general, the scooter is robust and well-built. The app says how much range is available. Mine said 18 miles, which might be the range on the moon with no gravity or atmosphere, but certainly not in San Francisco. After about 2 miles, I got a “low scooter battery” notification on my phone, so maybe the 18 miles is a logarithmic measurement, but I live in the linear world. I rode the scooter to Noe Valley for the next leg of my trip with a Ford Bike.

    I’m not a fan of the Ford Bikes, but I’m a stickler for the experimental process and wanted to test all variables. Unless you live or work near one dock and your destination is near another dock, you’re out of luck. Currently there are 262 Ford GoBike stations in SF (farewell to 524+ parking spaces!) with approximately 2600 bikes. Ford intends to increase that to 540 stations with 7000 bikes. People love these bikes, I see them all over town, but I think they suck. They are heavy, the interface is terrible and the electric bike I rented died after 10 blocks, which derailed my plan of tag-teaming from one mode of transportation directly to another. I wanted an electric bike to ride up the steep hills of Noe Valley, but I ended up returning it to the same dock—thanks for nothing, Ford.

    I spent a frustrating 30 minutes looking for another vehicle. The free “Transit” app includes all shared services, but it’s not accurate, so you still have to use the individual companies’ apps, which again are huge battery drains, so bring a charger. I found a JumpBike, but it was “out of service.” I located a Bird scooter, but someone else grabbed it before I could. JumpBike has a system to reserve a bike in advance, but none of the scooters companies do.

    When I finally found a Bird, I “unlocked” it, scanned my driver’s license (Bird and Spin require a license), but the scooter was broken. Someone had cut the throttle cable, so while the battery had 95% capacity, it wasn’t going anywhere. Come on, people. Don’t vandalize! I reported the damaged scooter and was refunded $1.60. At least the refund came quickly.

    I was stranded and the only vehicles I could find were Lime scooters. I deviated from my “no repeats” plan and took one to Dolores Park to rent a JumpBike. The first few I tried to rent were “reserved.” That function sure comes in handy for other people. I finally found one and set off for Duboce Park.

    JumpBikes are great: only $2 for 30 minutes—scooters are $1 to start and $0.15 per minute, so $9–10 per hour—and the electric assist kicks in when you pedal and makes mincemeat of our San Francisco hills. After 8 minutes I arrived at my destination, but since I paid for 30 minutes and enjoyed the bike so much, I decided to ride until I used up all the time. I ended the ride in the Upper Haight and used the included U-bolt to lock the bike to a rack. It’s a great design. You’re not restricted to docking stations and the bike must be locked to something (rack, pole, parking meter) so it keeps the bikes from being dumped haphazardly.

    I purposely parked near 2 Bird scooters, but the previous users chose to stop for pizza and not “end” their ride, so I couldn’t “unlock” them in the app (millennials, sheesh). At this point I wanted either a Bird or a Spin, but all I could find were Lime scooters, so I took one to an area that showed 2 Bird scooters. Either Bird has a problem with their scooter-to-GPS interface or the 2 Birds were stashed inside a building (which is getting common, I hear). I went up and down the same block 10 times and never found either Bird, so I continued on my trusty Lime scooter.

    I finally found my “white whale” Spin scooter in the Castro. The Spin interface required advanced loading of $5.00 instead of “pay as you go”—I’ll never get that money back because I’m more likely to find the actual white whale, Moby Dick, than another Spin scooter anytime soon. Spin has a very small footprint that is poorly delineated in the app. I had picked up the unit outside the area and subsequently returned it out-of-area. When I got home I had an email from Spin asking me to return the scooter to the service area … oops.

    To finish my quest, I needed a Bird. I found one in the Mission that had 39% of battery capacity remaining. I thought that would be enough to get me home to Bernal Heights. Nope, but it did get me to another Bird that I used to get all the way home.

    In summary, JumpBike beats FordBike. In the scooter world, Lime wins the “overall” award for design, ease of use, availability and features, but I have to give an honorable mention to Spin; the scooter I had was pretty zippy.

    If you are a rider, use the bike lanes or the side of the road. Don’t ride on the sidewalk. No one wants to get mowed down by a careless rider. Wear a helmet, put your toys away and be kind to pedestrians. If you are not a rider, don’t hate us. We’re reducing the number of cars in the City. Let’s try to get along.

    Louise “Lou” Fischer is the Immediate Past Co-Chair of the Board of Directors for the Alice B. Toklas LGBT Democratic Club and has served as an appointed and elected Delegate for the State Democratic Party. She is a San Francisco Commissioner and has served in leadership positions in multiple non-profit and community-based organizations.