The City of Minneapolis recently approved agreements with two electric scooter operators, Bird and Lyft, under the Nice Ride nonprofit banner. Under the agreements, the two operators can each deploy 1,250 scooters, with a cap on scooters in Downtown. They also require a minimum number of scooters to be available in areas lacking last-mile transit options, like North Minneapolis.
On Sunday, I tested out Bird’s new scooters that appears to be new in Minneapolis. All the new scooters include locking cables and riders are required to lock their scooters to a bike rack or municipal post (e.g. a parking sign).
I could not test the Lyft scooters because there doesn’t seem to be a way to rent them in either the Lyft or Nice Ride apps. I also checked the Nice Ride Minnesota web site, but there was no mention of scooters yet. This would make sense given that I have not seen anybody riding the pink electric wheels.
For those familiar with riding electric scooters, the basics are the same. The rider kicks off to get started and presses the thumb throttle to accelerate to about 11-13 miles per hour. These scooters are noticeably slower than in years past, and I saw some riders having difficulty getting started because of the anemic acceleration.
After agreeing to all the new terms and completing my first ride, I locked up my scooter with the attached cable lock at my coffee shop destination. I tried to then unlock the scooter using the advertised Bluetooth feature that acts as a key so you don’t have to open your phone. This didn’t work, but that could have been because of my phone’s Bluetooth security settings. Ideally, it would be nice to have a “card” in your phone’s digital wallet that would unlock scooters simply by tapping them, similar to how transit passes work in New York. We may be getting close, but we’re not there yet.
Now, here comes the bad news. The electric scooters are really expensive. My 6-minute ride cost $3.75 with tax. There is the same $1.00 fee to unlock, but the per-minute charge has increased from $0.15 to $0.39 per minute, plus tax (which includes a $0.15 Minneapolis special fee for scooters. We will see if Lyft and Nice Ride offer lower pricing, or affordable options through Nice Ride For All, the operator’s equity program. But for now, they are essentially a cheap thrill ride on the electric merry-go-round.
So what’s the future of electric scooters? If this is the present, unaffordable and slow, then I have high doubts about a future for rentals. Maybe scooter rentals is one of those markets where it takes huge losses to build ridership, but that’s never sustainable because raising prices to become profitable drives ridership off a cliff. That’s what essentially happened — in part — with Car2Go in Minneapolis.
If you successfully complete an electric scooter trip with Lyft, be sure to share some photos and a screen shot of your receipt in the comments. We would love to see what Lyft’s pricing model is and your experience with the scooter.
What are your wheels? How fast can you go on a Bird? Share your anecdotes and anxieties in the comments.