Why We Need Electric Cars Now

By Steve Schaefer

Taking delivery of my Chevrolet Bolt EV in January 2017.

This post talks about electric cars, the climate crisis, and actions we all can take to help solve it, including driving electric vehicles (EVs).

A Quick EV History

The Nissan LEAF paved the way in 2010.

The first mainstream EVs in the U.S appeared a decade ago, as the all-electric Nissan LEAF and the Chevrolet Volt plug-in hybrid. Today, major companies, including GM, Ford, Volkswagen, Hyundai/Kia, and Mercedes-Benz, are proudly announcing their upcoming models (while continuing to sell lots of internal combustion vehicles).  

EV sales, juiced by Tesla’s success, are increasing every year, but still represent a small percentage of the market. Tesla, of course, sells only EVs. Many countries (and even some states) are passing legislation to support the phasing out of gasoline-powered cars in the next 10-15 years.

EV Benefits and Challenges

Electric cars have a lot to offer. They are smooth and quiet. Electric motors deliver all of their torque the moment they are working, so acceleration is amazing, and the low center of gravity from the battery pack helps them handle well.

Electric drivetrains contain a lot fewer parts, so there is much less to go wrong, and routine service is minimal (forget oil changes, tune-ups, radiator flushes, and even brake pad replacement thanks to regenerative braking).

EVs have no tailpipe emissions, but are not 100 percent clean, of course, because like all cars, their production uses energy from various sources. Some companies, including GM, are working to use renewable energy in their vehicle production. Some of the materials for today’s EV batteries must be mined, sometimes in dangerous and unsustainable ways. This issue must be addressed and solved.

There can be some inconveniences. EVs take longer to charge, and there are fewer places to charge them today than there are gas stations. Although the charging networks are expanding, this uncertainty can create “range anxiety,” although most people hardly ever drive more than about 40 miles a day, and modern EVs feature more than 200 miles of range. The ideal place to charge your EV is at home, but some people live in apartments. Some workplaces provide charging, as well. The charging network is being built out and should not be much of an issue at some point in the future.

Right now, there are fewer category and style choices in EVs than there are in the overall market. However, that will change over the next few years, as more companies roll out a range of attractive and powerful models. There are a number of affordable choices today, such as the Kia Niro, Chevrolet Bolt and the second-generation Nissan LEAF. On the luxury side, you can get an electric Porsche (Taycan), Jaguar (i-Pace) and Audi (eTron) now. Mercedes-Benz and BMW have exciting EV models on their way. There are many more.

The second-hand EV market is filled with bargains, if you’re willing to drive a car with a shorter range. Three-year-old vehicles can change hands at a fraction of their initial price. I picked up my pristine three-year-old Fiat 500e, with 25,000 miles on it, for less than a third of its original 2017 retail price. However, its range is only 90 miles, which means I can’t use it for long trips. These older EVs make great commuter shuttles and second cars.

My Fiat 500e has a 90-mile range, so it doesn’t go on long trips.

Some brands now sell or plan to offer plug-in hybrids, which have an electric motor and a gasoline engine too. Unlike regular hybrids, plug-in hybrids can serve as pure electric vehicles for a limited range, say 20-50 miles, depending on battery size. Plug-in hybrids are not as clean and quiet as EVs, but will be helpful transition vehicles as we move to an all-EV world someday. When the fast charging network is built out and minimum vehicle range starts at 250-300 miles, plug-in hybrids will no longer be needed.

Today, electric cars usually cost more than equivalent gasoline vehicles. This is mainly because of the high price of their batteries. However, EVs cost significantly less to operate, so there is a break-even point at which they become less expensive to run than petrol-fed models. So, you have to consider total cost of ownership when you examine the numbers. And sale/lease prices are likely to drop over the next few years as battery costs are reduced, until they reach purchase price parity with gasoline vehicles in mid-decade. At that point, with lower maintenance costs, EVs will be the better deal.

But the most important reason you should drive an electric vehicle is to help fight climate change.

Climate Change

Image courtesy of the Climate Reality Project

Our planet is heating up. There may be some disagreement or confusion in the general population about what’s causing it and what we can or should do about it—and there are some climate deniers, too. But among trained scientists, it there is virtual unanimity about the cause—us—and the urgency of acting quickly. The United Nations’ IPCC Report clearly states how we must all work to limit global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) to avoid the worst crises. The Paris Agreement of 2015 was held to commit all countries on a path toward achieving that goal.  

Climate change is actually not news, because experts have known about it for decades and have spoken out. But we haven’t listened or done much about it. Now, scientists say that we have about 10 years to get it handled or it could spiral out of control.

How did this happen? With a population rapidly approaching 8 billion, human activities are now substantial enough to change the planet. Every day, we spew about 110 million tons of manmade global warming pollution into our atmosphere. It comes from various sources, but the major one is the burning of fossil fuels. The atmosphere is only a very thin shell around the earth. As more CO2 accumulates, the atmosphere traps more heat, causing global warming. The science is unambiguous on this.

So, what does it matter how warm the planet is? The problem with the earth heating up is that it disrupts the stable conditions we’ve lived with for the last 10,000 years or so. Global average temperatures have climbed significantly over the last 40 years. Scientists are concerned that we could eventually have some areas of the earth that are uninhabitable, and the people who have to leave there will create refugee crises.

One visible issue with global warming is the melting of glaciers, especially in the polar regions, where temperatures have risen alarmingly. The water from this melt will raise sea levels worldwide, flooding coastal cities.

Someone could ask, “so what do a couple of degrees matter?” Think of it like when a person is sick and has a fever. Even a couple of degrees of difference upsets the body’s processes, and if a fever is too high, death occurs.

Climate disruption also means that global air flows, such as the jet stream, slow down and get a little out of whack, for example, allowing cold air to move from the Arctic into places that are normally not frozen, like the middle of the U.S. Conversely, the Arctic gets 100-degree temperatures, speeding the melting of polar ice.

The oceans are absorbing a lot of the excess heat, and the warmer air above them holds more moisture. This leads to bigger, stronger storms. A lack of rain in the western U.S. causes draughts, so there are more dead trees, which along with rising temperatures, increases wildfires, as we’ve seen in the last few years. 2020 has already been disastrous, and the fire season isn’t over yet.

Disruption is insidious. What if the worms are ready before the birds arrive to eat them? What if the conditions for laying eggs are ideal before or after the turtles arrive? What if warmer temperatures send deadly virus-carrying mosquitos from equatorial areas to temperate regions where the population centers are? And because nature is an ecosystem, a disruption in one area affects many others. It’s all been predicted and is now beginning to happen. Scary.

The complex interactions of nature can’t be explained in a few paragraphs, but the experts who spend their lives studying the natural world and climate science are telling us that we must change our ways now to prevent the planet from accelerating its warming and becoming irreversible. The earth has a great capacity for regeneration, but we are overwhelming its ability to heal itself.

Green Transportation Is an Important Part of the Answer

Image courtesy of the Climate Reality Project

Transportation contributes the largest portion of CO2 to our atmosphere—38 percent in California, where I’m located. There are many other causes, including the production of fossil fuels and burning it to generate electricity. Buildings and agriculture make a significant contribution, too. We need new homes and commercial buildings to be much greener, without burning fossil fuels, and to retrofit the old ones for much greater efficiency. All of this creates many good jobs in a green economy.

To generate clean electricity to power the electric fleets of the future, we need to stop burning coal now and move off of natural gas, too. We need to replace it with solar, wind, and other sustainable technologies. This is doable today, but change is very hard. An encouraging fact is that EVs gets cleaner and cleaner as the energy to power them does. Feeding your EV from solar panels on your roof is the ideal option, if possible.

Fossil Fuel Industry Resistance/Auto Industry Sloth

There are powerful forces at work that want to preserve the status quo. Wealthy oil industry executives are hanging onto their business model—it’s been very successful for more than a century. You can hardly blame them, from a business standpoint. But, if a habit is killing you, you need to stop doing it. Smoking is a killer too—and the answer is to put down the cigarettes.

Another issue with the fossil fuel industry is that the people who run it aren’t suffering from the impacts of climate change nearly as much as the poor people who live near oil wells and refineries or in neighborhoods blighted by freeway traffic. This is why moving to renewable energy and away from fossil fuels is a social justice issue, too. Read this report from the American Lung Association about the benefits of clean air.

The auto companies are beginning to get on the EV bandwagon, but other than Tesla, it is not where their profits come from, so they have been moving slowly. However, based on what they are saying, the expectation is that EVs will play a major role in their future products. The questions are “how much?” and “when?” GM, for example, talks about “putting everyone in an EV,” but isn’t specific about a timeline. I believe that if consumers demand electric cars, manufacturers will be more than happy to provide them. So, they are getting prepared now but are still making their profits from the SUVs and trucks that have been sustaining them for years. We can make them move faster by demanding EVs!

Let’s All Take Action

Everyone is part of the problem—environmentalists included. I have an electric car and solar panels to  feed it, but my house still uses natural gas for heat, hot water, and cooking. It’s very difficult –and expensive–to change our ways, which is why providing a method for preserving your lifestyle in a more responsible way is an easy sale. We can’t expect everyone to simply stop driving, can we? EVs can replace gasoline vehicles, but it’s even better if we don’t drive as much, or start riding a bicycle, or walk, or take electrified public transportation. That becomes an urban planning priority, and a lot of work is being done now in this area.  

A Recent Peek at a Cleaner Future

HImalayas
With emissions temporarily curbed this Spring, the view opened up.

This Spring, when COVID-19 shut down the world for a while, the clear blue skies of yesteryear reappeared quickly. In India, people saw the Himalayas from home for the first time in decades. You could see the difference from space! But, as we’ve resumed more of our travel, the benefits, sadly, have faded away again.

Many Actions We Can Take

There are many things we can do to keep the earth habitable for humans beyond switching to electric vehicles, but getting rid of your gas-burning car is an easy one. Changing to a more plant-based diet is hugely beneficial, too, since the meat industry causes big environmental impacts. Insulating your home and replacing your natural gas furnace with a heat pump is a great way to make an impact, too. Project Drawdown is a great resource for learning more about the many ways you can help.

It’s hard for human beings to think big picture or long range. I consider myself a climate change activist (not an expert), but there are plenty of times I’d rather go have a beer and listen to music than send emails to my congressperson about climate action or improve my house or attend a city council meeting. We all need to do what we can, and urge our local, state, and national governments to do the right thing.

We need corporate responsibility, too. A large company can have a proportionally big impact. If Google moves to renewable electricity sources for keeping their cloud servers cool, it takes a big bite out of dirty energy production. See what Climate Voice is doing on that front.

Al Gore, who’s studied climate change since he was in college and has tirelessly advocated for climate action, founded the Climate Reality Project in 2006 to train others to share the facts about climate change that he presented in his award-winning An Inconvenient Truth slideshow. You can be part of this, too. Go to The Climate Reality Project website for more information about free online trainings. I attended mine in person in Los Angeles in August 2018 and it was a revelation.

Beyond EVs

Scooters have a very small carbon footprint.

Switching to an EV helps, but maybe you don’t need a car at all! In cities, there are many options, including public transportation and shared vehicles (when there’s not a pandemic). Many people are discovering the utility of electric scooters, bicycles, and mopeds—from shared fleets or owning their own. If you’ve ever visited Amsterdam, you know that bicycles, which generate no pollution whatsoever, can be a fine way to travel, especially if cities are designed to make them safe and convenient.

In suburban and rural communities, it’s definitely more of a challenge, but with a growing range of EV offerings, you should be able to switch over easily in the next few years. Electric pickup trucks are almost here!

The Bottom Line

Climate change is heavily driven by the burning of fossil fuels. It’s a real problem and we have to move away from it quickly. There are many things we can and must do, but one action we can take today to lower our consumption of fossil fuels is to drive an EV instead of a gasoline car. Bonus points for riding a bike instead.

Electric Scooter Guide – Helping You Find the Perfect Scooter

By Steve Schaefer

ESG-top image

Electric scooters are taking off as a way to get around inexpensively and environmentally responsibly. And, they can be a blast to ride. While some city riders, in non-pandemic times, might borrow a scooter from a fleet, such as Lime, many people want their own. But how can you know what’s available and what best suits your needs? That’s where the Electric Scooter Guide (ESG) comes in.

The Electric Scooter Guide provides electric scooter news, industry insights, safety information, in-depth reviews, and exhaustive data. It was founded at the beginning of 2019 by Chuck Temple and Justin Klein with the mission to “help people find the perfect scooter.” They also put out regular YouTube videos to complement the substantial and regularly updated online content.

The website’s design is clean and functional. The home page offers four quick links to essential content; I’ll elaborate on them in detail below.

  • Best Electric Scooters of 2020
  • Beginner’s Guide to Buying an Electric Scooter
  • Hand’s-On Electric Scooter Reviews
  • A teaser for their ESG LIVE scooter chat live show

Best Electric Scooters of 2020

This long section is filled with charts, tables and images, and starts with ratings by more than 750 owners.

Ratings chart

It’s arranged by price range, after which ESG presents their top 12 picks, from 12 to 1. Each scooter gets a hero shot image, a link to written and video reviews, and pros and cons. These guys give you all the data, not just an impression.

Beginners Guide to Buying an Electric Scooter

A beginner is looking for more guidance, so this section is geared to walking the reader through a step at a time. It covers price, features, components, distributors, maintenance, and shopping tools.

Categories

Scooters are broken into three categories: Budget, Commuter, and High Performance. Budget scooters are priced under $300 and are meant for “minimal or light recreational use.” Commuter scooters are intended for daily use, so are more durable than the Budget ones. They offer more features, and the best ones have suspensions and other premium features. The guide subdivides Commuter scooters into three subcategories: Budget ($300-600), Midrange ($600-900), and Premium ($600-1,200).

The Performance scooters ($1,200-1,600) offer faster speeds and longer ranges, which you would expect for a much larger cash outlay. Upgrades include tubeless tires, semi-hydraulic brakes, powerful lights, and turn signals. Extreme Performance scooters ($2,500+) are the highest performing scooters but tend to be heavy (more than 70 pounds) and with their fat tires are best for offroading.  A prime example is the Wolf Warrior 11, which can zoom up to more than 40 miles per hour—much faster than the bargain units.

Wolf Warrior-cropped

The mighty Wolf Warrior 11

Features are discussed at length. After walking through the levels, the guide discusses features, which further helps the reader figure out which scooter will work for them. It starts with price, referring back to the previous section. Next is another crucial number, range—how far it’ll go on a charge. Then, they discuss weight, which can be a factor in how it handles but really matters if you plan to carry the scooter. Top speed is useful to know. Most riders are OK going 15-18 mph on the street, but if you have the aforementioned Wolf Warrior 11, you’ll be flying. Max weight is the limit the scooter will carry. For most scooters, it’s 220 pounds. Motor power makes a difference in your riding experience. It starts at 200 watts and runs to 500 watts or more. The Guide recommends at least 250 watts for commuting. Suspensions, as in cars, makes riding much more comfortable, and the guide advises getting a scooter with one if you plan to commute longer distances or drive over rough terrain. Lighting is crucial if you plan to drive at night, and it varies from scooter to scooter, although there is minimally a white light up front and a red one in back. Brakes, of course, are essential. There are four types, from electric and regenerative (the weakest) to manual foot brakes, to drum brakes and at the top, disc brakes. As in cars, disc brakes stop better, but tend to be on the more expensive scooters. Tires—also essential—are either pneumatic (air-filled) or airless. The latter are solid and much less comfortable, although they require virtually no maintenance. There is something called an IP Rating (ingress protection), which rates how water-resistant the scooter is. This would be important for protecting the parts from damage. IP Ratings go from x0 (no protection) to X7+ (can be fully submerged). If you plan to ride in the rain, you need at least IPx4.

Distributors are the places you buy the electric scooters. ESG lists three types: Domestic (shops or online), direct from China, or a crowd-funded campaign. They recommend buying domestically. Shipping from China is cheaper, if unreliable, and crowd-funded campaigns are exciting but more of an investment opportunity (be prepared to lose your money and wait a year or more for a scooter).

Maintenance – It’s important to consider how you’ll fix your scooter if it breaks. You should expect any scooter to require some maintenance. Some companies don’t offer replacement parts, so you may have to learn how to fix it yourself. Preventative maintenance saves a lot of trouble, and the guide offers links to detailed maintenance information.

Hands-On Reviews

As you’ve seen already, the ESG is very detailed. The reviews are arranged by price categories, making it easy to compare products in the category you plan to shop in. There are more choices in the lower price categories, for example, 10 options in the $300-600 range, and unsurprisingly, just three in the $3,000 plus group. Each scooter, regardless of price, gets a thumbnail photo and a one-short-sentence description, with a link to the full review.

Reviews - 4

Once you click the link, you’ll get multiple photos, tech specs, highlights, and a summary, including a video and other scooters to consider. Here’s an example of the specs chart.

GoTrax specs

Following the intro section is a thorough review, including performance tests, features, warranty/post-purchase support, and conclusions. They may even include comparisons with the previous version or a close competitor.

ESG explains their exhaustive five-step review process. It starts with the initial unboxing and assembly, which identifies possible issues. The assembled scooter is ridden for a week each by two team members to sort out the details. Then, they run performance testing for acceleration, braking distance, range, and hill climbing. Then, they get together as a group and produce written and video reviews. The final piece is long-term testing, which exposes any durability issues.

This section, frankly, looks more thorough than what major automotive buff magazines do—almost more like Consumer Reports. Excellent.

The YouTube Video Show

I tuned in to one of Chuck’s shows on YouTube. Professionally recorded, they feature Chuck’s folksy charm as he talks about the topic of the day.

Scooter Database

There’s even more to this sprawling site. ESG offers a constantly updated database that contains detailed information on every available scooter, based on manufacturers’ data. You can set a filter at the top for Metric (kilos) or Imperial (pounds), beginner or advanced, and “All” or “Curated.” I’m not sure what the difference between All and Curated is, but there is LOTS of content available.

Safety and Gear

Scooters are fun, but can be dangerous if not driven carefully. Even then, it’s best to be equipped with a good helmet and other crucial accessories. Currently, this tab on the home page contains seven valuable articles about keeping safe while you’re riding.

Coupon Codes

There are deals to be had, from discounts to free accessories. All of this is listed in one tab, but is also provided in the individual scooter reviews.

Summary

The Electric Scooter Guide is a compendium of expertly written reviews and carefully maintained content that should make it easy for anyone to figure out which scooter to buy for their needs and budget. Readers will also learn how to take care of their new scooter, and how to protect themselves while riding it. And it’s a gateway for connection with fellow enthusiasts. The YouTube channel is fun for enthusiasts to enjoy this growing transportation phenomenon. And with a busy Facebook page and a Facebook Group with more than 5,000 members, the Electric Scooter Guide gives you everything you need for your electric two-wheeled commute or adventure.

Superpedestrian Builds an Advanced New Scooter

By Steve Schaefer

Link scooter 01

Electric scooters are popular in congested urban spaces. Easier to use than a car, with no parking issues, they are also great for last-mile connections to public transit. However, scooters have some issues, including safety, reliability, and profitability for fleet operators. And, of course, there is the current concern of staying safe during the COVID-19 pandemic. But scooters have an important role to play in the future of urban mobility.

The weaknesses of scooters are well known—they’re easily damaged and maintenance is expensive and time consuming. What was needed was a better scooter, so Superpedestrian developed one.

I spoke with company founder and CEO Assaf Biderman about their scooter and the LINK application they are rolling out to access it.

Origins

BIderman moved to the United States from Israel in 2001 and co-founded the Senseable City Laboratory at MIT. Using his Physics background, he and the team focused on micro vehicles and the technology to make them safer and more cost effective. They used artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning, and robotics to address urban transportation problems in new ways.

Superpedestrian was spun out of MIT as a robotics company in 2013. They then spent more than four years developing their proprietary Vehicle Intelligence System (VIS) and introduced it in their first product—the Copenhagen Wheel. This product is an amazing red disc/motor that learns your biking style and adds power to support your ride. You can buy a bike with the wheel or add it to your own bike (they will custom-build it to fit).

Since 2018, Superpedestrian’s team of talented designers, developers and engineers has focused on engineering and validating a superior scooter for shared fleets.

The Urban Transportation Problem

“There will be two plus billion more people on the planet by 2050,” said Biderman. “Where can we put them? How do we share the road space? The only solution is multi-mobility.”

That means providing more one- or two-person vehicles, with autonomous capability and the ability to monitor themselves to prevent them from breaking down.

“It’s like an immune system,“ said BIderman. “Are they safe to ride before starting? What’s the chance of electronic failure before riding? There are hundreds of things.”

The ideal system avoids problems by diagnosing them in advance and fixing or preventing damage to key components before they break.

“For example, a cut wire can be identified and fixed before it leads to a bigger problem,” said Biderman.

The company had a three-part goal for their new scooter:

  1. Provide a safer ride
  2. Make them cost effective for fleets
  3. Create a scalable platform that brings sustainability to the city, integrating with public transit and plans the city makes for scooters, such as protected bike paths

What Makes the Superpedestrian Scooter Different

Although it looks similar, the Superpedestrian scooter is fundamentally different from regular scooters. It has a full-blown operating system (OS) onboard, developed over years of research and engineering by the company’s robotics engineers.

As Biderman explains, a basic scooter has motors and basic parts, but it can know what’s going on with the scooter itself and report back issues in the cloud so they can be fixed.

Superpedestrian has spent more than seven years developing their Vehicle Information System. Its more than 140 indicators monitor or provide:

  • Power from the motor, electric braking, and energy in and out of the battery
  • Vehicle encryption for cybersecurity
  • Decision-making ability in real time to prevent most safety hazards
  • Temperature/water penetration to help prevent component failure
  • Reporting ability – generate a repair ticket
  • A cloud data layer

Your basic scooter doesn’t contain any of this. Amazingly, the high-tech Superpedestrian scooter costs about the same to manufacture.

“This system enables you to scale micro vehicles to the millions,” said Biderman.

You’d expect that the system would use lots of sensors to detect vehicle behavior, as you’ll find in a car. But, per Biderman, they are expensive, need calibration, and can break.

“We found a way to do it without the sensors,” he said. “It’s a machine learning process, where we train the system to attribute functionality of components to failures upstream. It’s a very low-cost, reliable system.”

So, how does the scooter communicate when there’s a problem?

“Most data isn’t significant to the user,” said Biderman. “But if something goes wrong, the scooter will stop safely, and tell you why.”

With the data living on the scooter itself, Superpedestrian’s scooter can implement geofences in under one second.

The Superpedestrian scooter has a larger, 84-cell battery, for a greater range.  This reduces charging frequency, keeping the scooter in use more of the time.

Easier and Safer to Ride with a Lower Center of Gravity

While some scooters put the battery on the vertical part of the scooter, Superpedestrian installs it under the foot panel. A lower center of gravity makes it easier to control the scooter. Also, the engineers designed the scooter to work optimally for most people—the 50th-percentile man and woman as well as a shorter female and a 95th-percentile man. The angle of the upper section and handlebars is carefully planned as well.

The Superpedestrian scooter stops in a shorter distance than a standard scooter. One reason is that it uses a dual mechanical braking system. Each lever actuates regenerative braking, which helps charge the battery and reduce wear on the mechanical brakes. It’s a system used in electric cars.

However, in cars, when the battery is full, or the battery is hot or is below a certain temperature, regeneration is turned off. How to make it available all the time in a scooter?

“We found other ways to dissipate energy,” said Biderman. “For safe stopping, it’s important that the brakes feel the same all the time to the rider, so they don’t apply too little or too much pressure.”

Built to Last

Scooters are notorious for having short lives, taking abuse from various riders and rough handling. Per Biderman, the real problem with longevity isn’t mechanical as much as it is electronic.

“Our software ensures that the vehicle doesn’t experience any fundamental electronic issues,” he said. “Replacing batteries and controllers is where you get a total loss.”

The Superpedestrian scooter is designed to take at least 2,500 trips, far more than the average scooter. They also build the scooter to withstand much more stress than you’d expect. Their scooter can withstand one ton of vertical load, for example.

“If a big guy is riding the scooter and hits a pothole, it can create a lot of force—our scooter is able to tolerate that,” explained Biderman.

As for vandalism and theft, Superpedestrian is prepared.

“We can easily replace a plastic fender,” said Biderman. And the structure itself is sturdy enough to withstand vandalism. All of the cables and wires are hidden inside the vehicle for safety and security.

When and Where can I Ride One?

Superpedestrian has acquired the Zagster fleet management system and is offering their scooter to consumers via the LINK brand. The LINK app gives you access to the scooters, and it will be rolled later this year in cities in the U.S. and Europe.

To help solve the climate crisis and urban mobility issues, Superpedestrian is providing scooters that are safe, dependable, and scalable and profitable for fleets.

Link scooter 03

Bird Scooters Improve as they Relaunch

By Steve Schaefer

Bird scooters

Bird, a leader in the electric scooter market, is relaunching in some cities with not only a strict regimen of protective cleaning, but with an exciting new feature that makes it faster than ever to grab and use a scooter. Now, welcome Quick Start.

If your key stays in your pocket when you enter and start your car, you already get the hang of it. Rather than having to scan a QR code on the scooter with your phone, now you just walk near it and press the Start button that appears on your phone. Then, off you go.

“Our product, design and development teams are continually striving to innovate and push the industry forward for the benefit of our community,” said Scott Rushforth, Chief Vehicle Officer at Bird. “Quick Start is the latest industry-first feature to emerge from this collaboration, and it’s one that we believe will deliver riders a more magical micromobility experience.”

Safety During COVID-19 Restrictions

If you’re concerned about the safety of using a shared scooter now, here are the steps Bird is taking to ensure their scooters are clean and ready to go:

  • They have set clear guidelines for deep cleaning and sanitizing the scooters
  • They thoroughly sanitize each vehicle every time they are recharged or serviced with CDC-approved disinfectant products
  • They perform regular spot cleanings in the field on surfaces such as bells, throttles and handlebars
  • Technicians use face masks, hand sanitizer, nitrile gloves, protective goggles and disinfectant sprays and wipes, and are required to wash their hands regularly and dispose of gloves after each use

Riding Longer

And riders are coming back as shelter-in-place restrictions lift. Interestingly, they are taking longer rides, too.

“Over the past month, we’ve seen sustained increases in trip duration of more than 50%,” said Ryan Fujiu, Chief Product Officer at Bird. “We’re seeing strong indications that it may be a much longer-term trend related to things like public transit concerns, nearly a thousand miles of new open streets and a spike in the construction of protected cycling infrastructure.”

Perhaps riders are using the scooters instead of taking the bus. Or maybe people are just happy to get out of their houses again.

Scoot Rolls Out Bird Two – the Latest-Generation e-Scooter – in San Francisco

By Steve Schaefer

BirdTwo_1

If you’ve been in the city lately, you’ve probably noticed people zipping around on electric scooters (e-scooters). They’re great for quick trips, being faster than walking and requiring no parking space. But, there are issues with scooters, including battery range, rider safety, damage, theft, and longevity. Bird’s latest model, the Bird Two, aims to address these, both for riders and for making running an e-scooter fleet more profitable.

On January 30th, Scoot, owned by Bird, debuted the Bird Two in San Francisco. Scoot plans to transition all of its existing scooters to the new, improved model. San Francisco will be the first city to have 1,000 of these scooters on the street.

“With each new generation of electric vehicle we bring to San Francisco, fewer San Franciscans have a need to get in a car. Bird Two continues this trend with industry-leading performance, range, and safety features, allowing our riders to replace even more of their car trips with micromobility,” said Michael Keating, Founder of Scoot, and Senior Vice President for Cities at Bird.

Battery Upgrade

Bird’s new battery management system can handle extreme weather, so the battery holds a charge for greater range and lasts longer. Although San Francisco’s temperatures are moderate most of the time, it still provides an advantage, and keeps the scooters in service more of the time because they spend less time charging. With the new e-scooter’s greater range, riders can feel more confident about riding to farther destinations. And the new model’s sensors and self-diagnosis system send alerts to the fleet operator of dangerous humidity changes in the battery encasement.

Safety

The Bird Two’s sleek design has fewer exposed screws, so there’s less chance of an injury while handling the scooter. New puncture-resistant tires mean safer travel and less maintenance time in the shop for the scooters. Of course, be sure to wear your helmet while you’re riding!

Scooter Longevity and Reliability

We’ve heard stories of how scooters suffer from vandalism and theft. The Bird Two has self-reporting damage sensors, as found in new cars, so Scoot mechanics can fix scooters fast and get them back out on the street. An industrial-grade anti-tipping kickstand helps keep the Bird Two upright when it’s parked, reducing damage from being dropped on the pavement. And with anti-theft encryption, riders are protected from malicious software hacks.

The Bottom Line

The e-scooters have come a long way, and with these upgrades, the Bird Two is safer and more pleasant to use. And with its durability and higher quality, it can stay in the fleet long enough to keep the business case viable while taking cars off the road. And that’s the real point, isn’t it?

For more information, visit the Bird Two website.

Bird Flies Sustainably with Sturdy Scooters

An Interview with Melinda Hanson, Bird’s Head of Sustainability

By Steve Schaefer

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Bird, the two-year-old, Santa-Monica-based scooter sharing company, has been growing and developing its trademark electric scooters since it was founded in September 2017. One question about scooters, though, is how sustainable they are. I spoke with Bird’s Head of Sustainability, Melinda Hanson, at VERGE 19 in Oakland to find out.

Hanson has two facets to her role: One is promoting the carbon mitigation potential of electric vehicles while helping cities meet their clean energy transportation goals. The other is working to make sure Bird itself is a more sustainable company.

Hanson is focused on developing climate policy that gets people into EVs, including the small scooters that are Bird’s mainstay. She’s concerned emissions are still going up despite the rise of EVs and scooters.

As anyone who lives in a city can attest, the scooter sharing business is booming.

“The main growth in EVs in 2018 was in scooters,” said Hanson.

Hanson told me that Bird’s goal is to get people out of their cars for short trips, especially in crowded cities.

“The data shows that many car trips are less than three miles,” said Hanson. “They should be riding scooters.”

I asked if people were really replacing car trips with scooters and Hanson said that one third to one half of e-scooter trips were replacing personal car trips—and much of the rest was in place of using ridesharing services, such as Uber and Lyft—which are not environmentally positive if they’re internal combustion engines—and contribute to traffic congestion.

Bird takes its scooters seriously. They have developed and refined them over the last two years to be more robust, so they last longer.

“Our first scooters were consumer models, not rugged enough for many trips a day by multiple people,” said Hanson. Bird has built its own custom models now, which they test for ruggedness. They have learned a lot from the last two years.

“We used to have screws come loose, and shock absorbers wore out,” Hanson said. “We have increased frame density and put on better kickstands,” she said.

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The Bird 2 model—the newest one—is much improved. The company wants riding a Bird to be a great experience, so customers will come back and ride them regularly.

Bird has doubled the battery capacity of the latest scooters. This means that they can be used by more customers before needing to come in to be recharged. To facilitate local charging, Bird has a distributed charging program where gig workers can pick up the scooters and charge them at home and put them back on the street. These folks are called “chargers.”

“We want to reduce friction,” Hanson said. That means making not only the riding experience fun and easy but also signup and payment.

Bird has started collaborating with Scoot to bring out other types of two-wheel transportation, such as mopeds.

“We want to provide a bunch of vehicles for different trip modes,” said Hanson. But the starter vehicle is still likely to be the little scooter, which is easy to ride and easy to park.

Safety is a concern, and Bird has worked with cities to try to create bike lanes. They have offered to send riders free helmets (the customer pays only for shipping).

Hanson is looking for a systems impact. She thinks there’s room to start converting parking spaces to scooter parking at some point, when there are enough of them out there.

“When scooters become a major aspect of urban mobility the streets will start changing the way they look,” said Hanson.

Why will Bird succeed where others falter? Hanson thinks their emphasis on a great customer experience will lead to winning in the marketplace. And, their major investments in R&D to create better quality scooters will help too.

Summing up, Bird’s goal is to improve the overall efficiency of vehicles, using clean energy; they want to get people out of their cars for all those short trips. And they want to do it sustainably.

Skip Scooters – a First Ride

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I just tried my first electric scooter! It’s easy, fun, and a little scary, too.

It began with seeing little blue Skip scooters tied to posts and trees around downtown San Francisco. I’ve just started a new job working in the city again after a few decades, and things have changed. My company builds and sells software for carsharing and ridesharing (and in the future,  hopefully scooters, too), so I was eager to sample one of the new “micro-mobility” options.

Skip scooters are available where you find them, but to ride one, you first need to download the app. That takes about a minute, from searching for it on your Apple or Android phone and waiting for it to download. When you open the app, it explains how to use the app and also how to ride the scooter safely. You can sign up for an account by adding in your personal information, such as driver’s license and credit card.

I decided that this particular Friday afternoon was a great time to try a scooter. Using the app, I located a couple of them near my office and set out to find them.

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I followed the map and looked–but no scooter! Then I looked across the street. I must have missed something, because there it was. The app made it look like it was on my side of the street.

I went up and tried to scan the QR code. The app then asked me for my driver’s license (front and back). Leaving the scooter tethered, I went to find a slightly more private spot to photograph my license on the street. The app warned me of “glare,” but I got two decent images. Then, I had to enter my credit card information.

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After this, when I put my phone up by the QR code, it gave me a four-digit combination to enter to unlock the scooter’s combination cable lock. Then, all I did was recoil the cable onto the scooter frame and pulled the bike over onto a piece of open sidewalk.

One push, and I was off. The accelerator is a thumb paddle on the right side of the handlebars. On the left is a matching one that slows the scooter down. There’s a manual foot brake that rubs against the wheel, but I think it’s more like an “emergency brake,” since the thumb brake worked fine during my .07-mile ride.

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After zipping along the sidewalk (proscribed by Skip and the City of S.F.), I got onto the actual street, after looking both ways carefully. I then spent the rest of my ride in back alleys, where I had lots of space and few cars to deal with.

The little Skip takes off strongly with its electric motor–just like an electric car, but without the mass. Of course, the motor and battery are tiny, so it all balances out. When you rent a scooter, the app tells you the percentage of charge left and approximate range you can expect. I assume going up hills would use up charge more quickly. I don’t think there’s a regen feature to add charge when you brake or go downhill, as in a car.

I wasn’t wearing a helmet–a bad idea–but I was just testing it, right? Most of the riders I’ve seen so far don’t wear them, possibly because they just hopped on it for a quick trip. However, if you take at least one ride, Skip will send you a helmet for free (you pay $10 shipping). When I got back to my office, I ordered mine using the app, I’ll wait for my helmet to arrive before taking another spin, just to be safe. However, even with a helmet, cruising up to 18 miles an hour down a street full of cars, potholes, pedestrians, and who knows what else seems like a risky proposition with no protection whatsoever.

When I was done with my test ride, I parked the scooter and attached it to a handy street sign pole. As a first timer, I neglected to wrap the lock cable around the pole a bunch of times like I should have, and I somehow missed the step in the app of taking and sending a “parking photo,” but the loan completed fine and my bank account was lighter by $2.75. I had a brisk sense of adventure and a little chill from moving at that speed with just a sweatshirt on.

Micro-mobility, as represented by scooters and electrically assisted bikes, is with us now. It makes a lot of sense in dense urban areas, where driving a car is a pain and environmentally irresponsible. It’s perfect “last mile” transportation from public transit to an office front door. I look forward to the day when downtowns are designed for scooters, with wide, car-free bike lanes separated from the cars and buses.