Lime, Bird and VeoRide have scored coveted permits to New York City’s first e-scooter pilot.
The New York City Department of Transportation, which originally released a request for proposals in October for the pilot that was meant to start in early March, made its selections public Wednesday. The three companies are expected to begin operations in the Bronx by early summer with 1,000 electric scooters each.
“After a competitive selection process, Bird, Lime and Veo unveil e-scooter models and pricing plans that will allow most rides for under $5,” said NYC DOT in a statement. “New bicycle lanes planned for pilot zone over the next two years will also enhance e-scooter mobility and safety.”
Micromobility operators have been competing fiercely to win a dwindling number of city concessions. If you can make it in New York, you can make it anywhere, says Frank Sinatra, and winning the Big Apple plays a massive role in determining which operators will survive as the rideshare industry consolidates under a few powerful players.
Bird is already in over 100 cities around the United States, Europe and the Middle East, while Lime is ubiquitous with around 130 cities in the U.S., Europe, the Middle East and Australia under its belt. This win calcifies the clout the two already have in the industry. Chicago-based VeoRide is arguably the underdog of the trio with service around 20 U.S. cities, so getting the chance to operate in New York could be a game-changer for the already-profitable company. This is especially true in a city that’s simultaneously still wary of coronavirus and eager to get out and catch up with friends and family this summer.
“This e-scooter pilot program couldn’t come at a better time, as New York focuses on providing low-cost transportation options that allow residents to travel socially-distanced in the open air,” Lime CEO Wayne Ting said in a statement. “In welcoming a new mode of transportation to its streets, New York demonstrates its dedication to shepherding a sustainable recovery from COVID-19 — one that isn’t hampered by the crippling traffic congestion that depresses growth.”
Superpedestrian and Spin are among the companies that weren’t selected for participation in the program. Superpedestrian CEO Assaf Biderman said in a statement that the company was proud of the proposal it presented. “We know this is just a beginning, and there are more communities in every corner of the city that are calling out for new, safe and sustainable transportation options–something we can deliver,” he said.
Despite general fanfare, there may be a limit to how far operations can spread beyond the Bronx in the future. The first phase of the pilot covers neighborhoods in the East Bronx spanning from Eastchester to Van Nest; the second phase extends south to Soundview and east to Edgewater with another 4,000 to 6,000 scooters. The DOT said it chose these geographic boundaries to reach transit deserts that are unserved by existing bike share programs.
That last bit is important to note. Lyft-owned Citi Bike has a monopoly over shared micromobilty in NYC, with bike docks all over Manhattan and in parts of Brooklyn, Queens and the South Bronx. While 2018 legislation that allowed for the introduction of dockless e-scooters in NYC aims to “prioritize” hoods with no access to Citi Bike, the pilot zones were designed specifically to avoid overlap with Bronx neighborhoods targeted by the docked bike share’s expansion plans.
What to expect from the e-scooter pilot in the Bronx
Aside from operating in alignment with NYC’s Vision Zero and equity goals, the DOT chose companies that would play ball with the city’s strong enforcement mechanisms, and that very much includes managing sidewalk clutter with dedicated parking corrals and fleet management software, a DOT spokesperson told TechCrunch.
Lime intends to combine its corral and lock-to parking strategies for the first time in NYC to ensure its Gen 3 and Gen 4 scooters don’t become a bother to the community. It’ll also rely on its backend fleet management software and a “tidy crew” that will patrol the pilot area to rebalance scooters.
“At high traffic locations like transit stations, riders must park in physical parking corrals enforced using Lime’s industry-leading geofence technology,” Phil Jones, Lime’s senior government relations director told TechCrunch. Lime uses a combination of onboard and cloud computing to determine the locations of geofences, so it’ll be interesting to see how this tech holds up in such a dense city, where even Google Maps often has trouble placing individuals. “Using our LimeLocks, riders must lock their e-scooters at bike racks or other places where traditional bike parking is permitted.”
Veo also plans to implement lock-to parking to keep scooters from falling over or blocking sidewalks.
The pilot will cover an 18-square-mile area that’s home to 570,000 residents, 80% of whom are black or Latino. The median household income in the Bronx is $40,088 with a poverty rate of 26.2%, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, so equity was top of mind for the city when evaluating operators.
Bird already has an Access program that offers unlimited rides to low-income residents who are on government assistance for $5 a month, and even allows riders to pay with cash and unlock vehicles via SMS. Veo has an access program, but unclear what terms.
Lime’s Access Program is similar, in that it offers 50% off rides to those on public assistance, but with NYC the program will see a rebrand as Lime Aid and expand to cover frontline healthcare workers, teachers, and people in the performing arts, non-profit and hospitality sectors — those who have been most affected by the pandemic. Lime also has agreements with employment offices like BronxWorks and the Center for Employment Opportunities to source employees for the pilot locally.
About 11% of Bronx residents under the age of 65 have a disability, so the DOT also evaluated operators based on accessibility. Victor Calise, commissioner of the mayor’s office for people with disabilities, was one of the people on the grading panel, so Lime made a point of focusing on accessibility for the disabled community.
Lime recently launched a program in San Francisco that allows people with disabilities to order an accessible scooter delivered to their house with 24 hours advance notice, and the company intends to try out the same service in New York. In preparation for the Bronx pilot, Lime designed and built seven different vehicle types to meet various physical abilities, including a three-wheeled, sit-down vehicle for someone who has challenges balancing; a two-wheeled sit-down for someone who can’t stand for long periods of time; a tandem scooter of sorts so someone who has trouble seeing or is blind can have a partner with full vision with them; and a tricycle with a shopping basket. These vehicles are available on demand and will be delivered directly to users upon request.
“We didn’t want to just think what might a disabled person want, but to actually go to the New York disabled community and learn from them,” said Jones, noting that Lime worked with New York’s Center for Independence of the Disabled, as well as other advocacy groups, prior to submitting its bid. “There’s a vocal and vibrant community here, and we are not just addressing their concerns around parking on the street, but how they can actually use our devices so we can provide a meaningful service to them.”
Veo will offer its stand-up Astro e-scooter and its futuristic-looking Cosmo seated e-scooter because seated rides are more accessible for many, especially those taking longer trips. The company has also stated that it’s committed to ADA compliance and will make electric-powered attachments that allow private non-motorized wheelchairs to operate as motorized devices available upon request.
In terms of reducing traffic congestion and air pollution, Veo also touts its waterproof, durable, swappable batteries, which don’t require a gas-guzzling van to replace batteries but which can be done via cargo bike or even the Cosmo. Lime also has swappable batteries, but according to a November blog post, Bird has still not implemented this technology in full.
To enhance safety, Bird recently launched Beginner Mode as a new feature built for the Bird Two alongside autonomous emergency braking and skid detection. This gives new riders a gentle acceleration option so they can gradually work their way up to full speed.