[maxgallery name=”scoot-networks-hero-gallery”]Through the train’s windows, an ethereal scene of the Embarcadero waterfront and sparkling bay waters allowed a momentary reprieve from my current situation. 35 minutes prior I had left FiDi and boarded Muni’s T line to meet a friend in SoMa for a “quick” lunch hour meal. Shortly after an expected 10 minute journey, the train stopped near the intersection of Mission and The Embarcadero where it laid still for the next 30 minutes waiting for another “stuck” train to get free. During the wait, I avoided the feelings of helplessness and stress by gazing out the window and thinking about why I chose Muni over other transportation options such as Lyft, Bike Share or simply walking. The other train eventually became unhitched and I met my friend, but arrived back to work late with lingering dissatisfaction for Muni.
Despite knowledge of Muni’s inconsistencies, the service was chosen over competing options because it was cheaper, required minimal physical exertion, and there was a possibility the train would run without delays. There was not another option that matched Muni on economy and low effort, and superseded it on quickness and consistency. For the last couple of years, startup Scoot Networks with their candy apple red scooters, network of stations, and app centric model has been refining and growing their services to a level that may finally give a compelling enough alternative to the city’s public transportation. To better understand whether their scooters would be a fit in my daily life, I recently gave their service a test ride. Below is a summary of my findings.
[maxgallery name=”scoot-networks-training”]There was a desire to immediately start zipping around San Francisco streets with one of their scooters, however, the company requires an orientation session after initial sign up. Last Sunday afternoon, I arrived at Scoot Network’s training grounds which also happens to be the city’s DMV parking lot. My designated trainer, Raphael, discussed the details of the Scoot app, demonstrated how to operate their bikes, and watched as I took laps on one of their scooters. I was also given an opportunity to try one of their cooler looking test mules and provide feedback on comfort and drivability. Even though their system is not complex, there are enough details in the process that makes the orientation a necessary step for first timers.
[maxgallery name=”scoot-networks-driving-experience”]With the need to find a ride home after orientation, I turned to the Scoot iPhone app to find available stations near the DMV and my residence. The app helped me reserve a scooter, lock in a route, and find my assigned two wheeled vehicle on a nearby residential road. Switching on the scooter via the app and donning the helmet, I drove off on an estimated 18 minute journey to a parking garage in Chinatown. The scooter confidently accelerated and braked through the heavily trafficked streets of NoPa, climbed the hills of Pacific Heights, and negotiated through narrow Chinatown alleyways where cars dare not enter. The torquey electric engine supplied instant power and strong acceleration and overall the bike had good maneuverability, handling, and balance. There were, however, some areas that needed improvement such as an awkwardly placed signal switch, inadequately small mirrors, and an insecurely small frame especially when sandwiched between two dinosaur sized Muni buses.
Initial difficulty locating the drop off point was quickly eased by a call to the company’s hotline, where a support representative helped me find the parking space next to three other parked bikes. Once the scooter was parked, I stashed away the helmet, secured the keys, plugged in the bike, and used the app to turn off the scooter. Due to a promotion the 20 minute ride was free but normally would cost $4 under their “no plan” option. When compared to a 45 minute Muni ride for $2.25, 15 minute Lyft trip at $12, and $9 for a 40 minute sweaty Bike Share ride, the bright red scooters are a compelling option for similar trips in the future.
Zipping up the happy hills of Pacific Heights and Nob Hill made for a fun efficient experience and the service seems to be a good fit for those who live in the city looking for an inexpensive way to reach an appointment, grab essential groceries, or even commute to a local job. I wonder how well the small scooter would handle the fast car friendly roads of SoMa but the company seems to be already listening to customers as they are testing a larger more capable scooter that should hold its own in car lanes and carry more goods. I also would like to see more available stations in residential areas and two-seater options for those who like to travel with friends and significant others.
There are plans to increase the capacity and efficiency of Muni, however, those changes will undoubtedly arrive much later than the arrival of new residents and office workers soon to occupy the city’s future upcoming high rises. As a growing population exacerbates the long Muni commutes and car parking space hunting, residents are searching for alternative forms of transportation including car sharing services, bicycling, motorcycles, and scooters. My first experiences with Scoot Networks revealed an economical, efficient, and quick service that should give residents another viable and persuasive option to travel throughout the city.