Lyft is getting a jump start in the scooter wars.
The ride-hailing company launched dockless, rentable electric scooters on Monday in its second city -- Santa Monica, California. It rolled out the vehicles in Denver earlier this month. Its rival Uber has yet to introduce e-scooters to city streets.
"What we've seen in the last year is this tremendous demand for more mobility options in cities, especially quick trips," said Caroline Samponaro, Lyft's bike and scooter policy lead. "There's a bigger opportunity we see on redesigning streets that serve people and not just cars."
Last month, Lyft got approval to operate electric scooters in Santa Monica, as did Jump, which is a bike rental company that Uber acquired earlier this year. Scooter companies Bird and Lime also got permits. To get the permit from Santa Monica, Lyft said it'd offer discounts on scooter rides to low-income residents. The company said Monday that it's committed to its promise.
While Santa Monica granted Lyft a permit, San Francisco regulators snubbed the company, along with Jump, Bird and Lime. The city instead gave permits to companies that have a clean track record of working with regulators before launching their services -- Scoot and Skip.
Scooters have become a controversial topic across the US, with companies dropping them onto city streets with no forewarning to lawmakers or residents. Some people have been happy about this new way of getting around congested cities. But others have complained riders don't follow the laws of the road, and endanger pedestrians by riding on sidewalks and leaving the scooters wherever they feel like it -- blocking parking spots, bike racks and wheelchair access.
Santa Monica was the first US city to be inundated with the scooters. Bird kicked off its service there in September 2017. Santa Monica officials received so many complaints from local residents that the City Attorney's Office filed a complaint on nine criminal counts against the startup in December. But things have calmed down since then.
On Monday, Bird unveiled a prototype of a scooter "parklet" in Santa Monica. The idea is to clear sidewalks of scooter detritus by replacing one or two on-street parking spaces for cars with a bike and scooter parking zone. It's unclear if the city will give the OK on these parklets.
Santa Monica announced its pilot scooter program with a permitting process in August. Under city rules, Bird and Lime can each have 750 scooters operating in the city, while Jump and Lyft each can have 250 scooters and 500 bikes. That number can increase or decrease based on their utilization and performance, according to the city.
In Denver, Lyft said its feedback from users has been good and ridership has been higher than it anticipated.
"We're OK with it eating into our ride-hail trips," Samponaro said. "As we look to partner with cities to tackle bigger issues around mobility, we're striking a better balance."
Lyft said it aims to bring scooters to 10 more cities by the end of this year. An Uber spokeswoman said the company is planning to launch scooters too, but she declined to share further details of where and when.
First published Sept. 17, 10:26 a.m. PT.
Update, 11:24 a.m.: Adds additional background information.
Update, 4:03 p.m.: Adds information about Bird's parklet proposal and comments from Lyft's bike and scooter policy lead Caroline Samponaro.
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