Ojo joins electric scooter craze with a new sit-down vehicle

It's also faster, going up to 20 mph.

Dara Kerr Former senior reporter
Dara Kerr was a senior reporter for CNET covering the on-demand economy and tech culture. She grew up in Colorado, went to school in New York City and can never remember how to pronounce gif.
Dara Kerr
2 min read

A new kind of dockless, rentable, electric scooter is making a debut in Austin, Texas. Instead of the typical stand-up vehicle people are used to, this one made by Ojo comes with a seat for riders to sit on. It's also faster -- going 20 mph, rather than the customary 15 mph.

"Ojo Electric is taking shared-use scooters to the next level," Ojo Electric CEO Max Smith said in a statement. "This is truly a scooter for everyone."

The scooters look a bit like a Vespa motorbike but with smaller wheels and taller handlebars. Ojo said riders can choose to sit down or stand on the vehicles. The scooters also come with speakers for riders to connect to via Bluetooth to play music or get navigation instructions.

While Austin is the first city to get the scooters, an Ojo spokeswoman said the company is "working with other top markets" in the US. She declined to say which ones.

Electric scooters have been around for only about a year, but they've exploded in popularity. More than a dozen companies have launched the vehicles in major cities and college towns across the US. And the scooters have become a controversial topic among lawmakers and residents. Some people love being able to zoom around on the vehicles, while others find the scooters to be a menace.

Safety is another issue. Scooter-related injuries, which range from cuts and bruises to traumatic brain injury, have surged over the past eight months. Three people have died in scooter accidents. These injuries are often worsened because most people don't wear helmets while riding the motorized vehicles.

Ojo's scooters don't come with helmets, but the spokeswoman said the company "recommends that all riders wear their own helmets."

Austin has become a focal point for scooter safety. Doctors at its Dell Seton Medical Center have been tracking injuries and said they've seen roughly 40 severe traumas since April. This spurred the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to go to Austin for the first nationwide study on scooter injuries.

Ojo said its vehicles are safer than stand-up scooters because they're easier to handle since a rider's center of gravity is lower when sitting. The company also said its vehicles are for bike lanes and streets, not sidewalks. However, in most states, it's against the law to ride any type of motorized scooter on a sidewalk.

Ojo is the sixth scooter company to rollout on Austin's streets and will be deploying 100 scooters on Feb. 1. Bird, Lime, Lyft, Uber's Jump and Spin also have a combined 3,000 vehicles throughout the city, according to the Austin Transportation Department.

CNET Magazine: Check out a sampling of the stories you'll find in CNET's newsstand edition.

Follow the Money: This is how digital cash is changing the way we save, shop and work.