Move Slow and Fix Things: E-Scooter Startup Superpedestrian Takes to LA Streets, Promising Safety and a Better Experience
A new e-scooter startup is coming to Los Angeles streets, promising its technology allows it to prioritize rider — and pedestrian — safety.
The startup will operate in downtown L.A., West Adams, Hollywood, Echo Park, Highland Park, North Hollywood, Koreatown and Venice.
Users can download the LINK app to rent a scooter or call the customer service line if they don't have a smartphone. Starting a ride costs $1 plus 39 cents per minute. LINK offers reduced fares through LINK-Up, its initiative for users enrolled in qualifying government assistance programs.
The company is also partnering with local nonprofits Homeboy Industries and Chrysalis to employ their clients.
It might seem like the new kid on the block, but Superpedestrian has spent years developing its technology that alerts riders to dangers. It rolls out months after Santa Monica-based e-scooter company Bird, which is preparing to go public, revealed that it's facing over a hundred lawsuits for bodily injury and death.
CEO Assaf Biderman co-founded the Senseable City Lab at MIT's Department of Urban Studies and Planning. In 2013, he founded Superpedestrian as a transportation robotics company devoted to building equitable and safe solutions for urban transportation.
"Think about us as a bunch of scientists and engineers," Biderman says, "We spent eight and a half years designing a software and technology platform."
Superpedestrian's LINK e-scooters might face challenges in a well-established, crowded market like L.A.. Bird dropped its first scooters in Santa Monica in 2017 and e-scooters are no longer the novelty they once were.
But in the current landscape, not rushing the process might be a competitive advantage.
"We're able to develop something that's almost like a vaccine for vehicles," says Biderman.
Superpedestrian's technology relies on an autonomous system built into the scooter, which Biderman says will translate to a safer experience for the user and more consistent availability of scooters to rent.
In addition, Superpedestrian says its Pedestrian Defense technology protects vulnerable pedestrians from rogue sidewalk riders and other bad actors (riding an e-scooter on the sidewalk is illegal in L.A.). The scooter uses AI technology to alert the user when they are breaking the rules.
Juan Matute, deputy director of the UCLA Institute of Transportation Studies, says that focusing on safety makes it easier for cities to adopt micro-mobility.
"Having self regulating technology like Superpedestrian has is really attractive to cities because they can approve scooters to go in without worrying so much about users behaving badly," he says.
Superpedestrian's LINK app
Matute points out that as scooters have become a viable form of urban transportation, deaths and injuries from them have increased.
It happened in part, because companies fought hard to get on the market as quickly as possible — and there were costs:
"People have died because of vehicle system failures, brakes not being up to snuff," he says.
Superpedestrian waited until 2020 to launch its LINK scooters in cities around the world. Biderman says that launching first and asking questions later was not an option:
"No, you can't do that. Now you're experimenting on people. We experimented in the lab, and we built our solutions on science and validated them over years of development, till we were sure that we have a vehicle that's the highest safety rating in the industry and that's roadworthy for people to get on."
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Four years ago, Bird Rides Inc. boldly began parking its first-generation e-scooters on the sidewalks of Santa Monica even though it lacked the proper permits.
What started as a novelty has now become a $800-billion worldwide business, with the devices now ubiquitous throughout the world. The scooters also became one of the most visible symbols of Santa Monica's booming and carefree tech scene, with top VCs scootering into the office with the ocean air blowing through their hair.
But as Bird prepares to go public via a blank check acquisition, the company is facing the embarrassment of being kicked out of its hometown this summer just as the tattered micromobility business recovers from pandemic lockdowns.
With a population of less than 100,000 residents, Santa Monica is not a financially important market for Bird. But the clashes it has had with city regulators are emblematic of what it has encountered worldwide after expanding to more than 150 cities.
Even though Santa Monica's transportation department was authorized by the City Council to permit four scooter operators, it chose just three – Spin, Veo and Lyft – for the next phase of its shared mobility pilot program, which lasts from July 1 to March 30, 2023. Bird placed fourth.
Bird declined to make anyone available for an interview but in a statement sent to dot.LA, it indicated it plans to appeal the decision.
"We are disappointed by the current recommendation for the next phase of the Santa Monica Micromobility Program and look forward to taking the opportunity to further demonstrate Bird's commitment to the city during the comments and objections process," the company said.
Bird has not filed an appeal as of Monday but has until May 26 to do so, according to Constance Farrell, a spokeswoman for the city.
Santa Monica transportation staff made their selection based on 10 different criteria. Bird was dinged for affordability, customer service, durability, safety and maintenance/ operations.
It performed well in the local preference category, though Bird received the same ranking as Lyft, which is based in San Francisco.
Bird also originally did not make it into the city's first e-scooter pilot in 2018 but was later added back in because of its hometown presence, according to the Santa Monica Daily Press, which was first to report Bird's pending removal.
Though Bird is still based in Santa Monica, its presence has been greatly diminished over the past year. It laid off half of its employees there last year as the pandemic ground worldwide ridership to a halt and put its airy headquarters up for sublease in October.
Bird has had a rocky relationship with Santa Monica, ever since deploying its scooters there in 2017, before it received the city's permission.
"We felt we were in a gray area," Bird founder and CEO Travis VanderZanden said at the time.
The city disagreed and sued, contending e-scooters were endangering local residents and visitors. Bird signed a plea agreement with Santa Monica in 2018 and paid $300,000 in fines. It also agreed to bring down maximum speeds from 21mph to 15mph.
"With this agreement, Bird and VanderZanden acknowledge that they failed to comply with the City of Santa Monica's business licensing requirements which are designed to protect the safety of the public," Deputy City Attorney Eda Suh said in a statement announcing the settlement.
As part of going public, Bird revealed last week it has been involved in more than a hundred lawsuits involving "brain injuries, internal injuries, and death," many of which are still pending.
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Unagi, the trendy Oakland e-scooter startup that has drawn fawning comparisons to Apple and Tesla, is expanding its subscription service to a broader swath of Los Angeles and New York, along with six other cities.
Up until last year, the sleek scooters were only available to those who shelled out $990 to purchase one, but COVID accelerated the company's plans to launch a subscription service, which it started testing in parts of L.A. and New York last summer.
The flat $49 monthly fee – or $39.99 if you commit to a year – includes maintenance and insurance for theft or damage and FedEx delivery within three days of ordering.
The company hopes the subscription will appeal to commuters who are still worried about taking public transit and those who rent shared scooters from companies like Bird and Lime that can cost $5 to $10 per ride.
Subscription services — whether for streaming, food delivery or furniture — are also very much in vogue.
"Millennials prefer access over ownership," Unagi co-founder and CEO David Hyman told dot.LA. in August. "This model helps us bring it to a larger audience."
Unagi All-Access, as it is called, will now be available on the Westside, Southeast L.A, the San Fernando Valley and in Orange County. And for the first time, riders can subscribe in Austin, Miami, Nashville, Phoenix, the San Francisco Bay Area and Seattle.
Unagi also announced a $10.5 million Series A funding round to fund the expansion, led by The Ecosystem Integrity Fund with participation from Menlo Ventures, Broadway Angels and Gaingels.Bird offers monthly rentals too, but only in San Francisco, Miami, Washington, D.C. and on certain college campuses.
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