Electric scooters are invading US cities.

Recently, Pocket-lint's Stuart Miles visited the San Francisco Bay Area and practically couldn't walk outside without stumbling over an electric scooter, also known as an e-scooter. Where did they come from, how do they work, and do cities love them or hate them?

Here's all your questions, answered.

Pocket-lintE-scooter invasion Everything you need to know about electric scooters from Bird Lime and Spin image 2

What are e-scooters?

The e-scooters we're discussing are dockless, rent-by-the-minute electric scooters that can zoom down sidewalks at 15 mph. Battery-powered scooters have been available for years, but now they're outfitted with GPS trackers and wireless connectivity. Companies offer on-demand fleets of them that you can rent through an app - sort of how like Uber and Lyft offer on-demand fleets of taxis.

Who makes e-scooters?

Several companies make them, but the most popular ones come from three startups: Bird, Lime, and Spin. One leading e-scooter company, Bird, reportedly just raised $150 million at a valuation north of $1 billion. It was run by Travis VanderZanden, a former executive of Uber and Lyft. But the idea originates from China, where dockless, park-anywhere bikes (such as Jump Bike and LimeBike) are a huge trend.

When did e-scooters first appear?

From what we can tell, sometime in March 2018, startups Bird, Lime, and Spin began rolling out hundreds of e-scooter rentals in downtown San Francisco in the span of a few weeks. Now, you can find them everywhere - from Los Angeles to Nashville, Tennessee.

How do e-scooters work?

Bird

  1. Download the Bird app for iOS.
  2. Create a login with your email address.
  3. A map in the app will show you any nearby e-scooters (called Birds).
  4. Zoom in to see more detail - like each scooter's battery charge.
  5. Before you grab e-scooter, add your credit card (Settings > Payments).
  6. When you find an e-scooter, near you, you tap the button to unlock it.
  7. The app asks you to snap a photo of the scooter's QR code.
  8. On your first rental, you may need to scan your driver's license.
  9. To start the e-scooter, you kick off three times, then push the throttle button.
  10. You squeeze with the right hand to accelerate and brake with the left.
  11. When done, park by a bike rack and don't block public pathways.
  12. To end the ride, open the app and tap the button to lock the scooter.
  13. The app will show you the ride time cost.
  14. Go here to see Bird's tutorial.

Lime

  1. Download the Lime app for iOS or Android.
  2. Create a login with your phone number or Facebook.
  3. A map in the app will show you any nearby e-scooters (called Lime-S)
  4. Zoom in to see more detail - like each scooter's battery charge.
  5. Before you grab e-scooter, add your credit card (Profile > Wallet).
  6. When you find an e-scooter, near you, you tap the button to unlock it.
  7. The app asks you to snap a photo of the scooter's QR code.
  8. On your first rental, you may need to scan your driver's license.
  9. To start the e-scooter, step on, kick forward, then push the throttle button.
  10. You press down on the right to accelerate and squeeze brake on the left.
  11. When done, park by a bike rack and don't block public pathways.
  12. To end the ride, open the app and tap the button to lock the scooter.
  13. The app will show you the ride time cost.
  14. Go here to see Lime's tutorial.

Spin

  1. Download the Spin app for iOS or Android.
  2. Create a login with your email address or Facebook.
  3. A map in the app will show you any nearby e-scooters.
  4. Zoom in to see more detail - like each scooter's battery charge.
  5. Before you grab e-scooter, add your credit card (Profile > Account).
  6. When you find an e-scooter, near you, you tap the button to unlock it.
  7. The app asks you to snap a photo of the scooter's QR code.
  8. On your first rental, you may need to scan your driver's license.
  9. To start the e-scooter, step on, kick forward, then push the throttle button.
  10. You press down on the right to accelerate and squeeze brake on the left.
  11. When done, park by a bike rack and don't block public pathways.
  12. To end the ride, open the app and tap the button to lock the scooter.
  13. The app will show you the ride time cost.
  14. Go here to see Spin's tutorial.

Can children use e-scooters?

No. You must be over the age of 18, have a valid driver's license, and can only ride one person at a time.

How much does it cost to rent an e-scooter?

  • Bird: $1 plus 15 cents per minute.
  • Lime: $1 plus 15 cents per minute
  • Spin: $1 plus 15 cents per minute

Where are e-scooters available?

Currently, they're found in major US cities and at university campuses.

How fast do e-scooters go?

  • Bird: 15 mph (24kph)
  • Lime: 14.8 mph (23.8kph)
  • Spin: 15 mph (24kph)

How far (range) can e-scooters go?

  • Bird: 15 miles (24km)
  • Lime: 37 miles (59.5km)
  • Spin: 15 miles (24km)

Where can you legally ride e-scooters?

It depends on your local laws. In California, you can't ride an e-scooter on sidewalks - only in the street or a bike lane.

Do you need to wear a helmet?

Some states, like California, require scooter riders to wear a helmet. You can actually order a helmet from Bird for just $1.

Can you park e-scooters anywhere?

No, and it's causing serious issues in some cities. It's led to the situation being dubbed Scootergeddon, Scooterpocalypse, and Scooter Wars. San Francisco authorities have begun confiscating illegally parked e-scooters, issuing citations, and sending out cease-and-desist orders as of April 2018. It also kicked e-scooters off the streets on June 4, but the city doesn't want to ban them. It wants to control them.

Part of the problem also stems from these e-scooter companies not following the rules or working with US cities to get permits. In Nashville, Tennessee, the city recently delivered an ultimatum to Bird: Remove all scooters from public rights-of-way in Nashville or the government will seize and impound all scooters that it finds unattended on a city street, sidewalk, park, greenway, or other public area.

Can you steal an e-scooter?

If you want to use one, open the e-scooter's app and rent it. Otherwise, the wheels are locked, and the e-scooter will beep if you try to move it. Also, keep in mind, most of the rental agreements stipulate you have to pay a fine even if your scooter or bike is stolen:

  • Bird: You must pay $500 fine for stolen e-scooter.
  • Lime: You must pay $1,500 fine for stolen e-scooter.
  • Spin: You must pa$1,300 fine for stolen e-scooter.

What happens if you get in an accident?

Nearly every rental agreement stipulates you're solely responsible for any damage to the vehicle or person.

Will Uber or Lyft offer e-scooters?

Maybe. As of June 2018, there are twelve companies - including Uber and Lyft - vying for just five permits that would allow them to park their e-scooters on city streets in San Francisco, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.

Want to know more?

Check out their websites: