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Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 17 November 2018

On the move: hitching a ride to the future on an e-scooter

My 18-minute trip cost just $3.70 (Dh13.5): e-scooters will likely change urban mobility

Rosemary Behan got hold of an e-scooter via the Bird app. Photo courtesy Rosemary Behan 
Rosemary Behan got hold of an e-scooter via the Bird app. Photo courtesy Rosemary Behan 

Last month I wrote about trying an e-bike for the first time and the difference it makes to long rides, especially those outside cities. Technology has now made e-bike batteries viable in terms of cost and longevity; so much so that major ride sharing companies such as Uber and Lyft have started to acquire e-bikes and e-bike rental facilities, with Uber finding that a significant number of Uber Bike customers in cities such as San Francisco, Washington DC, Chicago and Austin are choosing to stick with electric bikes instead of booking a car by using its app.

Yet this year, and in the case of Uber since last month, when it teamed up with Lime, dockless “e-scooters” are the latest “personal electric vehicle sharing” offering and are spreading rapidly through Europe and the United States. Three companies, Bird, Lime and Skip, are among those companies offering them across the US. I tried Bird. Since the e-scooters were licensed in Portland, Oregon, just last week, the city’s residents awoke to find “nests” of the Birds on street corners.

Much lighter and cheaper to make than an e-bike, the e-scooter has no seat and is designed for short journeys, which are charged at US$1 (Dh3.67) plus 15 cents per minute. The system all works through an app, so if you don’t have data on your phone, you can forget it.

I downloaded the app, opened it and registered my credit card. It then gives you a map showing the location of the scooters, which could be anywhere depending on where their last users parked them.

The Bird app and "personal electric vehicle sharing" service was licenced in Portland, Oregon last week, part of a current wave spreading across the United States. Rosemary Behan
The Bird app and "personal electric vehicle sharing" service was licenced in Portland, Oregon last week, part of a current wave spreading across the United States. Rosemary Behan

Truth be told, it took two attempts on different days to bag a Bird, as the first time, in Portland’s exclusive Northwest district, I’d forgotten to take my driving licence with me and my phone’s battery was about to die.

I was second time lucky. While most Birds are clustered around Portland’s large inner districts, when I opened the app, I saw there was one just around the corner from where I was staying. I decided to hire it to go and get coffee, instead of driving.

Once you locate your Bird, you open the app and scan its barcode to “unlock” it. I had to put in my driving licence details, before agreeing to the lengthy terms and conditions (read before at your leisure on the company’s website).

Once I’d followed a very brief tutorial on how to operate the machine (take it off its kickstand, put one foot on it and kick off with the other before pushing the throttle with your thumb to move forward), I was off.

I made it a quick trip, as after your first ride the company will send you a free helmet, and I decided not to get coffee as it would have been tricky to balance – you seem to need two hands to remain steady and to turn, which makes indicating problematic.

My 18-minute trip cost just US$3.70, much cheaper than a taxi, much faster than a bus and pollution-free. To stop the clock ticking, park your scooter in a visible public location and confirm on the app that you are ending your ride; it will tell you what your ride has cost and how far you went before the scooter locks.

It’s as easy as riding a bike – and probably, after a bit of practice, easier.

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Read more from Rosemary:

On the move: cabin fever offers us big life lessons

On the move: In memory of Anthony Bourdain, a phenomenal meal in Vancouver

On the move: Don’t lose your bearings on a hike

On the move: Instantly intrigued in the unlikely state capital of Alaska

On the move: Passage to Alaska, part 2: raw nature

On the move: passage to Alaska, part 1: signals fade

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