Scoot over Santiago – The future of transport in the capital

SANTIAGO—San Francisco-based Scoot launched a kick scooter pilot program in Las Condes last October. Now, less than four months later, it’s expanding its range, and this is only the beginning. CT caught up with Gonzalo Cortés, Scoot’s current Director of Market Development LATAM to discuss Scoot’s big plans and to find out what makes Scoot different.

Scoot’s mission is simple, if not also very ambitious: “Electric Vehicles for Everyone.” Scoot and its employees are committed to multimodality and sustainability—in short, options for transport that get people out of cars and onto or into vehicles that are smaller and have less environmental impacts. Scoot seeks to accomplish this through kick scooters, electric bicycles (eBikes), electric motor scooters (Scooters), and small four-wheel, carlike electric vehicles (Quads).

Slow and steady wins the race?

Scoot started in San Francisco, California, with Scooters in 2012. Last year, it launched in Barcelona, Spain, with Scooters and eBikes, and in Santiago, Chile, with kick scooters.

If six years seems like a long time to get up and running in other cities, that’s only because you aren’t peering behind the curtain. All along, Scoot have been orchestrating and executing a plan for exponential growth, but one, unlike some of its competitors, that has the permission, and even the enthusiastic blessing, of the affected municipalities.

The Las Condes pilot program: a successful launch and a model for future expansion

Scoot initiated its Santiago pilot program in the commune (comuna) of Las Condes, with 150 kick scooters on Oct. 20, 2018.

Since then, the pilot program has had nothing but success, and Scoot is now in an expansion phase. Just last week it raised its kick scooter count to 500.

This month, Scoot also plans to expand its range to the rest of Las Condes and to the communes of La Reina and Vitacura.

According to Cortés, this is only the beginning. Scoot hopes to reach the rest of Santiago, and other cities in Latin America and Europe, and not just with its kick scooters, but also with its Scooters and eBikes.

Photo: Felipe Neuenschwander / Scoot

Doing its homework and making friends, not enemies

Consistent with Scoot’s studied approach to expansion, Scoot is doing its homework, and proceeding with caution. As Cortés notes, Scoot is going to each commune’s local government officials to discuss its plans and to obtain the necessary permits and permissions first, and not simply dropping its equipment on the street, like others have done.

A tale of two cities: San Francisco and Santiago

The “drop” approach by some of Scoot’s competitors has caused a lot of problems in other locations. In fact, in Scoot’s hometown, San Francisco, this led to a temporary ban on kick scooters.

When San Francisco subsequently initiated a pilot program, Scoot and one other company, Skip, were the only two awarded permits. Based on what the San Francisco Metro Transportation Agency (SFMTA) has had to say about it, safety and environmental considerations were key to Scoot’s award.

In its application, Scoot demonstrated a strong commitment to safety. For example, the company proposed to educate and train its users in safe scooter operations with mandatory instructional videos, helmets included in rentals and free in-person training.

Furthermore, Scoot’s model was unique in its proposal to use swappable batteries instead of manually taking the scooters off the street for regular recharging. This method could help the city reduce the number of vehicle miles traveled on San Francisco streets, which helps reduce traffic congestion and greenhouse gas emissions.

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San Francisco-based Lime (backed by Uber) and the other companies that originally brought kick scooters to San Francisco were not chosen. In tech terms, the win by Scoot and Skip has been called a “David vs. Goliath feat.”

According to San Francisco Business Times technology reporter, Dawn Kawamoto, “several savvy moves locked in a win for Scoot and Skip …. For starters, they operated under the philosophy of ‘ask permission first, not forgiveness.’ This provided a contrast when the spring deluge of electronic scooters rained on San Francisco streets from Bird, Lime and a host of other scooter companies.”

Scoot and Skip also had prior experience dealing with city transit agencies that they leveraged, and they focused not only on their customer base, riders, but also on others who would interact with the riders: pedestrians, drivers, property owners, etc.

Photo: Felipe Neuenschwander / Scoot

The result in San Francisco is that Scoot and Skip are moving forward with their kick scooter pilot programs and Lime is now locked in a legal battle to get its kick scooters back on the street. Lime has filed both an administrative appeal and a lawsuit in state court.

In the lawsuit, Lime argues “[b]ias contaminated the SFMTA’s Pilot Program.” At the inception of the lawsuit, Lime also tried (and failed) to obtain a temporary restraining order prohibiting the city from moving forward with the pilot program.

In opposition, the city castigated Lime, asserting that Lime had previously “dumped unregulated electric scooters on the sidewalks of San Francisco.” Ironically, this sentiment, is the very thing Lime is using to argue its case. Lime told Bloomberg “it will argue that the city unfairly punished it for putting scooters on San Francisco streets without explicit approval.”

Being sidelined and left to arguing “bias” is definitely not where a company wants to be, especially in its hometown, but, in Santiago, it appears that Lime is also following the “ask permission first” approach. As Lorenzo Mayol, general manager of Lime for South America explained to PAUTA Bloomberg, Lime has also started with a numerically and geographically limited launch “and from there we are talking with the rest of the municipalities to open up the communes and expand.”

Photo: Felipe Neuenschwander / Scoot

Two distinguishing features

Two additional aspects to Scoot’s model that municipalities view favorably are (1) that the people swapping the batteries are Scoot’s own employees, who earn full benefits, not independent contractors earning piece rate payments, and (2) that the kick scooters now come with locks.

As to the first, besides keeping cars off the street (because the batteries are swapped with the scooters in place, by people walking or using Scoot’s e-vehicles to reach them), it also avoids potential labor law violations (because the people doing the swaps are employees).

As to the second, it allows riders to secure the kick scooters to stationary objects out of the way and consistent with a city’s preferences (for example, to street sign poles or bike stands). This also reduces vandalism and the related environmental cost—e-waste.

Photo: Felipe Neuenschwander / Scoot

Santiaguino brings Scoot home

If would-be riders in Scoot’s service areas only have to walk a block or so to hop on a kick scooter, Cortés, himself, took a more circuitous route to Scoot.

He grew up in Santiago and attended the Grange School in La Reina and then the Universidad de Chile, where he obtained a degree in hydraulic civil engineering and water resources. He then attended the University of California at Los Angeles, where he obtained a master’s degree and a doctoral degree in hydrology and water resources. After that, he continued on in the field as a postdoctoral scholar and as CEO at a company that specialized in hydrological forecasting services.

His general interest in sustainable resources, however, inspired him to make the leap to sustainable transport and to work with others to bring Scoot to Chile. He formally joined Scoot in California in September 2018 and returned home to Santiago in December.

He is very glad that he did. He says that, personally, it has been gratifying, not only to offer options for “first,” “last mile,” and “door-to-door” trips, but also to see people “having fun while they’re doing it.” He is also pleased to see that such changes are part of a wider push for “green” infrastructural changes that encourage more walking, biking, and alternatives to gas and diesel vehicles.

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