Last-Mile Providers Take Different Routes

Last-Mile Providers Take Different Routes
Ofo bicyle.

Getting commuters home from their closest Metro stop – the so-called last-mile – has been the bane of public transportation planners in Los Angeles County for decades.

But a growing number of tech startups think they have the solution.

Over the past six months electric scooter and bike sharing programs have sprouted across Los Angeles County.

Santa Monica-based startup Bird Rides Inc. started in September strewing sidewalks in Santa Monica and surrounding neighborhoods with standup electric scooters. And, Beijing-based Ofo stationed a few hundred bicycles in Bellflower in December. The tech firms are eyeing expansion throughout Los Angeles County this year.

Both companies rent vehicles to riders through mobile apps, which allows users to find and unlock the two-wheelers. When riders are finished with the vehicles they can be abandoned on the sidewalk. Rides cost $1 per ride and 15 cents per minute on Bird’s electric scooters, and $1 per hour on Ofo’s bicycles.

The main difference between these two startups – besides using electric versus leg power – is the approach each company’s executives have taken to building relationships with local authorities.

Ofo looks for cities that lack last-mile transportation infrastructure, and then works with city governments to gain approval to operate within their boundaries and to park its vehicles on public property, such as sidewalks, said Ofo’s Chandra Morando, the company’s West Coast regional general manager. The startup, which has raised more than $1.3 billion, according to Crunchbase, has established partnerships with a couple dozen cities across the U.S., including Seattle, Denver and Boston, she said.

“It really allows us to place our bikes on the public right of away on the sidewalk, as long as they are legally parked and not on the pedestrian right of way,” said Morando.

The company’s bikes have been ridden in Bellflower thousands of times since being made available to the public in December, she said.

Bird, founded by former Uber Technologies Inc. Vice President of Driver Growth Travis VanderZanden, took a more cavalier approach. The company, until recently, was allegedly renting out its scooters to customers without permits or a proper business license, according to Santa Monica city officials. It drops off clusters of its scooters on public sidewalks early each morning and users leave scooters almost wherever they want whenever they want. The startup claimed that its vehicles logged more than 250,000 rides since it began renting in September, with more than half of those rides occurring in January.

The approach led to fast growth, but also a complaint filed in December by the Santa Monica City Attorney’s Office. Bird entered a plea deal on Feb. 14, agreeing to pay $300,000 in fines for operating without a business license and necessary permits. It also agreed to reduce the top speed of its scooters from 22 mph to 15 mph and institute a free helmet service for users, among other concessions.

Bird spokesman Marcus Reese said the company will change its tactics going forward.

“We’re happy that we were able to work out this process with the city and that we can now start a clean slate. We were in contact with them and dialoging with them since the beginning, and we will continue that dialogue,” Reese said. “And moving forward, our strategy with cities is to be a good partner and maintain a strong dialog with them.”

Reese declined to characterize the impact of the financial penalty on Bird. However, the fine likely will amount to little more than a speeding ticket for the company, which announced on the day before its plea agreement that it raised a $15 million Series A round.

Feasibility Study

Culver City-based Hyperloop Transportation Technologies, which is developing a hyperloop tube transportation system, announced Feb. 15 that it signed an agreement with North Ohio Areawide Coordinating Agency and Illinois’ Department of Transportation to begin a feasibility study for the region. Several corridors have been identified as potential hyperloop routes to connect Cleveland to Chicago. Hyperloop technology is a vacuum tube transportation system some believe could whisk passengers and cargo along great distances at speeds far faster than airliners or bullet trains.

Staff reporter Garrett Reim can be reached at [email protected] or (323) 556-8332.

Editor’s note: This story has been updated.

No posts to display