- Four electric scooter companies dominate the scene in Los Angeles: Lime,Uber, Lyft, and Bird.
- On a trip to Los Angeles in December, I rode scooters from all four companies to compare the rider experience of each.
- Of the scooters I tried, Lyft’s provided by far the best experience. However, I’d probably never ride scooters from Lime or Bird again. Here’s why.
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Zooming through the wide, sunny streets of Los Angeles, warm wind gently ruffling my light sweater – what could be a more idyllic alternative to lurching through the bowels of New York City in a screechy, rickety subway car packed with irritable commuters?
When I visited LA, I couldn’t wait to ride e-scooters for the first time. I was abroad in 2018, during the First Great Migration of e-scooters into the cities of America. Then, I moved to New York, which has refused to allow e-scooters to swarm its already-chaotic streets.
In LA, the four main e-scooter companies – Bird, Lime, Uber, and Lyft – all have significant fleets. During my week in the city, I tried all four, and Lyft was by far the best. Here’s why:
Lyft’s scooter offered by far the smoothest ride. Not only did it have the smoothest acceleration, but it also traversed rough surfaces with relative ease.
Ever since scooters flooded the streets, they have been racked with safety and comfort issues. Riding a flimsy scooter on rough streets is no fun, so scooter companies have been racing to get their hands on better scooters.
Lime was by far the worst, as its shared fleet in LA is probably the oldest. Riding a Gen 2 Lime scooter was a somewhat harrowing experience.
Lime last updated its scooters in 2018, when it upgraded to Gen 3, which is a generation above the Lime scooters that I saw in LA. Since I did not see any Gen 3 Lime scooters in LA, my riding experience with Lime was solely with its previous generation of scooters, which were by far the roughest ride of the bunch.
Uber’s newest generation of scooters came out at the same time as Lyft’s, but they’re simply not as easy to ride as Lyft’s. They were a slightly bumpier ride, and the braking was overly sensitive.
In the summer of 2019, Uber released its newest scooter, made by an undisclosed company. This move ended its production partnership with Chinese manufacturer Ninebot, which produces the vast majority of scooters in the US.
The Bird Zero was almost as smooth as Uber’s scooter. Its main drawback was its braking, which was hard to control.
Bird released two new models of scooters in 2019, in an effort to stem the steady hemorrhage of money from its second-generation scooter fleet, which has proven to be much less durable than expected.
Out of all the scooter companies, Lyft had the best pricing by a very small margin.
Every scooter costs $US1 to start, but the per-minute pricing varies by company and also depends on a variety of factors.
Lyft costs 15 to 29 cents per minute, Uber costs 15 to 30 cents, Lime costs 15 to 32, and Bird costs 15 to 39.
All the pricing is generally similar between brands. However, Lime and Bird have launched monthly subscriptions for their scooters, while Uber has included its scooters in its new all-inclusive monthly subscription. Lyft is the only scooter app that has yet to announce a subscription service for its scooters.
For riders who don’t want to invest in a monthly subscription, one brand stands out for having a particularly bad user experience.
Unlike all the other e-scooter sharing companies, Bird requires its users to purchase prepaid credit before they are able to ride.
This isn’t great.
First of all, it’s a potential deterrent to first-time riders who might not want to commit the minimum credit amount of $US10 to trying something new.
Second, it traps people into using the app when they don’t want to, just because they have credit. Because no ride is ever going to come to exactly the amount of credit a rider has (unless the rider is very, very intentional about it), riders will always have some amount, no matter how small, of unused, useless Bird money that they can’t do anything else with except ride Bird’s scooters.
And to top it off, Bird is by far the most expensive scooter ride.
Its prepaid balance requirement seemingly serves no purpose other than ensuring Bird a minimum profit per rider and deterring riders from choosing other apps when they already have credit in their Bird account. It’s also hugely detrimental to the user experience.
Having ridden scooters from all four companies, I can say that the smoothest ride and user experience combined was definitely Lyft.
Lyft not only offered the smoothest ride, it also offered reasonable pricing and an easy-peasy user experience.
Uber ranked second, with the second smoothest ride, pricing that was also reasonable, and a user experience that’s almost identical to Lyft’s.
I’d happily hop on a Lyft or an Uber scooter, although I definitely prefer Lyft. However, based on my experience, I’d never ride with Lime or Bird again.
Lime’s terrifying scooters were by far the roughest ride. While I might feel differently if I’d had a chance to ride their newest generation of scooters, I’d like to note that Lime has had a year and a half to roll out its Gen 3 scooters while Lyft rolled its latest generation out half a year ago.
Bird’s scooters were acceptable to ride, although they weren’t as easy to ride as Lyft. However, its annoying payment system makes for by far the worst user experience.
As scooter companies continue to improve their products and infrastructure, though, I suspect that much of this will change. Each new generation of scooter will provide a better riding experience than the last. But for now, my scooter of choice is definitely Lyft.
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