I walk out of Union Station, nine days after getting back from Shanghai, and see the familiar sight of palm trees, a wide boulevard, and the Downtown skyline not too far in the distance. I also see something new that wasn’t present the last time I was here. Scooters. Everywhere. Lime, Bird, Spin, and other brands are dotting the sidewalks of Alameda. I’m tempted to investigate a new way to get where I’m going, but I’m in a hurry and don’t think I have enough time to try this new mode of transit.
I am heading to the Fashion District, a commute I’m quite used to. It’s 1.4 miles and can easily be done in ten to fifteen minutes on a Metrobike. As I walk up to the stall to check out a bike, I remember I no longer have the monthly pass that made checking out bikes as easy as taping my TAP card on the stall and being on my way. Rather I have to pull out my credit card and do an individual check out. While the uncomfortably hot sun is shining on the touchpad making it difficult to see, I begin the process of entering my phone number, I then have to answer a question about whether or not they can text me, whether I have a promo code, and whether I accept the waiver. Finally, after swiping my card 3 times because of “card reading errors”, which I’m sure was more due to my battered card and less the Metrobike card reader, I give up. Meanwhile, during the cumbersome process that took a total of just under 2 minutes, I saw one of those Lime Scooters out of the corner of my eye.
Flustered by the fact that my card wasn’t working, I walk over to the scooter on the sidewalk. I recently created an account a couple days prior, on the easy and convenient app, and I bought a $10 lime pass which takes the first dollar off each ride (a real money saver if you’re going to use it more than 10 times in a month.) I see the QR code to unlock the scooter, which if anyone has been to mainland China in the last three years will know is the future of any easy transaction. I scan the code with a picture from my app, and take off. A process that takes about fifteen seconds.
As I’m riding down an unusually helpful network of protected bike lanes on Los Angeles Street and Spring Street that make the trip safe and easy, I regret that I couldn’t have just taken Metrobike. The scooter experience is quite fun, but I genuinely enjoy the little exercise I get from a bike ride, and it’s a service I want to support. I think, despite its limitations, it’s a helpful system to have. However at the end of my scooter ride, which came out to $1.65, I was given a simple survey on my Lime app. Was it faster? Did it require less physical effort? The truth was, it did. Just the act of renting the device was easier, and sometimes that makes all the difference.
I don’t want to pull out my credit card, I don’t want to go through a very non-intuitive TAP website to try to register my card (which I did and found quite difficult.) This isn’t to say that Lime or any other private company is inherently a better service than Metro, in fact I think they can work hand in hand increasingly to help get people out of their cars. Rather, this is an opportunity for Metro to enhance its user experience so it’s as easy as possible, and maybe introduce more of those handy QR codes, which will help us all get where we are going a little bit faster.