LOS ANGELES — First, there was Bird. Then came Lime, Lyft and an ever-expanding roster of other shared electric scooter services.
And starting Wednesday, there will be yet another when Superpedestrian begins operating in Los Angeles.
Earlier this month, the LA Department of Transportation awarded a permit to the Massachusetts-based company to deploy 5,000 of its yellow and silver Link scooters in neighborhoods that have traditionally lacked mobility options. The scooters will be deployed in downtown LA, Echo Park, Highland Park, Hollywood, Koreatown, North Hollywood, West Adams and Venice.
Scooters can be unlocked using a smartphone app or by making a phone call to Superpedestrian's customer service. Rides will cost $1 to unlock and 39 cents per minute afterward. Reduced fares are available for individuals who use common federal, state or local assistance programs, such as Section 8 vouchers or the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.
Developed in the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Sustainable Cities Lab, Superpedestrian is “trying to solve city problems related to safety and mobility,” according to company spokesperson Wiley Norvell.
Launched in 2020, Superpedestrian benefits from being a second-generation company in the space, Norvell said. The nascent shared scooter industry has come under fire for not doing enough to prevent injuries ever since Bird, the Santa Monica startup, first started the shared electric scooter craze in 2017.
To help improve safety, Superpedestrian is partnering with community groups such as Chrysalis, Homeboy Industries and CicLAvia to offer public workshops on how to properly ride. It also plans to distribute 500 free helmets.
The most important safety feature, however, is the design of the Link scooter itself, which is equipped with five onboard computers that provide a sort of automated mechanic service, running checks on the battery, brakes and other systems before each rental to ensure it's working properly before it can be ridden.
If the computers detect something is wrong with the electronics, Superpedestrian says the scooter will self-repair. If the problem is more mechanical, the scooter will be flagged and taken out of service.
There are also systems to ensure the scooter is being ridden safely. Each Link is equipped with geofencing software to prevent the scooter from being ridden where it isn't allowed, including pedestrian plazas, parks and other restricted zones. Riders who attempt to enter a prohibited area will experience slowing within one second of doing so before the scooter comes to a stop.
Starting this fall, the company will also deploy a new technology called pedestrian defense, which will identify how a rider is operating the device. If the scooter is swerving erratically, hard-braking or riding the wrong way down a street, Superpedestrian will send that person a notification on the scooter’s display, as well as by text message, to correct the behavior. And if a rider consistently breaks the rules, the company will bring the scooter to a stop and suspend the rider’s membership.
Since launching last year, Superpedestrian has expanded to 40 cities, including Seattle, Baltimore and Cleveland. LA will be its largest deployment. The company joins six other electric scooter services already operating more than 30,000 devices in LA as part of LADOT’s 3-year-old shared mobility program, which includes Lyft and Wheels.