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Are JUMP Scooters Good For Sacramento?

This past summer Sacramento went through a transformation — a transportation transformation. In late May 2018, JUMP bicycles first appeared on the streets of Sacramento. The bright red bikes showed up almost overnight and were immediately a hit with residents. People appreciated the low fares and loved the easy access. Riders showed up in droves, […]

This past summer Sacramento went through a transformation — a transportation transformation.

In late May 2018, JUMP bicycles first appeared on the streets of Sacramento. The bright red bikes showed up almost overnight and were immediately a hit with residents. People appreciated the low fares and loved the easy access. Riders showed up in droves, with packs of the bikes speeding at upwards of fifteen miles per hour throughout downtown. The bike sharing craze was taking Sacramento by storm.

When I first reported on the bikes in September, I had my doubts. The bikes seemed dangerous, especially with the hill assist. They seemed expensive, with the price to keep riding a JUMP bike appearing to be too impractical for anything other than quick rides. Most importantly, they seemed like an odd commitment for the city of Sacramento to make, and not necessarily one that would play out in favor of the city. But as the months dragged on, my skepticism somewhat subsided. It was clear that the JUMP bikes weren’t going anywhere any time soon. Even if they are not as overwhelmingly popular in those first weeks, they certainly still seemed to be everywhere. The JUMP bikes, as we all knew them, seemed to be here to stay.

Now there has been an exciting new development in the Sacramento JUMP Bike saga. On Friday, February 8th, a fleet of 100 motorized, JUMP scooters were launched in the Sacramento area. The scooters are similar in style to their bicycle cousins; they are the same flamboyant red color and feature the same e-assist, allowing them to travel up to fifteen miles per hour. Because of this motorized functionality, the scooters must be ridden on the streets, either and the traffic or bike lanes, depending on the street. The regulation is part of a ongoing campaign on the part of the city of Sacramento to curb the problems that are often seen in in such bike and scooter sharing services.

When the Talon first reported on JUMP, the city of San Francisco had recently served cease and desist letters to three notable scooter sharing companies, Bird Rides, LimeBike, and Spin, saying that they create a “public nuisance and are unlawful”. According to Fortune Magazine, shortly after the letters were presented, there were very prominent issues with the scooter sharing system. Scooters would often be left unattended after rides were finished or riders would use them without helmets or on sidewalks.

“It provides a convenient service that generates a lot of excitement among its users,” the article says, “but also generates ill effects for the rest of the population. Companies promise to figure out the problems, but they’re mostly focused on outgrowing one another. They tend to see anything that slows them down as either wrongheaded, ignorable or both.”

A bright red JUMP scooter, ready for action.

As JUMP seeks to expand its influence in the Sacramento area, local authorities have responded with regulation. The city has imposed a fee on JUMP for every time a scooter is rented within its jurisdiction. The funds collected from these fees are intended for use in building parking racks for use with the scooters. This is meant to solve the problem of improperly parked scooters seen in San Francisco, and in addition to the stipend collected from JUMP, the city also hopes to impose a $27.50 fine and processing fee for any rentable scooters left on the sidewalk unattended. As an added precaution, scooter companies like JUMP will also be allowed to impose their own fees for the same behavior.

The new rules did not go over well with JUMP. The company’s Sacramento manager Alex Hagelin told the Sacramento Bee recently that “the new fee structure decreases our appetite for growing the fleet in Sacramento and serving more communities”.

“It’s expensive,” Hagelin said in a different interview. “Growing our service would be a challenge under the proposed pricing schedule.”

In fact, the Bee reported that other scooter sharing companies, like the aforementioned LimeBike and Bird, are interested in launching fleets in Sacramento, but are discouraged by the increase in regulation. Marlo Sandler of Bird told the Bee that “the proposed fees will limit most scooter companies from being able to operate here,” Sandler said. “This goes against the grain of the city’s business-friendly culture and values around innovation.”

“We are actively talking to the city,” Hagelin of JUMP more optimistically described. “We have a great partnership with the city and we are confident we will reach a compromise.”

Sacramento mayor Darrell Steinberg mirrored this optimistic attitude, telling the Bee that he is “excited about the arrival of Jump scooters in Sacramento. JUMP bikes have been a huge success in our city, and shared scooters will give our residents another affordable, green way to get around.”

I, however, was still unconvinced. Though the city seemed to be on board with the new e-scooters, I wanted to see just how effective they were. I had already read a truckload of articles and seen just as many news reports on them, but in order to see if they truly lived up to the hype, I needed to experience them up close and personally. I convened my usual council, consisting of Nathan Battimarco (‘19) and Nico Sanchez (‘19) to get the full JUMP scooter experience. Both of them had accompanied me on my last excursion with the bright red vehicles and were happy to help.

Before we embarked, preparations had to be made. All of us reminded ourselves of the JUMP procedures. The scooter would be free to unlock when we found one, but from there it would cost 15 cents per minute. In addition, all of us would need to provide our own helmets, as the scooters would be going just as fast as a e-assisted bike, but with less control.

Nico stops to learn the JUMP scooter controls.

We gathered on a chilly Saturday morning, helmets in hand. Nico quite generously offered to pay through the app. What was curious was that you could not find JUMP scooters through the main JUMP app — you had to go through the Uber app instead. Unimpeded by this, we quickly reserved a scooter and got on the move.

Much like the last time we patronized JUMP, our vehicle was waiting for us nearby. From our meetup spot at Nathan’s home in Downtown Sacramento, it only took us a couple of minutes to locate our selected scooter, which was sitting straight up on the curb three blocks away. Nico quickly unlocked it by scanning the QR code on between the handlebars, and our JUMP scooter adventure began.

Nico was up first; he cautiously mounted the scooter and sped down a nearby alley. We followed a ways behind as Nico hesitantly got to learn the controls. The scooters need to be pushed forward a few times before the motor kicked in. After that, there are two convenient switches to control it on the handlebars: an accelerator on the right and a brake on the left. The scooters also feature a foot brake on the back wheel as you would see on any scooter and a handy speedometer between the handlebars. These are especially necessary, as with the JUMP bikes, the JUMP scooter design can make riding the scooters very imprecise. Nathan later noted how making sharp turns was almost impossible and how it felt as if there was resistance whenever one made a turn at all.

As we went up the street we began to see how fast the scooters could really go. Nathan took control and flew past us, going as fast as possible. It appeared he was consistently going top speed and had no intention of stopping. He in particular took to the scooter and tried his best to push the little device to its limits. As we tried to find an open space to test the scooter more, Nathan sped ahead while Nico and myself discussed the use of the scooters. Nico had some initial skepticism about them. He didn’t understand how they were useful at all and what they offered other than being smaller.

Nathan crouches down while accelerating up the block.

We soon found a large, open parking lot to ride in. Nathan quickly rode in, flying over curbs and weaving in between the partitions. Nico took another turn as well, rolling around the smooth ground with ease and making his way to the outer reaches of the parking lot in seconds flat. I also took a turn on the scooter, though I was admittedly anxious to do so. Though I was fairly well equipped to handle a JUMP bike, I did not know if I would be able to handle a scooter with the same power, since I had not ridden one for several years.

It was about as fast as I expected. The scooter only requires you to work when you push off; from then on, it’s smooth sailing. As long as the ground is pretty level, you just skirt along without hindrance. Being on it is rather exhilarating, perhaps more so than their bike counterparts. On the bikes you move along fast and feel very light while doing so. But on the scooters you go just as fast, but somehow feel even lighter. I almost tripped myself up a couple of times because the feeling of lightness made me feel unsure of my own movements. Where Nathan and Nico had excelled at keeping the scooter upright and balanced, I felt rather uncomfortable, and nearly crashed as a result.

I take the scooter for a spin.

We did a few laps, trying to experiment with every feature the scooter had to offer, but soon decided to call it a day. We rolled the scooter over to the nearest bike rack, and Nico locked it and snapped a picture for JUMP to confirm it was parked properly.

From there my companions shared their thoughts. Nathan had eased up to the scooter, having got the hang of it early on, and Nico had come to understand the appeal the scooters held with the general public. It was their size and convenience, he said, that made them so popular.

Admittedly, my brief foray on the scooter was enjoyable. Like Nico, I could see why people had jumped on them so much. However, I remained unconvinced. The experience overall seemed to be much the same as riding a JUMP bike, and it seemed to carry many, if not all of the same criticisms. The scooters were expensive; an hour on them cost nearly $10, and with a 15 cent per minute rate, the new scooters oftentimes end up being more costly to ride than the JUMP bikes. The scooters are heavy and cumbersome when unpowered, and as stated before, they often end up being abandoned on sidewalks and in front of buildings regardless of regulation.

However, of all the concerns that come with the rise of rentable scooters, there is no greater one than safety. In cities across the country, there have been a rising number of accidents involving motorized scooters. In Oakland a 2 year old boy was struck by a Bird Scooter outside his home. In Los Angeles, a 47 year old man broke his jaw after landing on his face when his scooter malfunctioned. In San Diego, a 32 year old man suffered a concussion, a broken nose, and facial lacerations after his scooter hit a bump on the road. Over the course of less than a year, there have even been deaths linked to riding the scooters. In Washington DC a 20 year old man was killed after he was struck by an SUV while riding a Lime scooter and wearing headphones. Three weeks earlier, a 24 year old died after falling off a scooter and suffering head injuries. In early February, a Consumer Reports investigation revealed there had been at least 1,500 injuries sustained across the country due to the e-scooters.

Because of the myriad of horror stories that come with these scooters, some question the structural safety of the vehicles at all. In September, an article for the Washington Post reported that a major cause of the influx of injuries was a poor maintaining of the battery powered scooters by the rental companies. For companies like Bird, applicants for mechanic positions only need a smartphone and a car to qualify for a job. Additionally, mechanics are reportedly often trained by YouTube videos, a claim not confirmed, but not denied by Bird. As the Post describes it; “critics add that some ­electric-scooter fleets are poorly maintained by a loose-knit flock of amateur mechanics, making them prone to dangerous mechanical failures”. Such mechanical failures can result in scooters with bad brakes or accelerators that stick. If a rider were to lose control of a scooter going top speed, the force could easily be enough to kill them.

These seem like scary enough consequences to come with such a seemingly innocuous ride. But for a rider unfortunate enough to suffer an injury with one of these scooters, getting compensation can be even more difficult. Many of these scooter sharing companies include arbitration clauses in their rider’s agreements. These clauses, hiding in plain sight, make users waive their right to sue the company if they should have any problem, including an injury. Such clauses are common practice in the business world, but for a sharing economy rife with injuries and in some cases defective products, these agreements seem more dubious.

A JUMP scooter sits unattended in the middle of a Sacramento sidewalk.

What is important to remember about all of these cases of injuries is that none of them directly involve JUMP. JUMP has an interesting position in the scooter sharing market as it did in the bike sharing market. While the companies involved these widely publicized cases, like Bird and Lime, are more prominent, they stand on their own. JUMP, however, is a subsidiary of the ride sharing behemoth Uber. This could possibly mean higher standards of maintenance for the two wheeled vehicles or a different response should injuries sustained through use of the scooters become prevalent. In a situation like this, the notoriety of the parent company could spell a much different handling of many of the issues e-scooters have become known for. Therefore, guilt by association may not be entirely warranted.

On the other hand, the emergence of JUMP scooters in the Sacramento area could be indicative of a growing, interconnected, and possibly even dangerous market. Take for instance the fact that last year Sacramento was JUMP’s fastest growing bicycle market and now one of the first cities to see the newly unveiled scooters. Or the fact that other sharing companies like Bird and Lime have already expressed interest in setting up shop in Sacramento, but have only acquiesced after growing regulation from the local government. Or the fact that though JUMP and the more popular Lime are technically competitors, JUMP’s owner Uber made a $355 million investment in Lime and is currently partnered with them to include Lime as a part of the Uber app. Or the fact that the California legislature passed a law in 2018 to make it legal for adults to ride electric scooters without a helmet, a law that was supported in part by Bird. Finally, consider that within the rental agreement required of every user who tries a JUMP bike or scooter, there is a arbitration clause forbidding them to sue should anything happen to them.

All of this information again begs the question: are these scooter sharing services a good thing for the Sacramento area? Certainly they produce plenty of revenue — the worldwide e-scooter industry is now skyrocketing into the billions, and with the regulation being placed on it by local authorities, some of that money will be put back into the city. Certainly they seem to make people happy — people use them in droves. Certainly they serve as an entryway for Sacramento to establish itself as a city for startups and new technologies.

Nathan tries hard to maneuver the scooter.

But beneath all that shiny veneer, what do JUMP bikes and JUMP scooters really mean for the area? Are they a useful resource for people looking to commute or get exercise? Or are they simply a novelty for tourists and others looking for something fun to do. What does it mean for the city’s public transportation system, which is at this point aging and underutilized? Does it make sense to let a private transportation company become so prevalent in a place where public transportation exists?

Are these little red vehicles easily manageable for the city or will they become a public nuisance as they have in cities like San Francisco and Los Angeles? Are they safe for people to ride? And how will the company or the city react if some person or people suffer serious injury in Sacramento due to them? And once again, what happens if the investment runs dry and JUMP bikes cease to be profitable? What kind of consequences would that hold?

It has been almost a year now since JUMP was first introduced to Sacramento, and since then, so much has been learned about them and the industry that surrounds them. Despite the controversy that surrounds the industry, the bright red vehicles have become a part of the city’s culture. With the introduction of JUMP scooters, their place in the city has only been solidified. As Nico, Nathan and I walked back from our excursion on the scooter, we saw people on bikes and scooters riding in groups of three or four. They were all smiling and having fun as they sped by us. One can only hope they rode safe.

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