In the recent past the number of people around the world living in urban cities has exceeded the number of people living in rural areas. This trend will continue, and by 2050 ⅔rds of the world’s population will live in urban areas. People are flocking to large cities for any number of reasons. To be sure, the traffic congestion is not among them.
We only have one mega city, a city with more than 10,000,000 people in it, in the United States at the moment: New York City. But the prediction is that we will have 20 mega cities within 20 years. This massive urban migration is creating significant strains on the confined infrastructure of the last century, certainly in urban transportation.
I love living in San Francisco, which is not a mega city. It’s population is under 900,000. The city’s landmass is constrained on 3 sides by water. The whole city is only 7 miles wide from the Pacific Ocean to the Bay. (That number, 7 miles, will be significant when considering the range of these electric vehicles.) But the land continues to be developed, spreading up instead of spreading out. And with the tech industry attracting more and more young people seeking the next gold rush, the population of the city continues to rise.
And so does the traffic congestion. The city’s efforts to tackle urban transportation, with mass transit and bike lanes, is still under tremendous strain.
But disruptive innovators are exploring any number of solutions to reduce the number of cars on the roads, which are insanely jammed. I have been particularly intrigued with several of the new developments and present a broad overview of some of them below.
The Boosted Board was one of the first electric powered skateboards to gain a lot of traction, so to speak. You see them all over the Bay Area. In fact, their headquarters are in Mountain View, CA. I see young people riding the things everywhere, using them as their means of local transportation, because, in the city, you can live close to work, close to play, and find everything you need (food, restaurants, services) in your area neighborhood.
The boards have a range of 7 to 14 miles depending on the model you select1 . They can travel between 18 and 24 mph depending on the model you select. And before you think that’s way too slow, with traffic, pedestrians, and traffic lights or stop signs at most intersections, this speed range is probably faster than cars are averaging while traveling down the streets2 . Yeah, the average speed a car travels in an urban environment is frequently really, really slow!
Put on your backpack. Ride your Boosted Board to work. Carry it up to the office. Charge it there. Hop on it to go home. Most days the weather is really nice. Feel the wind in your hair. And Boosted Board is not, by any means, the only company offering these electric skateboards for sale. The competition is amping up significantly.
I see people, mostly guys, riding these things along the Embarcadero all the time. The Boosted Board brand of electric skateboards cost between $750 – $1,600.
Maybe you want a smoother ride without having to use a controller in your hand. Hop on your OneWheel. This board is like a skateboard, but it has one wheel—in the center of the board. Similar range. Similar speed. You can ride in sand, over bigger bumps and holes, and you have both hands free.
You control speed and direction by leaning in the direction you want to go. Want to turn right or left? Lean in that direction. The more you lean, the faster you go. To stop, or even ride backwards, simply put more weight on your back foot. That’s some sophisticated technology under the hood! Standing with the board equally balanced on the wheel keeps the OneWheel still.
I haven’t seen a lot of these out “in the wild” yet, but I’m sure it’s just a matter of time. With similar speed and range as the electric skateboards, these boards sell for $1,500 – $1,800.
Electric Scooters (Like Bird)
This is like the old fashioned scooter you may have had as a child, if you’re as old as me. One foot on the board while the other is used to push you off to get started. Then, the electric motor kicks in. You need both hands to steer using the handlebar.
These small scooters have about a 20 mile range and will go about 20 mph. You can rent them all over the city from a variety of vendors: LimeBike‘s Lime-S, Bird, Spin, and others. Find the nearest one to you using their app. Hop on. Use rates are very inexpensive. Get where you’re going and leave it. (Just don’t block the sidewalks or bike lanes, etc.)
This mode of transportation is all the rage, in more ways than one3 , in San Francisco. Every day I see flocks of them heading here and there. The people riding them seem to love the experience.
And if you want to purchase your own, there are a huge number of options available to you. You can even purchase a seat for yours. Some of them fold up for easy transport into the home or office. And some, like the Yunbike X1 blur the line between an electric scooter and an electric bike.
These bikes can move and vary significantly in cost from several hundred dollars to several thousand. You can typically use them in pedal assist mode, where the electric motor assists your pedaling, often by a factor of 300% or 400%. Some are just electric powered. I’ve seen these being used for deliveries in the city.
There are several companies in San Francisco that have electric bike rentals: Ford GoBike, LimeBike Lime-E, Jump, to name just a few. You can find their rental stations all around the city. Every weekday I see Google employees pull up in the electric bike rental, lock it up, and head into the office.
Electric and traditional bicycle rental in San Francisco is a huge industry! People will rent them in town and ride them over the Golden Gate Bridge to Sausalito. In fact, the number of bicyclists sharing the streets in Sausalito with the cars on a weekend is nothing less than dangerous as hell! I’ve always wondered how many people have been struck my cars.
I’ve been following the guy who runs ElectricBikeReview.com and the companion YouTube channel for a few years. I don’t think he really gives us his name. He’s all about reviewing the electric bikes, and he seems to know everything there is to know about them! His reviews are comprehensive, and he creates a huge number of them. So, if you want to know anything about electric bikes, this is a great resource as it is as extensive as he is thorough.
ELF by Organic Transit
I just found out about ELF by Organic Transit: a three wheel electric bike in a semi-enclosed “shell.” They have been around for several years. This company is in Durham, NC. The “vehicles” are as cute as they can be. The company is fascinating, placing a huge emphasis on sustainability. You can check out their YouTube channel at this link.
These bikes can have a range of 70+ miles (model dependent). The top of the roof has solar panels that charge the bike’s battery in the sunshine. The solar panel array is strong enough to charge the bike in 6 hours! They can be configured in a variety of ways: carry groceries, a child (up to 4 in some configurations).
These are among the most clever vehicles I’ve seen, but I’ve not seen one out in the wild yet. Honestly, I can’t wait. It’s absolutely a head turner!
Electric Scooters (by Scoot) and the Scoot Quad (in partnership with Nissan)
I see the red Scoots all over the city. A Scoot looks like a small motorcycle but it’s electric. You find one near you on their app, hop on, and go. Rental is very affordable. It’s clever. These are very popular in the city. Each Scoot has 2 helmets in the back stow: one large, one small.4
But my favorite of them all is the 2 person Scoot Quad. This narrow four wheel vehicle is much more like a car than any of the others. Nissan’s Future Lab created this vehicle as a new mobility concept exploring possible solutions for the problems faced in urban transportation. The Scoot electric scooter rental company liked them so much, they talked Nissan into a partnership, and now hundreds of Scoot Quads are being rented in San Francisco.
Just like Scoot’s scooters, you find the nearest Scoot Quad using their app, hop in and go. These vehicles are so small, you can parallel park 3 of them in a traditional parking space! Just drive the front of the vehicle straight in to the curb. To solve another transportation problem, the quad’s door do not swing out. They pivot straight up. As long as your body has enough space to fit between the quad and the vehicle parked next to it, you can get in and out. The door takes up no space at all. Insanely clever!
My generation loves their cars. Driving a car was our right of passage to freedom. But this is not the case with today’s young people. Many don’t even want to get their drivers’ license! Their smartphone is their passage to freedom.
And, in urban settings, today’s large cars are just super huge overkill, especially trucks, SUVs, Minivans… They cost a fortune to buy, to insure, to fuel. They generate significant pollution, and, as we know, that pollution is one of the most significant contributors to global warming. The cars can’t really travel very fast because of the horrible urban vehicle congestion. Usually there’s just 1 person in a huge car: gross inefficiency.
I can see densely populated urban areas reducing the number of lanes available to large cars, taxing the hell out of the large vehicles (like Denmark where the car tax is vastly more expensive than the car purchase price itself) , and dividing the remaining lane space into more and smaller lanes for micro or personal transportation vehicles. People would get some exercise. The noise level would drop significantly because the electric powered vehicles are silent. Fossil fuel use would drop substantially along with the planet-killing pollution it creates.
All of our cars are electric. I’m, of course, a huge electric transportation fan. I say: take time to work through the kinks beforehand, and begin the transition to micro transportation solutions slowly as a multi-year/decade phase in!
Remember the city is only 7 miles wide, shore to shore. ↩
Our car tracks average speed during a given trip, and I’ve always marveled at how slow the average speed actually is, sometimes in the teens. ↩
Some residents are complaining about “bird droppings” as thoughtless users leave them any and everywhere, and the city itself is up in arms because the various rental vendors didn’t work with the city to organize the implementation. They just dropped hundreds and hundreds of them off in the city for people to start riding. ↩
Helmets are actually required in San Francisco on everything I’ve mentioned in this post. ↩