Ford is slowly evolving in to a mobility company and has fingers in many pies. Ford has been buying up numerous ‘start ups’ that could potentially provide the massive global firm with the complete solution to everyday transport needs. San Francisco firm Spin is one such ‘micromobility’ company that makes particularly interesting electric scooters intended for the hire market and we’ve been testing one.
Spin was set up in the US, expanded to Canada and is now on trial in the UK as it expands further afield. Throughout Europe electric scooters for hire are nothing new. The two-wheelers are intended to cover the ‘last mile/kilometre’ of a journey and are popular in first world cities. Unlike regular electric scooters the Spin machine has a few tricks up its sleeve. Each hire scooter is connected through GPS (nothing new there) but the Spin scooter is designed and engineered to be compliant with Geo-fencing and other public hire regulations that cities often put (or plan to put) in place e.g. software that won’t allow them work in pedestrian or designated restricted areas. How does it do this safely? Simply by remotely switching off the scooter’s battery power. Spin’s unique selling point, apart from the fact it is the only global car firm backed venture in this area, is its development and future integration of A.I. (artificial intelligence) in its scooters. The imminent next generation of Spin scooters will feature collision avoidance technology delivered through onboard video camera technology that will allow the scooter cut or reduce power should it detect a pedestrian or obstacle it may collide with. As the Spin is a ‘connected’ vehicle a lot of its maintenance and charging can be monitored remotely and acted on quickly. e.g. if power is low a warning can be issued to a maintenance technician or the user in advance.
In normal use you simply download the Spin app and find the nearest scooter via its live map. Even if you randomly come across one an illuminated 360 degree light ring lets potential users know if the scooter is available for hire or in use. The scooter is unlocked and is switched on by scanning the QR code on the scooter with the app. To move off you simply give yourself a gentle push start while pressing the go button (throttle) and the motor will kick in. The harder the press on the go button the faster you go and vice versa. To slow down you pull the bicycle-like brakes mounted on the handlebars (left lever/rear brake – right/front). The rear wheel features a regenerative braking function. On the move Spin recommends you keep both hands on the bars and your feet on the deck. The Spin has a bell to alert others and bright lights front and rear that allow night time use. You stand quite tall on the scooter (due to the battery configuration) and higher than on many other electric scooters. There is front suspension to ease the bumps and fairly fat tyres to soak up road imperfections. The Spin scooter has an integrated cable lock to allow it be tethered to a fixed object – like a railing. Should a scooter be stolen it can be tracked effortlessly and its motor rendered unusable remotely.
What about cost? The price you pay with hire scooters generally speaking is a set fee to unlock the scooter and then a ‘distance fee’ charged per kilometre or in some cases a per minute fee (depending on renter). At present Ireland’s laws (under the blanket ‘road traffic act’) say electric scooters are MPVs (mechanically propelled vehicles) and as such require a driving licence and third party insurance to operate on public roads. This, while ridiculous in our opinion (as you have to push it to get started!) is the law, and regulations are not due to change until the Dail resumes and passes new legislation in the autumn of 2021. Then ‘for hire’ electric scooters should be able to be rolled out legally but privately owned electric scooters could still be banned. We took a Spin for a… oops I nearly said spin… damn! The electric scooter is sturdy weighing 14kgs, stands 102cm tall, 43cm wide and 113cm long. Its motor is rated at 500 watts and is torquey, with strong acceleration. It had no issue hauling my generous frame about at circa 20km/h.
The highly visible scooter features a pronounced ‘swappable’ battery pack under its broad deck. It sits on a centre two-legged kick stand and not a single side kick – that are more prone to toppling over at the slightest touch. I’ve driven a few electric scooters and some at speeds well in excess of 25km/h (average top speed). High speed scooting can be a lot of fun, but when things go wrong you can potentially hurt yourself or others. The Spin scooter has its top speed restricted and for most users this should be fine. The scooter’s electric motor turns the front wheel so users need to remember when riding one not to ask that tyre to do too much. As with motorcycles and bicycles maintaining grip with the road’s surface is vital. Wet weather, greasy surfaces and turning in general can make scooter riding hazardous and once users remember the limits of tyre adhesion they’ll be fine. Avoiding harsh braking while turning is advisable, as is doing your heavy braking when travelling in a straight line. The pandemic accelerated electric scooter trials in the UK – originally just four cities were in the trial – now any UK city can trial this useful form of personal transport. We understand there are many ways to operate fleets of electric scooters including cities buying their own machines outright and integrating them with their own buses/trams etc. At the moment most councils are happy to let firms run their own fleets of scooters (and retain ownership) for a fee or cut of the profits. Irish cities will no doubt look closely at how the UK has coped and benefit from its best practice when these electric machines are finally legalised and rolled out.