If your interests include hardware scuttlebutt, smooth rides, DJ Khaled’s truly adorable son Asahd, the future of urban mobility, Instagram, and DJ Khaled himself, have we got a story for you.
Yesterday, the “No Brainer” producer posted a two-minute promo clip, hyping his participation in Beyonce and Jay-Z’s ongoing “On the Run II” tour, his upcoming album, “Father of Asahd”, and the one-year-old son himself, who is really very, very cute (and frequently collaborates on projects with his proud pa). And, lo: About a minute and ten seconds into the video, a Lyft-branded electric-scooter—signature pink present—appears. Khaled mounts and putters away, leaving a stream of fire (??) in his wake.
The musician has done promotional work for the company before, so this is far from an accident. (Indeed, he posted a labeled ad for the Lyft scooters later this afternoon.) But it’s also the world’s first little peek into what the San Francisco ride-hail company has to offer, scooter-wise. And, spoiler: The Lyft scooter looks like everyone else’s scooters. Indeed, it appears to be a pinked-up version of the the type used by soon-to-be rivals Bird and Spin, an M365 model by the Chinese electronics company Xiaomi. Lyft would not confirm whether Khaled’s steed is identical to the ones that the ride-hail company will release to the public. But in an e-scooter operating permit application filed with the city of San Francisco, the company wrote it would use the Xiaomi model “at the outset of operations”.
Those adept at following the vagaries of city transportation-permitting processes already knew Lyft was hard at work on scootering. The company hired a head of bike and scooter policy back in April. Crafty users spotted the company beta testing in-app bike and scooter options back in June. It shelled out a reported $250 million for America’s largest bike-share operator, Motivate, earlier this month. It submitted that application to San Francisco earlier this summer, and just this week won one of five permits to participate in Denver’s limited scooter pilot, to kick off around September.
Indeed, ride-hail companies like Lyft are no longer content to let you simply hail a ride. Today, they are food delivery companies, on-the-go snack vendors, public transit experimenters, offerers of shared rides to the airport, and yes, purveyors of bicycles and scooters, which you can rent on a per-minute basis. Lyft wasn’t even the first to get into the alternative transportation game. In April, Uber announced it had acquired the electric-bike company Jump; this month, it sunk serious money in Lime, which says its customers have taken 6 million bike- and scooter-share trips since the startup launched just one year ago.
The economic argument for companies like Uber and Lyft getting into the smaller personal vehicle business seems clear: Riders can use them to zoom by cities’ growing traffic problems, which the ride-hail companies themselves have probably had a hand in creating. Last week, Uber released data that suggested some of its San Francisco riders may actually have shifted modes, abandoning car rides in favor of bike rides.
In an ideal world, bikes and scooters will become invaluable connectors to major public transit hubs, helping lots of people efficiently use road space, and get a touch of exercise in the offing. Why drive to the train station when you could ‘scoot? Lyft says this is an important part of its mission. “It you look back, the vision [of Lyft] has always been to provide a full alternative to car ownership,” CEO John Zimmer said earlier this month at Fortune’s’ Brainstorm Tech event. “That is expanding in what that means.”
Zimmer also said that a subscription service is a vital endgame for the company, an all-of-the-above transportation offering that will fully replace the personal car. “What we want to offer you is an opportunity to save money, to tap a button to get where you want to go, to jump on a bike when you want to; for less than $9,000 a year,” he said. What happens when one company is in charge of a bunch of modes of transport? Maybe transportation nirvana, with roads that are safer for everyone. (Lyft says this is the case, and has pledged in San Francisco to give $1 per scooter per day to its transportation department, for infrastructure upgrades.) Another option: A quasi-monopolistic situation, where a few companies rule the road through digital tools. A few cities may be about to find out.
But here’s a question for the closer future: What happens when a big company like Lyft brings all its marketing might to bear on alternative transportation? Will we get scooters that spit fire? (We probably won’t get scooters that spit fire). But we may get a few more people into scootering. Cities, take heed: This trend is just getting started.
More Great WIRED Stories
- PHOTO ESSAY: The vanishing Amazon rainforest
- Evidence of the first large body of liquid water on Mars
- No solar-powered EV? You can still drive on sunshine
- How Google’s Safe Browsing led to a more secure web
- How Americans wound up on Twitter’s list of Russian bots
- Get even more of our inside scoops with our weekly Backchannel newsletter