January 27th, 2021 by Jennifer Sensiba
One of the biggest challenges for scooter companies so far has been getting along with municipal governments. Stray scooters, sometimes in unsightly piles or dangerously underfoot, low batteries, vandalism, and other problems make some governments want to avoid the issue altogether by banning shared scooters from the sidewalks. That’s where Neptune Scooters wants to be better.
“After twenty years focused on electric mobility, I’ve never seen as great an opportunity to push sustainable transit on a massive scale as with cost- and energy-efficient scooter sharing,” said Forrest North, CEO and founder, Neptune Scooters. “With Neptune Scooters, we can address micromobility’s biggest challenges to growth and truly deliver on the escooter promise: enabling the most efficient way to move people through their first and last mile.”
To address these challenges without taking up big space on sidewalks, the company developed a modular multi-dock system that’s long and skinny. It’s 35 feet long, but only two feet wide. This takes up 5x less space than bike-share docks. The setup is expandable with rails, allowing it to be made longer if needed in a busy area. When a rider finishes their ride, the software automatically ends the ride and bills the rider as they push it into the dock. It’s then securely locked up, starts charging, and even gets sanitized with UV light.
Here’s a quick video showing how the dock works:
The scooter itself doesn’t do anything that’s terribly interesting, but they did go through the whole design to make it tougher than the average scooter. It has dual motors, a tough frame, hydraulic brakes, and all lighting is LED. It also has a large battery, capable of making a bunch of long trips, so it will be far less often that a rider comes across one with insufficient battery to make a trip if you rent one that wasn’t returned to the dock.
One of the most important features is the power. With two motors and a big battery, it can pull adults up steep hills instead of bogging down like many existing shared scooters. Presumably, it’s going to be speed limited and won’t allow for too much acceleration (for safety and compliance), but having a reserve of power, especially in places like San Francisco, will make climbing hills not only possible, but pleasant.
Here’s a quick video showing the scooter’s features:
Like other shared scooter companies, you can find scooters that another rider left behind away from a dock, so Neptune will be a hybrid solution. If you finish a ride where there isn’t a dock, you can use the scooter’s built-in lock to secure it to a bike rack or sign post for security. To encourage more users to return it to the dock themselves, the company will give you a discount for doing so. If not, no worries, just pay the regular fees.
The entrepreneur in me wondered if someone could find stray scooters and return it to the dock for cash like Tom Hanks does in The Terminal, but alas, there’s no cash involved, so would-be airport residents won’t be eating out on Neptune’s dime. Shucks. Years of academy training wasted.
In an e-mail from company representatives, they told me the plan was to announce this at Micromobility World on Wednesday. The event will be 100% online this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Part of the event’s description says, “Our transportation systems must be rebuilt to prioritize order over chaos, climate over pollution, small over large, and people over machines. As a surge of urban residents turn to lightweight electric vehicles to break free from lockdown, the social, cultural, and economic future of our cities now depends on micromobility. The stakes could scarcely be higher.”
Neptune Scooters was founded by Forrest North, the founder of Plugshare. In the past, many of my pieces on CleanTechnica relied on Plugshare information, and it’s basically the best app for EV charging locations in many countries. In an e-mail, a company rep said, “Scooter shares have been exploding since the industry launched in 2017, and are set to regain that momentum as the pandemic eases. “Socially-distant” sharing may even be a greater benefit to micromobility adoption in the months to come. As ridership returns, Forrest believes that the secret to truly scaling green mobility will require an approach that addresses three major problems cities and administrators face: clutter, quality and availability.”
This might sound like it’s not a big deal, but keep in mind that many improvements in micromobility have happened incrementally over years. Companies like Ofo (with the yellow bikes) learned the hard way that micromobility can bomb out badly when not done with a well thought out plan. Later entrants in the shared mobility market learned from their mistakes, and did better.
It would be foolish to assume that we are at the peak of possible micromobility. Companies are definitely making mistakes today, and both the companies themselves and new companies will learn from the mistakes today’s scooter and bike sharing companies are making today. Small improvements, like a better dock, a slightly better scooter, and design choices made to get along better with cities all add up to what may be a big difference.
More details will be available later in the day after the event, so be sure to check out the company’s website and, which will probably have more information.
Here are a couple more videos explaining why they think they can make a difference:
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