Put it back where you found it.
A new e-scooter rental company applies the simple doctrine that governed stray Legos and cast-off backpacks to a growing transportation industry. By offering only round-trip rentals, Lama Mobility of Key West distinguishes itself from scooter-share companies in other cities.
You’ve seen them, the Bird and Lime-branded stand-up scooters. They’re in nearly 200 cities and college towns. Rented with a phone app, they’re deposited wherever the rider leaves them, then collected nightly for charging. But the free-floating business model faces increasingly harsh criticism. In many cities, discarded scooters clutter sidewalks, parks and businesses, while pedestrians complain the scooters claim too much sidewalk space.
“The free-floating scooters, like Birds and Limes, are left all over the place; it’s like the Wild West with no rules,” said Key West hotelier Marc Meisel, who instead developed Lama Mobility as a round-trip rental platform. “Key West is the first location for the round-trip rental model as a proof-of-concept test, but we have plans to expand nationwide.”
Key West city officials last year implemented a one-year moratorium on new recreational rental vehicle companies while they conducted a traffic study and drafted regulations to govern the proliferation of electric scooters, electric bikes and other vehicles. There is no moratorium on the retail sale and personal use of e-scooters and e-bikes, and an increasing number of Key West residents have purchased them. But as of now, Lama Mobility is the only company allowed to rent the e-scooters, Meisel said.
“While the city was drafting their ordinance for these recreational rental vehicles, they passed a moratorium on them to give themselves time. But I got my approvals before the moratorium started,” Meisel told the Keys Weekly last week.
While some city officials have referred to Lama Mobility as a pilot project for round-trip e-scooter rentals, Meisel said, “It’s not really a pilot program. I’m working with the city and sharing data regarding usage and locations. I don’t have the right to expand it beyond our initial three hotel locations, but the city can’t cancel or remove it.”
Rentals cost $8.50 per hour or $35 for the whole day, Meisel said. An electronic locking mechanism allows a user to stop and park the scooter at a bike rack while having lunch or shopping without the concern that it will be taken and used by a different rider, such as happens with the free-floating business model.
“Traditional dockless rideshare programs operate on a first-come, first-served basis and do not provide the rider the ability to pause the ride or reserve the scooter for when they are not riding,” states the Lama Mobility website. “Hotel and marina guests and cruise ship passengers want to explore their surroundings, often pausing throughout the day to stop for a meal, go shopping, sightseeing or visit an attraction. They need the ability to ensure their transportation is not subject to someone else taking the scooter when they pause to enjoy their surroundings. Lama Mobility provides this while organizing scooters instead of cluttering up sidewalks with abandoned scooters.”
Lama Mobility customers are instructed to park the scooters at bike racks, not on sidewalks, and are not to ride on downtown sidewalks.
Meisel acknowledged the concerns and criticism free-floating scooter rental companies face in hundreds of cities.
“I know there has been some resistance to these types of e-scooter programs due to their perceived dangers,” he said. “However, I can’t stress enough that due to the safety measures we have taken, unlike a free-floating program (like Bird and Lime), we require age verification, helmets, and safety and educational training throughout the experience via the docking stations and the cell phone app. This type of persistent education will assist with rider safety and will keep riders off sidewalks.”
The Lama scooters go up to 34 miles on a single charge, so riders can use them all day — then put them back at the hotel charging rack where they started. The scooters’ top speed is 15.5 mph, and geo-fencing technology prevents them from crossing the Cow Key Bridge. Helmets are required and provided at the hotel front desks.
The Lama Mobility phone app requires the user to upload a photo of their ID to show they’re at least 18. They must enter a credit card number and watch a safety video before their ride can start, Meisel said.
“Lama Mobility is a very exciting project for me,” he said, adding that the company name is a combination of his two kids’ first names. “I hope I can do my part in assisting with alternative transportation in Key West that reduces cars on the road and parking congestion while promoting an eco-friendly, fun way for tourists to explore our island.”