If you live in or around Squirrel Hill and are wondering what’s the deal with all those people suddenly tooling around on electric scooters, there is an explanation for that.
There’s also an app for that.
Scoobi, which launched a few weeks ago, is an on-demand, electric scooter rental service, similar in concept to Pittsburgh Bike Share and Zipcar, but with some distinct advantages.
For example, the cost of renting one of the 100-strong fleet of Pittsburgh Scoobis is $5 for the first 15 minutes, and 25 cents for each additional minute. Anyone 18 or older with a valid driver’s license can rent a scooter, and they are easy to locate through the Scoobi app.
Parking is easy too, as riders can park the scooters in most metered or permit parking spots where cars can park without a charge because Scoobi pays a permit fee to the City of Pittsburgh and Pittsburgh Parking Authority — as compared to bike share, for which there is currently no authorized rack to park a rented bike in Squirrel Hill.
The company was founded by Mike Moran, a 2007 Fox Chapel High School graduate with an MBA from the University of Pittsburgh. After earning his master’s, Moran worked in New Orleans for a time before he came back to his hometown to launch his business.
He chose Pittsburgh, he said, because “the geography of this place makes it right for scooters” — the scooters are electric and there is no need to pedal, making it easier to traverse the Steel City’s many hills than it is on a bicycle.
Scoobis are catching on quickly. Within 12 days of the company’s launch, it already had 5,100 users who had downloaded its app, with between 150 and 300 distinct rides a day, Moran said.
To get started with Scoobi, a user first must register with his or her license, then watch a video on the proper operation of the vehicle. Then, a click on the Scoobi app reveals the scooter closest to the user’s location, along with its remaining battery life.
Reserve the scooter, get to it within 10 minutes, and then “just get on and go,” said Moran.
So, far the scooters, which can accelerate to 30 mph, are concentrated downtown and in the East End, with most users in the vicinity of Squirrel Hill, Oakland and Shadyside.
“We’ve had great feedback,” Moran said. “People really love it.”
Moran and his team check the scooters each night, clean the helmets which come with the Scoobis, and swap out dead batteries. The company is currently working on building charging stations for the scooters throughout the city.
Last week, three Chronicle staffers decided to take some Scoobis for a spin.
“I had never been on a motorcycle or a Vespa or anything like that before,” said novice scooter rider Jim Busis, the Chronicle’s CEO and publisher. “But I wasn’t apprehensive because it looked easy and they said it’s as easy as riding a bike. And it was as easy as riding a bike.”
Busis, who said he enjoyed his jaunt, added that the Scoobi is “convenient and easy to park. I think it’s a good way to get around Squirrel Hill and the city. It’s probably not as convenient as an Uber, but it is cheaper than Uber. I would recommend it to anybody who doesn’t have a car and who might be thinking about taking an Uber or a bus.”
Chronicle intern Jonah Berger hopped on a scooter as well.
“I had never driven an electric vehicle that was not a car,” said Berger, who advised practicing riding the scooter on a low-traffic side street before taking it out on a road with more cars.
“I thought it was easy to ride and enjoyable,” he said. “But it took about 10 or 15 seconds to get used to it, and I wouldn’t want to be on a busy street trying to learn how to ride it.”
There is at least one caveat to the Scoobi, noted the Chronicle’s digital content manager Lauren Rosenblatt, who stands 5 feet, 2 inches tall: It’s not really made for those who are vertically challenged.
“Your feet have to touch the ground before you start,” she said. “People who are smaller would probably have a lot of trouble. I felt a little wobbly at first. It’s not built for small people at all.” PJC