Santa Monica is now home to five mobility devices offered by four different companies. SMDP staff gathered each device for a side-by-side test that included speeds on a flat surface, speed on a hill, maneuverability and comfort. Testers included avid mobility users, novice riders and riders of varying heights and builds.
Lyft operates a step-through, electric-assist bike. The crossbar does not require riders to kick their leg over the seat to mount and it is the only device in Santa Monica that requires human effort to operate as the electric motor has no throttle and only engages when the pedals are in motion. The rider has access to a “gear shift” on the handlebars that controls tension on the pedals making them easier or harder to turn at the user’s discretion. It also has a small front mounted shelf.
Lyft ebikes cost $1 to unlock and $0.34 per minute to ride. Bikes can be docked at any of the city’s 80+ Breeze bike stations for no fee or to any public bike rack for an extra $1. Bikes can be reserved up to 10 minutes in advance and users will be charged per minute during this window.
Lyft has a discounted Community Pass program available to Santa Monica residents ages 18 and older who qualify for the Big Blue Bus Low Income Fare is Easy program, Calfresh, Medicaid, SNAP, or the SCE Energy Savings Assistance Program. Program members pay $5 per month and receive discounted ebike rides at $0.05 per minute. Qualifying residents can sign up online.
Non-qualifying users are still eligible to receive a discounted rate of $0.23 through the Lyft Pink membership program. The program costs $19.99 a month or $199 a year and comes with a series of perks. Users can sign up in the Lyft app.
Lyft’s electric-assist model is a blessing and a curse depending on your situation. Adding pedal power means the bike never has to drop below its maximum speed, even at the apex of a hill. However, if you stop pedaling, you cease moving. Your affinity for the system will vary greatly as you ride in different situations and try to accomplish different tasks.
Defunct bike options in Santa Monica used to have a built-in basket that was useful for carrying cargo. The Lyft bike has a shelf with a bungee cord that is sufficient to hold down a sweater or purse but is a significant downgrade from a basket that would have held a bag or two of groceries.
It is the most traditional mobility option as it feels just like a normal bicycle when it comes to turning, riding and braking but that is another point that will be positive or negative based on personal preference. The bikes do have a built-in cable which is nice as you can’t lose it but the bike hubs that were built for the now extinct Breeze system are not quite the right size to use the cable easily. This is not a fault of the bikes but it’s worth mentioning as riders may struggle slightly until they get the hang of the lock angle.
Veo has both a stand-up scooter and a class 2 electric bicycle.
Both devices cost $1 to unlock and $0.33 per minute to ride.
All Santa Monica residents are eligible to have their unlock fees waived through the SaMo Veo Pass, which can be activated by submitting a drivers license photo with a Santa Monica zip code on the Veo app.
All riders are also eligible for Lucky Zone discount parking, where users receive a $1 credit for ending their trip in a designated parking spot.
Qualifying low income residents can sign up for the Veo Access Pricing program, where users pay a $5 monthly membership for one 30-minute ride a day, and 20 cents per minute after the initial 30 minutes. Applications can be submitted online and eligibility can be shown through an EBT card, proof of LIFE pass, discounted utility bill, or any other state or federally run assistance program document.
Veo scooters are traditional in construction and are familiar to everyone at this point. There’s little to distinguish them from other scooters, past or present, with the exception of bulk. At 70lbs, the Veo is a beast and you feel this in a good way (comfort and stability on bumpy surfaces) and a bad way (sluggish acceleration). If you enjoy scooters, these are great.
The Veo “bicycles” are an entirely different concept. The devices are more similar to a small moped than a traditional bike. They have a dedicated throttle and can travel without any human assistance. A small set of pedals are mounted below the seat but they are too small to power the device in any meaningful way (we felt like parrots furiously pedaling a tiny trike). While the device is very heavy to try to manually power, this isn’t actually a problem because the motor is excellent.
There are no cargo storage options on the bike and none of our testers could find a way to adjust the seat height meaning our tallest riders found it uncomfortable to remain in the seated position for any length of time.
The device is so powerful, easy to use and ultimately just plain fun that riders need to have an additional layer of awareness when using them or risk being overconfident.
Wheels operates a sit-down scooter. The device has no pedals (but it does have foot pegs) and is operated by twisting a handle-mounted throttle. The scooters have two brake levers similar to those found on the handlebars of a bicycle.
Wheels scooters cost $1 to unlock and $0.39 per minute to ride.
Santa Monica riders who are enrolled in a city, state, or federal associate program such as Medicaid, EBT, SNAP, or a discounted utility bill can ride for free for the first 30 minutes of their trip through the “Wheels for All” program.
Riders can also add credits to their Wheels account and receive a discount up to 20 percent off, based on the amount of credits added.
Wheels scooters resemble a child’s push bike toy and their size was a problem for even average sized riders, let alone our tallest testers.
The devices tested by SMDP had less powerful motors than other local devices and the scooters struggled to reach the top of our test hill (dropping to speeds too slow for our speed-gun to pickup).
Motorcycle riders are aware of the dangers of wrist position when operating a twist throttle: if the rider has angled their hands incorrectly, it’s possible to hit the throttle while reaching for the brake. These scooters travel so slowly that this is unlikely to be a significant danger but any opportunity for riders to accidentally shoot into an intersection or lose control is something to be aware of.
The largest danger to Wheels riders is an inversion of centuries of braking convention. In some Wheel’s scooters, the right-hand lever controls the front brake. In one test our rider thought they were applying the rear brake (as they would on a bicycle) but was thrown forward, almost over the handles, when the front tire locked up.
Wheels is the only company to offer helmets with some devices. The shared helmets are unlockable from a built-in dock when the devices are unlocked through the app.
Spin has the traditional style scooters that have become familiar to everyone in recent years.
Spin devices cost $1 to unlock and $0.39 per minute to ride. Users can purchase Spin Passes for unlimited rides during a certain time period. The pricing is as follows: $3,99; 1 hr, $5.99; 2hr, $11.99; 24 hr, $14.99; 7 days.
Users will receive a $1 discount for rides ending in for City identified predesignated drop zones. Users who start their ride in the Pico neighborhood will automatically receive a 25 percent discount on their trip.
The Spin Access Program provides 50 percent off rides for Santa Monica residents who are enrolled in a local state or federal benefits program, such as Metro LIFE, CalFresh, or SCE CARE. Users can submit an application online.
Spin has a good scooter that functions like most other scooters of its type.
Spin’s devices have additional technology related to geofencing and preventing sidewalk riding but those features have little relevance to the user experience. There’s not much to say about the Spin devices, good or bad. They had slightly better maneuverability than the Veo standing scooter and had slightly worse ergonomics. The most noticeable difference was acceleration with the Spin feeling much peppier. If you want a stand-up scooter, you won’t notice a difference between these and the Veo option 99 percent of the time.
The Bird in the room.
While Bird scooters were not part of our official testing due to their elimination from the Santa Monica system, our testers were very familiar with the latest generation of device that had been deployed in Santa Monica prior to the start of the new pilot program. Several testers said they had a preference for the latest generation Bird over the Spin or Veo due to their memories of its wider platform and powerful motor. However, no side-by-side comparison was available due to their inability to start a ride in the City.
So what’s the best Shared Mobility option?
At the risk of sounding like a cop-out, well, it depends. If you’re going a long way, i.e. two or three miles, the Lyft and Veo bikes will be the fastest and most comfortable options. If you want a fun way to go a few blocks and get close to your final destination, you can’t beat the Veo or Spin scooters. Even the Wheels option is perfectly valid, just be aware of those reversed brakes. At the end of the day, they all work fine for what Santa Monicans need to navigate our city. But when push comes to shove, the Veo bike definitely ekes out the field for all around fun and comfort. Now if we could just have a single app…