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Uber Reportedly Seeks to Buy E-Scooter Companies, As Craze, Safety Issues Spread


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December 4, 2018 -- The multi-billion-dollar rideshare company Uber could expand its Santa Monica bikeshare operation to electric scooters as the increasingly popular mode of transportation spreads.

The company -- whose brand Jump operates a fleet of 500 bicycles under a pilot program launched by the City in September -- is in negotiations to purchase the e-scooter companies Bird and Lime, according to recent reports.

The companies won coveted contracts to operate an initial fleet of 750 e-scooters each during the 16-month program the City hopes will rein in the scooters that have been swarming Santa Monica streets for more than a year ("Santa Monica Launches Pilot Program for Electric Scooters, Bicycles," June 13, 2018).

According to reports in The Information and the Financial Times, Uber is interested in expanding its e-scooter business, which it launched in October through Jump, the brand it started in April.

Sources told the Financial Times the talks between the three companies on what would be multi-billion dollar acquisitions are in the early stages.

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The Times said Uber and Lime declined to comment on the talks, while Bird's CEO issued a statement saying "Bird is not for sale."

Uber is seeking to alleviate constraints on its supply of scooters after launching its Jump brand, according to The Information.

As companies seek to cash in on the e-scooter craze that has spread from Santa Monica worldwide safety concerns are dampening the vehicles' sudden popularity.

Last August, the City Council updated Santa Monica's vehicle code to regulate e-scooters, particularly on the beach bike path, the Pier and in public parks ("Santa Monica Prepares to Update Its Traffic Code Amid a Scooter Craze," August 27, 2018).

Pressure to enforce the law increased after a seven-year-old boy lost several teeth in a collision with a motorized scooter, prompting his mother to post an online petition to ban the vehicles there ("Santa Monica Mother Launches Petition Drive After Son Injured by Motorized Scooter," July 18, 2018).

While Santa Monica is attempting to incorporate what City officials see as a valuable mode of alternative transportation, E-scooter companies are encountering a backlash in cities in the U.S., Canada and Europe.

Injured scooter riders are flooding the nation's emergency rooms with accident rates estimated to be as high as 1,000 per month, according to a report in C-Net.

In May, Lime pulled out of Honolulu, where it drew record ridership in its first four days, after the city impounded its vehicles and threatened fines and jail time, according to a recent report in the Honolulu Civil Beat.

In the latest episode, Madrid this week gave e-scooter companies 72-hours to remove their vehicles from city streets "amid claims they are a public nuisance and days after a 90-year-old pedestrian was killed in a collision," according to the Telegraph.

Santa Monica's pilot program is being closely watched by cities seeking to better regulate e-scooters.

"So the scooter saga continues," City Manager Rick Cole wrote in a blog post a month before the pilot program was launched in September.

"Nobody said creating 'a new model of mobility' would be easy," Cole wrote.

"Few remember the history of motor cars when they invaded cities and turned them upside down -- or the decades of battles over enforcing safety rules and battling over how cars radically altered streets and neighborhoods."

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