It’s time to scoot over Brooklyn!
A Bushwick-based transit business unleashed hundreds of low-powered motorbikes onto the streets of northern Brooklyn earlier this month, making the sight of blue-colored scooters near ubiquitous overnight. But where did these crazy scooters come from? How does it all work, and what are they like to ride? This reporter hit the streets — literally — and snagged what’s possibly the biggest scoot of his career!
Revel Transit’s so-called “shareable” mopeds debuted in August, when the firm installed 68 scooters in Bushwick, Williamsburg, Greenpoint and parts of Queens.
That pilot period proceeded a rapid expansion that kicked off on May 29, when the transit firm parked an additional 1,000 bikes in 14 Brooklyn neighborhoods — including Park Slope, Gowanus, Red Hook, Dumbo, Downtown Brooklyn, Cobble Hill, Carroll Gardens, Windsor Terrace, Clinton Hill, Fort Greene, Sunset Park, Brooklyn Heights, Prospect Heights and Bedford Stuyvesant.
The company’s founder hopes that Brooklyn won’t be too alarmed by the sudden proliferation of scooters, saying his bikes will provide stressed out straphangers with a breezy, fun, and fast transit alternative.
“We are thrilled to bring a fun and easy way to get around more of Brooklyn and Queens,” said company co-founder Frank Reig. “During the nine-month pilot, we learned what worked well, what needed fixing, and what users wanted from the service going forward, and we took those lessons to improve the service for everyone.”
But that may be wishful thinking, according to one Dumbo man, who said that one day the streets were scooter free, and the next day they were everywhere!
“They’re all over the place — they’re like fleas,” said Dumbo resident Steve West, who stood outside his tavern, the 68 Jay Street Bar.
Much like Brooklyn’s other blue bike-share program, CitiBike, Revel scooters are available to rent via app, costing $1 to unlock, with an additional 25c-per-minute fee. The scooters can be dropped off at any legal parking spot within the company’s home zone, which covers most parts of the aforementioned neighborhoods.
Would-be riders must be 21 years or older, and Revel requires a valid driver’s license on sign up. The scooters do not require any special permits to operate, and Department of Motor Vehicles classifies the bikes as “limited use motorcycles” due to their low speed, which — in this case — tops out at around 30 mph.
And, in the interest of bringing Brooklyn Paper readers the full story, this reporter — who hasn’t driven in years, and has never ridden a motorcycle — signed up for Revel’s app and puttered at low speeds toward his latest byline:
My first surprise came during the application process. Revel had accepted my Irish driver’s license — don’t tell them we drive on the other side of the road!
I’d never driven a motorcycle before either, and while the company offers free driving lessons, there was no time for that — I had a deadline to keep. I ignored another call from my editor, found an underpowered ride, and cupped my ears to the sound of silence as the scooters electric motor whispered to life. Soon I was zooming through the streets at speeds resembling a brisk jog. Sluggishness had never been so thrilling.
I immediately gunned toward the traffic maelstrom of Grand Army Plaza, taking several laps around Brooklyn’s Arc de Triomphe, and as I leaned into the roundabout surrounding Kings County’s ode to classical architecture, I found myself transported back to the old country, where cars are far and few between, and Vespas reign supreme on the narrow, cobble-paved streets of my youth. And just as I felt safe, my revelry was shaken by the cold hard realities of American capitalism, manifested in the form of a 20-ton box truck careening mere inches off my right side. These weren’t the cycle safe streets of Europe — these were the mean streets of Brooklyn.
I was terrified out there, alone among the heavyweight SUVs cutting into my lane on the busy roundabout. But, once I got to calmer streets, most drivers kept their distance, while gawking curiously at this alien means of transit.
I met a handful other Revelers along the way, along with several interested Brooklynites, including one Kings County barkeep, who hadn’t quite made up his mind about these newfangled scooters.
“They really don’t know how to park them, because a lot of people don’t know how to ride motorcycles,” said West. ”This is their first experience. I’ve had to help people out many times trying to park these things.”
A senior rep from the company told me they’ve instituted a few safety policies, including cutting service between midnight and 5 a.m., and issuing fines that range from $5 to $500 for bad behavior.
“We unfortunately had an incident last week in McGolrick Park,” said the company’s New York City general manager Lauren Vriens. “There were multiple reports that there were seven users riding through the park and yelling at pedestrians and causing a lot of havoc.”
And, while service remains in its infancy, Vriens claims that a brief adjustment period should be expected with any new transit infrastructure, and that people will soon be scooting along as if they were born in the saddle.
“It’s only been a month, but we might see better behavior in the future. I think it will get better,” she said.
That said, several Brooklynites remain cautiously pessimistic about climbing onto one of Revel’s humble hogs.
“It’s really dangerous when you’re riding those things and there’s all this traffic — I wouldn’t trust myself,” said Dumbo resident Henry Florsheim.
But one Midwood woman was willing to give Revel’s scooters the benefit of the doubt, admitting that the underpowered bikes would come in handy for those courageous enough to tame them.
“It’s great for people who think they can handle it,” said Anne Murphy. “You can take lessons but who’s going to do that. The whole point is to make it more convenient. Who’s going to take time out of their schedule and go, ‘I’m going to go for a training.’”