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Transport for the future


NEW DELHI, 12 MAY. Over the last several months a handful of startups have dropped hundreds or thousands of electric scooters on the sidewalks in cities like San Francisco, Austin, and San Diego, allowing anyone who downloads an app to unlock and ride them across town for a small fee. It's a radical - and controversial - experiment in urban mobility. But scooters could be just the beginning.

Lime, a company that runs sharing services for scooters, pedal bikes and e-bikes, is developing a new type of vehicle known internally as a "transit pod." The concept is in early stages and the design is still in flux. But Lime's plan is to build an enclosed, electric vehicle that could hold one or two people, resembling a smart car or a deluxe golf cart. The vehicle wouldn't be a car, exactly; it's not even clear whether it would have three or four wheels. But it would drive in normal street traffic, and could hit a top speed of about 40 miles an hour, said Brad Bao, Lime's co-founder and chairman.

Unlike Lime's scooters, which tend to end up littering the sidewalks and exasperating the non-scooting public, unused pods would be parked in street parking spots. Bao predicts two or three of them would fit into a single spot. Customers would access the pods through a sharing service available in the company's app, seeing them as another transportation option alongside scooters and electric and pedal bicycles.

Cities need pods because traditional cars are overkill for the bulk of urban driving, Bao said. Most trips consist of a single person looking to travel three miles or less. "They don't need to have a five seater or a seven-seater, plus all that gasoline consumption," he said. "But there is no such product out there to meet their needs." he said. "Our goal is to be a leading multimodal company," said Toby Sun, co-founder and CEO.

Lime isn't the first company with a utopian plan for tiny, car-like vehicles that run on electricity. In the early 2000s, Ford made a line of similar vehicles it called TH!NK. It discontinued them, and a company that subsequently attempted to build them as an independent venture failed. Used models still float around Craigslist for a few thousand dollars. Arcimoto, a small, publicly traded company based in Eugene, Oregon, has been working on twoseat, three-wheeled electric vehicles for a decade, and began delivering its first shipments to customers last fall. Electra Meccanica, a Canadian startup that makes three-wheelers that look like regular cars with the back half cut off, said recently it has begun delivering them to the United States.



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