Haven’t noticed any yellow scooters on Baltimore’s streets in 2024? That’s because as of Dec. 31, the company that owned them pulled its operations in 18 cities across the United States, including Charm City.

Superpedestrian, a Massachusetts-based tech startup, first put shared scooters on streets in 2020 and grew to operate in 11 states and seven countries in Europe. The company first began operating in Baltimore in 2021.

Financial problems forced company executives to shut down shop and look to sell their European business despite bringing in about $125 million in venture capital funding in mid-2022, TechCrunch reported in December. As recently as Thanksgiving, Superpedestrian CEO Assaf Biderman assured his staff that more money was on its way.

A man and woman scooter through Inner Harbor. The Baltimore World Trade Center is behind them and an unused scooter lies on the ground between them.
A pair of people ride scooters around the Inner Harbor on Thursday, Oct. 12, 2023. (Kylie Cooper/The Baltimore Banner)

Weeks later, the company announced the massive cuts, giving cities essentially two weeks’ notice before their vehicles went offline.

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The Superpedestrian Link mobile app continues to work but shows no available vehicles in the Baltimore area. Upon locating a Link scooter on Wednesday, a Baltimore Banner reporter tested unlocking it via the mobile app and received an error message.

Superpedestrian’s sudden collapse removes roughly 2,000 vehicles from service, effectively slashing Baltimore’s stock of easily rentable, hop-on, hop-off scooters and e-bikes in half. That leaves Baltimoreans — a growing number of whom rely on the environmentally friendly scooters not just for joy rides but to run errands and commute to work — with just one option: red e-bikes and scooters owned by tech company Spin.

And Spin’s future is also uncertain. In September, Bird — one of the first companies to drop e-scooters on Baltimore streets in 2019 — announced that it had purchased Spin from its Berlin-based owners, making Bird the largest micromobility company in the world. In December, Bird filed for chapter 11 bankruptcy, a reorganization, in a Florida court.

Representatives from the Baltimore City Department of Transportation, including its micromobility team, did not respond to a request for comment.

Companies like Spin and Superpedestrian — and Lime and Bird before them — must apply and pay for a permit to operate on Baltimore City streets. Companies also pay a 10-cent tax to the city per ride, revenue that gets funneled into safety initiatives. The permit cycle, renewed annually, begins each July.

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During DOT’s last micromobility stakeholder meeting in October, program manager Michael Kebede said Link and Spin had generated roughly 1.15 million rides in Baltimore in 2023. Baltimore, a Superpedestrian representative said at the time, was “a program we are really interested to grow.”

Superpedestrian also touted the success here of its LINK-Up equity program, which offers discounted plans for qualifying residents, noting that 70% of all LINK-Up rides occurred in Baltimore.

Spin’s former government partnerships manager for Baltimore said at the October meeting that the company was on track for a “record-breaking year,” and that the recent Spin/Bird merger would not affect its local day-to-day operations. Spin vehicles remain online and accessible via its mobile application.

Spin has not responded to a request for comment from The Banner regarding the bankruptcy filing and its impact on Baltimore operations.

“It’s bad news, people rely on shared mobility pretty significantly as a first- and last-mile travel option,” said Jed Weeks, executive director for Bikemore, a longtime supporter of Baltimore’s micromobility program.

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A line of orange Spin scooters divides the frame in half, with a man waiting for a green light on a bike on the left and a woman walking on the right.
Spin scooters are lined at the Inner Harbor on Thursday, Oct. 12, 2023. Spin vehicles remain online and accessible via its mobile application despite filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in a Florida court. (Kylie Cooper/The Baltimore Banner)

Weeks pushed back against the narrative that only young professionals in the White L utilize the scooters, pointing to ridership data presented quarterly by DOT showing broad use across the entire city. He also highlighted DOT’s use of “equity zones,” which have required companies like Superpedestrian and Spin to ensure vehicles are placed all over the city at the beginning of the day, in addition to offering reduced-fare programs to help the scooters evolve from tech fad to a reliable transportation option.

That, however, may have been part of the issue. The December TechCrunch article pointed to a tension between being a “reliable city partner” and a venture capital-backed, profit-hungry company as an untenable balance beam that all micromobility companies have at some point teetered on.

For Weeks, Superpedestrian’s sudden pullout reflects the need for some kind of publicly funded bike and e-scooter share system in Baltimore. He said there are federal grants available through the 2021 infrastructure bill that could help the city develop systems like those in Austin or Los Angeles, where residents can use the equivalent of Baltimore’s CharmPass — mobile-friendly tickets for bus, Metro and light rail rides — on shared mobility vehicles.

“Those moves are what are producing real success on the ground,” Weeks said. He pointed to Washington, D.C., where publicly subsidized bikeshare and private scooter companies coexist, providing more options for city residents.

Scooters sit unattended on a spring evening at the entrance to Latrobe Park in Locust Point. (Norman Gomlak)