Beginning Dec. 13, both Android and iOS versions of Maps will point users to Lime scooters available for rent in 13 cities: Austin, Baltimore, Dallas, Indianapolis, Los Angeles, San Diego, Oakland, San Antonio, San Jose, Scottsdale, and Seattle. The feature will also work in Auckland, New Zealand and Brisbane, Australia.
Google announced the news in a blog post that concludes with this cringe-inducing pun: “You can get to that meeting right on Lime.”
This represents both a smart addition for Google, and yet another feature for Apple (AAPL) to match as it continues its effort to reroute its own mapping application. It should also remind everybody of the getting-around scenarios Google Maps still leaves out.
How e-scooters got on the map
Google’s move offers one solution to the app fatigue induced by e-scooters—a category of transportation that might have looked like a curiosity last year, but has become a popular option in some cities for short-range travel.
Scooters typically cost $1 to rent, plus 15 cents for each mile traveled, and can travel upwards of 20 miles per hour. But with each fleet of rental scooters in a city confined to its own app, they can be easy to overlook when using other navigation apps.
Google Maps should make Lime’s offerings much more visible, although users will still need the San Francisco-based startup’s app installed to rent a scooter for a trip. Lime and other scooter operators have pursued a variety of deals to solve their visibility problems. Lime, for instance, will also appear as an option in Uber’s apps after the ride-hailing firm participated in a $335 million financing round.
And Uber’s rival Lyft has begun rolling out its own scooters in cities like Washington D.C. that you can reserve through its regular app.
No, we’re not there yet
Google Maps’s latest feature also represents a continuation of one of its oldest problems: It treats scooters as a separate mode of transit, not something you might use at the start or end of a trip largely taken on a different mode.
So, for example, it won’t suggest taking a Lime scooter to cover the mile separating a transit stop from your destination, just as it hasn’t been able to suggest taking a bike-share ride to a subway stop. Google only recognizes walking as an option for those beginning and end stages, and Apple is no more helpful in that respect.
Lyft’s app, however, has begun to show nearby transit services as a complement to regular Lyft service—it debuted that feature in Santa Monica, Calif., in September and announced it for Washington on Wednesday.
Bike-sharing should also appear in that app now that Lyft has completed its purchase of Motivate, which operates New York’s Citybike and Washington’s Capital Bikeshare.
Other items left on Google’s to-do list for maps: better support for real-time arrival estimates from transit services (though that’s held back by insufficient and inconsistent support from transit agencies) and integrating the dynamic pricing of toll roads like Interstate 66 and the Beltway in Northern Virginia (as already done in such third-party apps as Tollsmart).
Finally, if Apple can deliver on its promise of a rebuilt mapping app that provides more accurate and detailed routing while preserving its customers’ privacy, Google will need an answer to privacy concerns among users and legislators that goes beyond “yes, we store your location history, but we’re not Apple Maps.” And that effort may lead Google into some novel territory.
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