Why San Francisco is a test bed for transportation tech

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You may have noticed there’s a growing amount of alternative, tech-focused, ways to get around San Francisco these days. Car sharing groups Zipcar and City CarShare have big communities here, there’s the new car sharing 2.0 groups like RelayRides and Getaround, and the next-gen taxi services of Uber. Then there’s some even newer experiments like the electric scooter sharing network Scoot Networks, ride sharing service Zimride and its new real time mobile app, and company-focused Wi-Fi-friendly transportation service Ridepal.

Alt-transportation overload! Why is San Francisco so chock-full of these services? I’ve been thinking about it for awhile and I’ve got a pretty good idea. Here’s why I think it is:

Tech, startup cluster: One of the more obvious reasons is just the vibrant startup and developer ecosystem in San Francisco. Most of these alternative transportation services are reliant on mobile and web technology development, and having a strong developer and startup ecosystem here means there’s more of a braintrust of young creators willing to work on these tools. For example Scoot Networks’ secret sauce is based on using the iPhone as a dashboard for an electric scooter and Zimride’s new mobile app connects commuters and drivers in real time. In addition, local tech companies can provide the testing ground for some of these projects — both Ridepal and Scoot Networks are starting off by selling services to fellow tech companies.

Muni, BART, taxis and parking suck: There’s actually a real need for alternative transportation in San Francisco. Unlike in New York, where you can get a cab in most places pretty easily, and the subways system is pretty efficient, San Francisco’s public transportation and taxi services are pretty lacking. There are also a lot of commuters that come into San Francisco, but there’s very little affordable parking downtown.

San Franciscans are early adopters: San Francisco-ans have always been early adopters, given the city is the heart of the Valley and was the location of the birth of the Internet. Services that are reliant on iPhone use can actual gain traction here, because of the high penetration of iPhones. San Franciscans also care more than most about trying to have more eco-friendly, and more energy efficient, transportation, like car sharing and ride sharing.

Small enough: San Francisco is also compact and small enough that a startup can launch a pilot project here and can actually cover a decent amount of the city. While the same pilot project might be overwhelmed in Manhattan, San Francisco can offer a more compact scale with which to experiment.

City support: The city of San Francisco is actually generally very supportive of these types of transportation. Anything that can help alleviate the public transportation systems and parking spots in downtown can potentially get support from the city.

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