Friday, January 11, 2019

Share what you think about those dockless bikes and scooters

Even though their real impact on the regional transportation problems is minimal, dockless scooters have captured a large portion of the national discussion about transportation, about cities and about the sharing economy. (For am overview see here). Even  Rolling Stone took notice: From Toy to Thrash: How Scooters Are Becoming Millennials’ Extreme Sport of Choice.
Latte sipping, helmet free scooter zipping on the sidewalk: Not the whole story

And as it has become common, unfortunately, two seeming irreconcilable camps have quickly formed, those who love scooters and those who hate them. In whatever city one travels in the US and increasingly also internationally, unused scooters are cluttering sidewalks and happy scooter riders are zipping around, all too often in the streets against the traffic or on sidewalks stealthily and silently approaching from behind whisking by sometimes within inches of the walking public.

The debate mirrors most of the usual opinion blocks. There are those who want more regulation opposed to those who hate regulations, the young and the old, the able bodies and the ones with impairments, the ones who care about the environment and those who don't want car driving any further impeded. But the battle lines in the equity debate have become more complicated. Unlike in the earlier debates about bike-sharing, the scooter discussion is less racially charged because, unlike bicycles, the scooters have quickly been accepted by young people of color  and their use has penetrated well into the disenfranchised and disadvantaged communities; possibly this, in turn, has hardened the scooter opposition of suburbanites riding into town in their cars.
Old docked bikeshare is out, at least in Baltimore (Photo: BBJ)

Meanwhile new arguments are pouring in, injury reports from emergency rooms attributed to scooter crashes, reports about the near monopoly of one scooter manufacturer in China (Bloomberg: Almost Every Electric Scooter in the World Comes From This Chinese Company) and increasingly experience with scooters that don't operate properly. Not surprisingly, the lawyers are just waiting to pounce. Plenty to sue about: How do scooter companies enforce the rules that their vehicles are to be used with helmets, not operated by anyone under 18, not be operated on sidewalks?

Regulators in Cities are right behind the lawyers. Some cities have banned scooters altogether, some declared them motor-vehicles and others, like Baltimore take a wait and see attitude. Actually, Baltimore's DOT isn't entirely hands off. They provided the share companies of Lime and Bird temporary licenses with a maximum number of vehicles, fees per scooter and bike, a requirement to share data,  and certain obligations for facilitating access to the poor. (Details can be found on BC-DOT's website here). The pilot will end in February. In 2018 649,343 scooter rides were logged (starting August 15) and 4,635 Lime bike trips in December alone.
Bird and Lime scooters are permitted in Baltimore

Baltimore City, led by DOT, has launched a Pilot Program for shared dockless vehicles which will last from August 15,2018 until February 28, 2019.  These vehicles can include bicycles, e-bicycles, and e-scooters which are available to the public for rent. At this time there are two companies who have entered into agreements to operate during the pilot period (website)
In an effort to tally up experiences in Charm City, BC-DOT now wants your opinion and launched an online survey in which users and non-users, lovers and haters alike can voice their opinions.  The four page survey can be found here. No matter where you stand, take the survey before it is too late (the survey closes on Jan 20) and the City will decide whether to extend the program.
Dockless Lime bikes also have electric power. (Photo Stephen Babcock)

The scooter debate doesn't have to be all or nothing and using dockless vehicles doesn't need to become a regulatory nightmare either. Scooters could easily become safer and more comfortable with bigger wheels that don't get caught as easily on Baltimore's rugged streets, more protected lanes should be provided so scooters don't have to be used on sidewalks or amidst of cars and trucks and visibility could be increased with better front and rear lights. The companies could be forced to do better maintenance and better collection of damaged scooters. Nothing is more annoying for haters and lovers alike, than damaged scooters which litter the sidewalks and can't even be used. So there may be some common ground, after all. And in terms of equity: Dockless vehicle collection and scooter repair provide low threshold job opportunities as part of the burgeoning gig economy.

Klaus Philipsen, FAIA

online DOT survey

If the survey doesn't do your concerns justice, contact Meg Young, Shared Mobility Coordinator Baltimore City Department of Transportation, e-mail for comments:

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