Dockless Scooters: A National Phenomenon

There is an emerging trend in micro-mobility zooming across America: e-scooters. A collaborative partnership may be the solution to make them work for your city.

ARTICLE | Jan 18, 2019
by Joel Carnes, Alliance for Innovation Executive Director; Stella Carr, ASU MPA student/Marvin Andrews
Dockless Scooters

There is an emerging trend in micro-mobility zooming across America: e-scooters.

These dockless modes of transportation are causing such a stir that the popular adult cartoon South Park covered the subject in the recent episode “The Scoot." In this episode, they were able to bring forward some of the very real troubles these scooters are causing, of course in a dramatized and humorous way. They accurately touched on these issues regarding dockless e-scooters:

  • The overnight appearance of this mode of transportation
  • The traffic safety concerns
  • The barriers of use for those who don’t have a smartphone
  • And everything in between

These problems are not isolated to the fictional Town of South Park. Many local governments now have to contend with this micro mobility trend.

The most recent buzz surrounding scooters is just a piece of the conversation that is more broadly defined as micro-mobility, and the transformation of our transportation systems.

The Idea of Micro-Mobility

A common transportation challenge for municipalities is finding innovative ways to meet a public transportation problem often referred to as the “last mile.” This describes the difficulty people have getting from a transportation hub to their final destination. Alternatively, people can have the same issue getting from their starting destination to a transportation network, which is referred to as the “first mile”. These issues are especially top-of-mind for regions of urban sprawl – areas with long walking distances to public transportation, high-density traffic problems, congestion, etc.

A few years ago, docked bike-share programs began arriving in our cities, then came dockless bikes. Scooters are now the newest mode of transportation to solve the “last mile” problem.

The companies rolling out e-scooter apps and pilot programs in a city near you are all a part of the new age of transportation. These companies, though under a different name, are often financed by larger entities like Uber and Lyft, as well as ex-executives from those same companies. They have a vision for a world where you can see your route to work not just by car or bus, but a combination of shared and public resources. 

Though there are other players in the game, such as Lime, Spin and Razor the scooters seem to be causing the biggest stir. Cities like Tucson, AZ and college campuses such as Arizona State University in Tempe, AZ have chosen to ban the scooters and are making headlines. But from what we’ve seen so far, mobility devices that bring out your inner child are not going away anytime soon.

As someone who has an aversion towards scooters from a childhood accident, these are not my favorite item to hit the streets. But as someone interested in the reduction of traffic and increased public transportation options, I have to look past my personal fears and embrace the greater good this trend can offer.

Finding Common Ground

After researching many of the controversies surrounding the rollout of scooters in 2018, we found that there are commonalities across the board.

Complaints from citizens and councils are often related to the unfamiliarity with these devices. People are confused where they came from, unhappy about their presence on the roads, unsure how to navigate them, and not used to the visual sight that they create on our public right of ways.

Public policies and local ordinances often have a hard time keeping up with mobility trends; meaning scooters are zooming by faster than municipalities can create new laws regulating them. Because a lot of these e-scooter brands are piloting programs, the problems and solutions are constantly being modified, making the iterations of product and law to constantly shift.

On the business side, the inconsistency of policies is hard for private companies to break into the market. They have to find cities with open doors, or should I say streets and sidewalks, and get ahead of the scooter regulations. Or they must partner with a city from the beginning to create a living laboratory.  

Luckily, some cities are responding quickly to this unregulated scenario. For example Bloomington, IN churned up a website and campaign sharing guidelines for use of the scooters across their jurisdiction. By choosing to welcome the companies, you are creating an opportunity for partnership and responsiveness to a public issue. Your best bet is to consider the needs of your community while also being flexible for experimentation and inventive changes.

Safety First

If you have been on the roads since the appearance of these scooters, whether in your car or on one yourself, it’s no surprise that safety is a huge concern. As someone who has ridden a scooter myself, being able to balance, use hands to signal turns and figure out where I am going all while moving along a road full of cars is daunting. As a driver and rider, I witness that often those who do ride along the street seem to feel that the usual road laws do not apply to them.

This is a problem for motorists and those on scooters. There have been countless injuries as a result for those unfamiliar with proper use. Additionally, because the scooters used by many riders, parked in the elements and, quite frankly, abused at times, the maintenance is not always at the top, increasing potential dangers for riders.

While safety will always be a concern, we believe education is a key component that can ease the troubles for the consumer and companies. Through ride safety education or creative ways to give back through the use of their product, they will find ways to attract riders, and cities to allow their presence.

Embracing the Opportunity

Our streets are changing and the excitement around scooters is just the beginning. Where municipalities are unable to fill the holes in transportation the private sector sees opportunity. Shared mobility is on the rise and it seems like a great time for cities to partner with and joins forces with private companies that want to improve the lives of our residents.

A collaborative partnership, in which communities can give feedback and help direct the conversation with companies wanting to roll out their product, will be much stronger than a dialogue that makes these e-scooters or bike shares the enemy. Don’t let this opportunity scoot right past your community.

Tell us your stories! What is the pulse of your community regarding innovative changes in mobility? How is your neighborhood, town or city addressing the needs and concerns of residents when it comes to transportation? 

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