When Scooters Descend, Cities Defend
With nearly 40 million trips taken on shared electric scooters, 2018 was the year of the scooter, according to the National Association of City Transportation Officials.1 Anyone who’s been in a major city recently has noticed scooters on city sidewalks, with people of all ages scooting around a busy downtown area.
Shared mobility companies, which historically specialized in docked and dockless bikes, introduced scooters in 2017 and the trend caught on with citizens. After all, city life is characterized by using different methods of transportation to get from one place to another; scooters are an inexpensive, easy option for city-goers to get around.
However, the introduction of scooters left municipal leaders less than enthused. Shared scooter companies launched in new markets overnight by dropping fleets on city sidewalks, creating pain points for cities that are used to formal approval processes and highly regulated systems. City leaders had very little time to respond with a strategic plan and, therefore, made reactive decisions, such as imposing permit fees or enacting immediate bans.
Temporary Scooter Stoppers: Permits and Medallion Systems?
Since scooters appeared without warning, cities had to react quickly. Obstructing sidewalks, causing accidents, and breaking traffic laws are all causes for concern. While some cities issued complete scooter bans, others turned to a legacy method for managing vehicles like taxis: permits and medallion systems. This is a relatively straightforward approach to implement under intense time constraints but comes with a variety of downsides, including difficulty with enforcement, a lack of visibility into activity data, and artificially limiting the supply of a new modality that could potentially help increase public transit ridership or decrease congestion. Some examples of how cities have responded to scooter fleets, include:
- West Hollywood, California, and Winston-Salem, North Carolina, banned scooters immediately upon arrival.
- Columbia, South Carolina, proactively blocked scooter companies from introducing the service at all.
- Other cities have enacted numerous regulations, such as the age of driver and time of day restrictions, ultimately putting scooter riders at a disadvantage (GovTech).2
The problem with permit-based approaches is that they don’t provide incentives to encourage shared mobility operators to consider the broader mobility ecosystem. While plenty of cities are largely walkable, most pedestrians have a limited range and aren’t willing to walk more than a quarter-mile (City Parks Blog).3 On the other hand, when Bird initially launched operations, the average ride length was 1.6 miles (Quartz).3 Extending a citizen’s walkable geography makes cities more livable and easier to traverse, whether to get to work, meet friends for brunch, or access areas previously limited to cars or public transit.
The existing permit-based systems aren’t flexible and don’t allow for inevitable changes in supply and demand and banning scooters and bikes outright robs citizens of access to a new transportation option.
What if cities were to use parking rates for scooters and bikes to balance supply and demand?
With an alternative strategic framework, cities can welcome innovation while still maintaining levers to ensure operators are acting responsibly. By setting dynamic parking prices in different areas, cities can influence where and how scooter companies and citizens park vehicles when not in use. With this control, cities can ensure there are more scooters available in transit deserts or near transit stops or prevent scooters from littering public parks or handicapped-accessible areas
Leveraging Technology to Drive Positive Outcomes
By following the rules of parking management — paying for idle time at the curb — cities can develop flexible, goal-driven policies to regulate curb space and incentivize desirable distribution of scooters and bikes, and create a foundation for strong partnerships with innovative mobility providers.
Managing Scooter Supply & Demand
Managed through a centralized platform, parking rates can help incentivize micro-mobility companies to distribute scooters in strategic locations. Vehicle distribution will even out across zones and scooters will be available where people need them the most, preventing long-term parking and reducing curb congestion.
By establishing pricing models that motivate mobility providers to distribute vehicles across the city, more people can have access to a low-cost, low-emission form of transportation.
Case example: Dynamic parking rates regulate supply and demand. San Francisco, California, operates a dynamic parking model. The city placed sensors on its meters to better understand the demand of parking in the streets. After measuring the demand within three daily time periods, the municipality was able to set prices accordingly. Demand-based rates are rooted in the objective of getting drivers off the streets quickly, thus reducing overall congestion (GovTech).4
Equitable Access to Transportation
It’s possible to provide affordable transportation where it’s needed most by distributing bikes and scooters to underserved areas, so all citizens gain easier access to work or basic services. Using a mobility platform, you can manage parking rates in different areas to incentivize strategic geographic placement based upon need by providing free or subsidized pricing.
Case example: Equitable access to public transit. Recently, Lime released a study on transit deserts in New York. It was determined that offering dockless bike and scooter shares citywide would put 1.5 million New York residents within a 10-minute walk, bike, or scooter ride of a subway line. By extension, all New Yorkers would have access to the benefits of inexpensive, dependable dockless mobility (Lime).5
Creating First/Last Mile Solutions
As cities aim to reduce car congestion, they need to promote public transit usage. However, traveling to and from a public transit stop can be a barrier for citizens. Shared scooters can be the solution to the first/last mile problem as long as cities make them available to transit riders where and when they need them. With a platform like Passport, cities can control prices to incentivize scooter companies to encourage vehicle distribution along transit routes.
Case example: Utah Transit Authority found that the implementation of a first/last mile solution, such as dockless bikes, could result in a ridership increase of between 2,100 and 4,300 riders per day throughout their rail network (UTA).6
Case example: When Lime was operating in San Francisco, 40% of riders surveyed used scooters to connect to transit.
Municipalities Inspiring Micro-mobility Innovations
Cities need to adopt innovative approaches to embrace the adoption of scooters and drive positive outcomes, such as reducing congestion, providing first/last mile solutions, improving pedestrian safety, and increasing mobility options in underserved areas.
Charlotte, Detroit, and Omaha have joined forces in a collaborative pilot program to manage micro-mobility in a new way, in a partnership with Lime and Passport. With this solution, cities can maintain visibility and control over scooter deployments and better manage their curbs, while enabling mobility providers to more flexibly and conveniently manage their fleets. The cities are also sharing information and providing guidance to each other, working together to meet each city’s individual goals. Ultimately, the pilot program aims to create a flexible and scalable framework that can be replicated in cities across North America.
Pioneering this new approach to micro-mobility management, these cities will be the first to apply parking principles, data analysis, and a software platform to charge for scooter parking in order to balance the supply, demand and distribution of scooters. Instead of capping scooter volumes or imposing flat fees, this methodology and technology from Passport allow each city to incentivize behavior by charging for curb space consistently across all modes of mobility. Just as cities charge cars to park at the curb, they can apply an existing digital parking infrastructure for scooters.
Conclusion: How to Successfully Operationalize Regulated Micro-mobility
In order to execute this type of model, a system is needed to bring the private and public sectors together. Start by creating a foundation for partnership, collaboration, and innovation among your city officials, mobility providers, and your citizens.
To safely integrate scooters into the community, cities need a standard for current and future mobility providers to easily share data, as well as a centralized management platform through which cities can manage all of their assets, including the curb. With this standardized platform, municipalities can avoid a lengthy procurement process for new technology and welcome innovation and new mobility options to keep up with the pace of innovation.
Cities already have a well-established system for charging cars to park on the curb. The same solution should be applied to other modes of transportation so that every vehicle pays for equal access. By charging scooters to park with usage-based pricing, cities can more effectively manage scooters in their communities and naturally balance supply and demand. In the end, all parties win, as cities can leverage scooters to help achieve positive city outcomes, micro-mobility companies can optimize the number of scooters available for citizens, and users benefit from easy and equitable access to a low-cost, low-emission form of mobility.