In the past two years, scooters have become “a thing” in transportation, generating a huge amount of attention, gaining traction in multiple cities, and becoming a ubiquitous presence in many locations. This has been a turbulent and fascinating period with an initial groundswell of attention as Bird scooters appeared on the coast in large numbers, followed by a back and forth between cities and scooter companies seeking to gain market share across the country. Along the way, cities have been working out various ways to incorporate scooters into our landscape. Some cities have selected one vendor, others several, some have banned them, and others have taken a wait and see approach.
What does seem apparent is that shared mobility devices in general are in some ways subject to scrutiny that has not been applied to cars. It is interesting in this respect to compare what cities are “doing” for cars versus what they refuse to do for other mobility options. For example, many cities provide municipal parking lots for cars or otherwise have parking requirements that each business must provide for customers. They also provide street meters for cars and the general environment is one built around the automobile.
In contrast, many cities are reluctant to provide a fraction of this infrastructure for shared mobility devices such as e-bikes and scooters. In fact, many cities are demanding to take a cut of revenue from each ride on a shared mobility device. Are they making similar demands for shared cars driving through town? Cities are seeking to charge mobility companies for parking the vehicles on the right of way. However, while cars have either meters, parking lots or often free curb space, the same is not true for scooters — which in most cities currently have no legal place to park. And some cities are seeking to impose liability on scooters for injuries due to insufficiently maintained roads, a requirement they have never sought to impose on cars. So while many cities claim to be environmentally friendly, they are in fact undermining one potential solution to congestion, pollution and the transportation needs of the public.
To be sure, there are reasons for cities to be cautious. In many cases, there was insufficient community and city engagement before shared mobility devices often flooded certain cities. There are safety concerns. And cities should be careful about maintaining their right of way for pedestrians, for safety and for a variety of other reasons. The backlash has resulted in shared devices being banned in many locations.
But if cities are going to be serious about providing mobility solutions and being environmentally friendly, they also have to consider how scooters and other shared mobility options can help and how they might be imposing an unwarranted double standard. There are a number of tools cities could use to help shared mobility solutions such as scooters work and to put them on a more level playing field. Cities can create areas allocated for parking zones for scooters. And where one car might have parked at such a space, one could fit multiple shared mobility devices in the same area. Cities can then apportion the costs of these parking zones in a sensible way, such as by charging companies a fee based on the percentage of traffic that company is carrying in that city. Or impose a fee that could be passed on to the user. If cities want scooter riding off the sidewalk, they could look at creating more bike and scooter lanes along thoroughfares and creating conditions to make it safe for all forms of traffic. So while cities can certainly charge companies for operating, there should be some provision in return to make scooter use viable.
An optimal future will be one in which a variety of transportation options are available to a diverse range of locations serving different needs, including efficiency, service, time, the environment and enjoyability. In evaluating shared mobility devices, governments need to keep in mind the allowances they have made for cars and try to avoid a “double standard” which will perpetuate challenges for our transportation systems.
The views expressed in this article are those of Mr. Schlecter and not necessarily those of the Beverly Hills Chamber of Commerce.
By Blair Schlecter, VP of Economic Development & Government Affairs, Beverly Hills Chamber of Commerce
Blair is the Vice President of Economic Development and Government Affairs for the Beverly Hills Chamber of Commerce. In his role, Blair advocates for businesses in the Beverly Hills and surrounding area and promotes and executes a number economic development efforts. Blair is deeply involved in the transportation field and new mobility issues, including authoring several articles on shared mobility and transportation technology, promoting investment in advanced transportation in the Los Angeles region, and involvement in WTS-LA, ITS California, LAEDC’s e4 Mobility Alliance and other transportation advocacy efforts. He has served on an advisory committee regarding the LA Metro Purple Line Subway Extension and previously served on the planning and legal team for Hyperloop Transportation Technologies. Blair received his B.A. from Emory University and law degree from UC Hastings College of the Law.