I received an email over the weekend from Bird, one of the companies behind electric scooter sharing here in the SF area stating the following:
The City of Alameda will consider banning shared electric scooters at a City Council hearing on December 4th at 7:00 p.m. at City Hall! Let’s remind city leaders that Alameda residents want access to affordable, environmentally-friendly options such as Bird in their city.
The backlash against these scooters in San Francisco came as a surprise in a city that claims to be progressive, and it was disappointing to see the city ban them, then decide to run small scale trials of them with different companies from the two who pioneered the service, and in limited numbers. To see Alameda follow this crazy, illogical path is even more depressing.
Why Have Them?
Sure, the city has survived up until now without any scooter sharing services, so why do we suddenly need them? The obvious answer is that we do not need them, but they may help our small community in a number of ways that banning them outright overlooks. They are also only one of a number of things that the city should be supporting.
The reason to have them is simple: to remove some of the cars from our city’s roads. Uber & Lime (the company already responsible for the dockless bike share in the city) have stated that scooters reduce the number of ride sharing rides people take (ref). It is fair to say that they will also be replacing rides in personal cars some of the time too, though that will depend on availability.
Being able to take a scooter (or bike) instead of a car helps the city in several ways:
- Less cars on the roads
- Less cars parking in busy areas
- Less emissions in the city (and with our relatively clean electricity, less overall)
Those all seem like wins for the city. Personally, I have taken scooters and LimeBikes to get around the city a number of times when I wanted to avoid driving, or did not have my car (e.g. getting off the ferry at night), and in a few cases where I was meeting my wife at an event so only needed a one-way trip.
Electric scooters are also a little more accessible than bikes. The LimeBikes are great, but they are heavy and not the smoothest of rides. It would be great if the city allowed them to bring their electric bikes onto the island as well; the addition of power makes them immediately more appealing to a wider group of riders. The scooters are very simple to ride, and starting in January California will not require helmets for adult riders either (although they’re still a really good idea – I carry mine in my backpack all the time in case I need to take a bike or scooter somewhere).
What’s Not So Good?
The backlash in San Francisco seemed to be focused mainly around two areas:
- The dockless aspect resulting in scooters being left in random locations on the sidewalks.
- Early on, riders using the sidewalks rather than keeping to the streets, even though the apps were very clear about that not being allowed from day 1.
In the early days of the LimeBikes in Alameda, the same comments were frequently made about them being left on sidewalks and blocking the way. Over time, that seems to have improved and I rarely see them in the way now, although I still find them laying down on grass verges and pushed into hedges occasionally. I fear that may not be the previous rider’s doing in many cases however. In San Francisco, I witnessed people pushing the scooters over as they walked by, I assume as a strange form of protest. They were also needlessly vandalized in the early days, as were the bikes in Alameda. As the scooters become more accepted, I believe they will also end up being parked properly.
I tend to pick up fallen scooters and re-park them nicely when I walk by any that are lying down, and I try to report any that have been damaged (Lime is very responsive, as are Scoot; the others have been less responsive, and that’s certainly something they should work on).
We are surprisingly tolerant of cars being parked along all our streets, and the city, and other businesses, even build special parking areas for them. We have been accepting of personal bikes, installing bike racks for them along the edges of the streets, and even installing bike lockers in a number of places around the city. We even have a car sharing service (Gig) in Alameda, leaving their cars parked all over the place. If the scooter sharing concept proves to be useful long term, I’m certain we can solve the parking issues for them – they’re a lot smaller than even the smallest car!
Riding the Sidewalks
As for riding on the sidewalks, that is a law enforcement issue as much as it is the responsibility of the scooter rental companies to educate their riders. We do not ban car rental companies just because a percentage of their customers break the law when driving their cars (and, yes, that’s probably close to all of their customers if you include breaking the speed limit in a rental car which can be just as dangerous as riding a scooter on the sidewalk).
The city can also help by making it clearer where people can ride different forms of transport. Push scooters (something I’ve been using for a number of years now to get to the ferry in time to catch my morning boat after walking my kid to school) are in a very poorly defined space in terms of where they can be ridden (and that situation is even worse in San Francisco). Commuters heading to San Francisco are using bikes, roller blades/skates, Segways and so-called hoverboards, mono-wheels, electric longboards, skateboards, scooters (both push and electric) and will no doubt be using other options as they become available. Cities need to define where these things can travel, ideally in a way that can be applied to new vehicles easily.
Oakland vs San Francisco
Interestingly, Oakland seems to have embraced the electric scooters. There are Lime, Bird and recently Wind scooters all over the downtown area of the city. They are useful for medium length journeys, and almost always nearby (less than a block away), making them something those working downtown can rely on. At the weekend, I saw groups of people scooting around Lake Merritt on them, and out running errands on them (there were lots parked outside Oakland’s library for example).
In San Francisco right now there are just two companies, Skip and Scoot. The Skip scooters can be found around the downtown area if you look hard enough; the Scoot ones are very hard to find. Both companies appeared to be using older scooter designs than Bird & Lime, and have been limited in terms of the number of scooters they can deploy.
How Can I Support These Scooters?
- Send an email to the city using this form that Bird created.
- Attend the hearing on December 4, 2018 at City Hall.