Photo courtesy of LimeBike. Note the scooter in the middle.

Bicycles

Bring On the Electric Share Scooters

Starting next month, LimeBike will introduce electric scooters to its fleet.

When the city deferred on coming up with any regulations for bike share until at least this fall, officials said it was partly to see how things played out in the warmer months, when people would be more likely to use some of the 20,000 dockless bikes in town.

Now we’ll also have time to see how people use shareable electric scooters, which LimeBike is rolling out this April. Electric bikes, introduced elsewhere last year, will come in May. City transportation planners are probably more interested in their value as first and last-mile connectors to a broader mobility system, but some jokers have already devised another use: motorized LimeBike jousting.

The scooters and electric bikes will replace, rather than add to, some of the bikes in LimeBike’s 10,000-strong fleet, which should come as a relief to those concerned about share bike overkill. They’ll cost $1 to rent, plus 15 cents for every minute they’re in use. Riders will use the same app and system in place for the bikes they’re already familiar with. Both the electric bikes and scooters can go close to 15 miles per hour.

Shareable electric scooters have already been introduced in southern California, where LimeBike followed the lead of Bird, a company that applied the bikeshare model first and primarily to electric scooters. According tot the review on www.upliftingmobility.com, these scooters have had a controversial debut in California, where it is illegal to ride on sidewalks and without helmets. According to the San Diego Union-Tribune, the city of Santa Monica sued Bird after “a number of accidents, including a severe head injury and a broken arm,” involving the scooters, and the company agreed to pay $300,000 for operating without a business license.

It should be a similarly bumpy rollout here. In Dallas, it’s only illegal to ride without a helmet if you’re under the age of 18. City code in Dallas does, however, forbid the use of motorized scooters on streets and sidewalks. City trails, which have been the biggest source of complaints about bike litter, outlaw the use of motorized vehicles completely. This hasn’t stopped Segway tours cruising around the sidewalks of downtown Dallas every day, but it’s certainly going to be a headache for the Dallas police officers deciding whether and how to enforce that code against share scooter users.

If we go by what’s happened in San Diego, we can also expect the public safety dimension of the ongoing share-bike conversation to become more pronounced as electric scooters make their way onto our streets. News stories about people hurting themselves tripping over rental bikes will give way to news stories about people hurting themselves falling off of electric scooters. Each story will include a quote about properly educating people on how to use the shareable scooters. (Motorized bike jousting being an improper use.)

Anecdotally, in downtown Dallas, sidewalk share bike riders are the norm, not the exception. I don’t blame them. Being publicly educated that you should cycle in the street, not on the sidewalk, doesn’t make the experience of sharing the road with drivers who have never even  seen a bike lane any less terrifying.

Many of the problems of bike share are really problems with a city whose streets are built for cars, not people. The safety and “nuisance” hazards associated with cars—pollution, fatal accidents, neighborhood-destroying highways and parking lots—are worse than anything an electric scooter or share bike are capable of. A little (or even a big) mess is fine if it ultimately results in a city that’s more hospitable to people getting around on two wheels.

As the city sticks to its “wait and see” approach, some anxiety over unregulated tech startups having such a deciding role in the future of transportation is justified. For example, new studies suggest that Uber and Lyft, once hailed for leading a transit “revolution,” actually make city traffic worse, as people opt for rideshare over walking, cycling, or public transit. (One possible solution to that particular conundrum: taxes.)

The public, not LimeBike, should dictate transportation policy. But if we’re going to figure out how to decrease our reliance on cars, we’ve got to experiment with other options. Bring on the electric scooters.

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